Years ago, when my son told me he was a Vegan, I had never heard the term before.  He had been a Vegetarian for some years and always appreciated that I made an effort to make “real food” for him when he came home to visit.  His friends lamented that when they went home for the holidays a token iceberg lettuce salad was their only dinner option while a feast was put before everyone else at the table.

Vegan cooking was a new twist for me.  Vegetarian was easy by comparison – just make dishes without meat & dairy. My son ate eggs as a vegetarian so even most baking was not an issue.  Baking without eggs and dairy products, during the holidays in particular, was going to take some research.

Soon I found myself asking a lot of questions in natural foods stores like the landmark co-op ‘The Wedge’ and Mississippi Market in the Twin Cities and looking for recipes online (something of a black hole at the time).  I was taken on ‘food field trips’ by my kids to restaurants, delis, and bakeries featuring vegan food that was not only not scary, it was great.

I bucked up and decided to give it a try.  I began experimenting with boxed egg-replacer with results that astonished me.  Frankly, I was totally unprepared to see my recipes turn out as well as the original version.  Simply by changing eggs to egg replacer, milk to soy milk and butter to vegan margarine, I was able to adapt a tremendous number of our favorite recipes to the feared VEGAN category.  I realized I could do this.

After picking up several vegan cookbooks, I was inspired to cook meals for entertaining with first very little and then no meat or animal products.  I didn’t mention to my guests what I was doing and frankly, no one noticed a difference in taste.  By simply concentrating on fresh foods of the season and adjusting a few products in my pantry, I was able to wow my guests with vegan gourmet foods.

Understanding how to adjust my cooking and baking and overcoming the fear that vegan means nothing but chunks of tofu has truly broadened my vision as a chef.  In truth, it is really no different, if not easier, than understanding a new type of cuisine.

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Substitutions:

  • Powdered egg replacer in place of eggs works well in most cake or cookie recipes (I have not yet found a replacement for whipped egg whites).
  • Gimme Lean Brand is the best ground meatless product I have yet encountered.  They have a sausage-style and a “ground meatless” style that have good texture as well as taste.  There is a difference between vegetarian meat substitutes and vegan products.  Read the label to determine if the item contains items such as egg whites as an ingredient.
  • Dairy substitutions are some of the easiest to make thanks to a huge choice of soy products on the market.  Soy milk, soy cheeses, soy margarines (regular margarine contains dairy) can be found in most supermarkets.
  • Some vegans do not eat honey, many do.  Ask your local vegan.  Maple syrup and agave are good substitutes in cooking, though in baking each reacts a little differently.

Resources:

Some recipes simply do not translate well for vegan cooking.  More and more books are being published on the subject (check out Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, Vegan Planet and The Vegan Gourmet) and surfing the internet for Vegan recipes is now a positive experience.

Try baking your favorite traditional recipes vegan-style.  I find that simple substitutions in baking my favorites has given me great results.  Cookies, quick breads, cakes, and pies come out exceptionally well.  Happy Thanksgiving !

Recipes and Article by Sharon Wetteland, guest writer