To be a successful vegan, it helps if you are a pretty versatile cook.
If you're used to cooking with cheese, butter, milk and eggs - or if
you're not used to cooking
at all - then you'll need to learn new ways to make foods that taste
good and supply you with all the nutrients you need to stay healthy.
Here is a guide to the ingredients which I think anyone wanting to cook
should at least think about experimenting with. I hope this will be of
use to all who are interested in trying out different kinds of foods...
products fall into two main categories: Firstly,
almost-flavourless concoctions like tofu,
which are extremely high in protein and minerals such as iron
and versatile because they are so good at soaking up the flavours
around them, and have so little character of their own. Secondly, the
salty, fermented soybean products like soy
sauce and miso;
these have strong tastes of their own and are great for adding a bit of
to a dish.
has almost no flavour of its own, and what traces of flavour it does
have are chalky
and mildly unpleasant. However, they are easy to overwhelm; in small
chunks it is totally unobtrusive and has a great ability to absorb the
flavours of what it's cooked in. Alternatively, if you cut it in slices
and deep-fry it it mostly just tastes fried, and is great for dipping
sweet chilli sauce or other tasty sauces. The extraordinary
nutritionality and versatility of tofu make it well worth considering
as an addition to sauces and stir fries.
is another highly-proteinous soya product, originating from Indonesia.
Tempeh has a little more flavour of its own than tofu,
but shares the latter's ability to soak up the flavours around it.
Without a certain amount of work, the taste of tempeh is quite weird -
but dipped in a marinade, even something as simple as soy
sauce and lemon
juice, then fried, it is delicious. Tempeh has a lot more texture
than tofu; it consists of whole soy beans in a mat of rhizomes.
Vegetable Protein consists of flavourless little chunks of
soya, which unlike tofu have a bit of bite to them; the texture is
designed to somewhat resemble meat. Again, they are good at soaking up
flavours from other sauces.
milk is the much-maligned staple vegan replacement for milk.
It is much maligned for two reasons - which incidentally are the same
reasons why so many people hate carob:
1) It really doesn't bear much resemblance to the thing it's touted as
a replacement for; and 2) It just doesn't taste that great. Once you
get over the first of these, you may come to realise that while it
really just isn't milk and never will be, it doesn't actually taste bad
- maybe a little chalky
- and in fact it is quite refreshing. It can do most of the things milk
does in cooking, but it has much less fat than full-cream milk which
means that it is lousy on some cereals, such as Crunchy
Nut Cornflakes. However, it is excellent for making rich hot
chocolate. In most ways I prefer oat
milk, which is thicker and has a lovely texture but not as
much protein; others prefer rice
milk, which I find tends to be a little on the sweet
side and rather thin.
yoghurt is very much closer to real yoghurt
in taste than soya milk is to cow's milk - close enough to have my
carnivorous father commenting on what good yoghurt we had one time,
without noticing that it hadn't come from a cow. Brands vary, however;
I have heard tales of really lousy soya yoghurt, but have never come
across it myself. There is evidence that a strong population of benevolent
gut bacteria is beneficial to health; live soya yoghurt is
likely to be almost the only way of replenishing these in a vegan diet.
cheese is something many vegans seem to enjoy, but my
experience has been that hard soya cheese tends to have an unpleasant
squeaky texture and unconvincingly cheesy flavour. I have had better
experiences with imitation cream cheese.
flour is an extremely high-protein flour, and for this reason
it shares many of the same properties as egg
white in cooking - although it doesn't make things rise
quite the same way. It's good for making batter,
and for helping things hold together.
is a Japanese
paste made from fermented soya. It has a distinctive, salty, savoury
flavour which can enhance a wide range of dishes. It is also, of
course, the principal ingredient of miso
soup, which is traditionally made with fish
stock but which needn't be; it is easy to make a simple miso
soup from nothing more than miso, silken
onions - perhaps also a little kombucha.
Try not to boil anything made with miso; add it right at the end, or
risk spoiling the flavour.
sauce is the single most ubiquitous East Asian condiment,
lending an easy savoury flavour to anything with rice
(and many things without) thanks to its high salt
content and natural monosodium
glutamate. It is a flavour designed to complement other
flavours, and shouldn't be allowed to dominate a dish - I suspect that
most people who say they don't like soy sauce think that because
they've only ever had too much of it at a time.
bean sauce is another salty condiment made from fermented soy
beans. Can also be quite spicy.
Good in stir fries.
are another excellent source of vegan
protein, and most are also rich in iron
fibre. I wouldn't like to try living on a vegan diet which
didn't include any pulses. All of these are good for making dal,
by which I mean pulse-based curry
- spicy, satisfying and as simple as you care to make it. Many can also
be sprouted and added to salads.
- perhaps the single most important source of ingredients for a vegan
cook to master; soya is the only other serious contender for the title.
From chickpeas we get gram
flour, with which it is remarkably easy to make wonderful batter
for pakoras, onion
bhajis and fruit fritters, among other things; houmous,
rightly a staple of so many vegan and Middle-Eastern diets; and falafel,
one of the great fried foods. They can also be used as-is in salads, curried, or
roasted and salted.
dal (or yellow split pea) - tastes like a chickpea, looks
like a big lentil.
In parts of India they fry chana dhal and use it as a spice.
- fiercely nutritious, otherwise maybe a little bit dull, not widely
loved but widely quite liked. Good for making food out of. Flavour
should generally come from elsewhere, although the puy
lentil is less bland.
- the common or garden pea is tasty, easy to cook with, survives the
freezing process well, and provides many nutrients.
- not everyone realises the peanut is a kind of pulse,
but it is; boiled, it makes a mild, chewy and highly nutritious
addition to a dish.
- another bland but nutritious pulse, used as-is as well as in the many
soya products listed above. Like the chickpea, soybeans can also be
roasted, salted and served like that as a snack.
bean - used in Chinese and Japanese
confectionery and sometimes in soups. Although they are not
sweet themselves, they are most often added to sweet dishes.
- nice enough just heated up and eaten with potatoes
or on toast,
much more interesting spiced up and made into a curry.
bean - also known as a turtle
bean, apparently; used in Mexican cooking.
bean - the bais of so many great chilli
dishes, good in salad
too, the kidney bean has a slightly sweet flavour and a strangely
bean - comedy name, good for putting in straws and shooting
at people. Also the beans behind common or garden bean
need a certain amount of protein
in your diet - albeit not as much as many people think - and you're
probably going to get bored if you try to get it all from soya
products. Take the time to get acquainted with different nuts and
seeds; besides being valuable sources of protein and flavour,
these are typically rich in minerals such as calcium
They all share a basic nuttiness,
and can be used for many of the same things, but their flavours are
quite diverse. They can be thrown in with any fry-up
tossed over salad or pasta
nuts - sweet and versatile, like the peanut
the cashew can be boiled, roasted or fried. Whole cashews are great in
stir-fries, while little bits of cashew (which are cheaper to buy) are
good in curries and chilli.
- you can throw whole hazelnuts into things, or use roasted hazelnuts -
chopped or ground - to add flavour and protein to sweet dishes and porridge.
- ground almonds can do the same sorts of things as ground hazelnuts,
while slivered almonds are excellent lightly fried and added to sauces
for pasta or rice, or as topping for baked
goods. See also almond
seeds - good on many, many, foods, lightly toasted or fried;
or mix them with salt
and flakes of seaweed
to make gomasio,
or grind them to a pulp to make tahini.
seeds - at least as versatile as sesame, with a more
unobtrusive flavour. Add to almost anything.
seeds - together with the two seeds above, provides a
complete protein; dry-fry the three together and add soy sauce for a
general-purpose topping, or add pumpkin seeds alone to fry-ups and
- a rich source of omega-3
fatty acids, but weirdly mucilaginous
and slightly scary.
seed - another good omega-3 source (balancing it with goodly
quantities of omega-6), and generally very healthsome. They take some
picking out of the teeth if you're not careful, though - it helps if
oil can make a huge difference to a dish; I would have missed
a whole lot more if I hadn't discovered some of these. There is usually
no point in worrying about getting too much fat on a vegan diet - in
fact, if anything you should be a little bit concerned about getting enough.
A certain amount of fat is necessary for the body to absorb nutrients
like the fat-soluble
among other things. More to the point, though, it is a great to make
things taste better.
oil is a staple in the mediterranean
and a valuable addition to any pantry. Although not in the same league
as toasted sesame oil and hazelnut
oil as far as intensity goes, it does have a pretty strong
flavour of its own which makes it great for salad
sauce, but less good for most rice dishes and completely
inappropriate for anything sweet.
oil is perhaps the most intensely aromatic of all cooking
oils. A few drops will lend a wonderful sesame
nuttiness to any number of dishes, transforming a stir
fry or livening up vegetable dishes to which some would add butter
oil is less powerful, but it still has the power to impart hazel
nuttiness with only a few drops. Fantastic on porridge,
and an interesting addition to salad
dressing and baked goods.
oil is less powerful again and has quite a different
character, but it can be used for many of the same things as hazelnut
oil has a certain sweetness and carries the aroma
without any of the bitterness. Although it is not as strong as hazelnut
oil it doesn't take much to bring a nuttiness to salad
and baked goods.
is higher in saturated
fat than almost any other vegetable oil. For this reason it
is solid at room temperature (unless it's a particularly warm room),
and it often provides the best vegan substitute for butter
in baking and so on. It also gives porridge
a wonderful creamy texture if added at the start of cooking. Well worth
keeping in stock; lasts a very long time, because saturated fats are so
stable. We are often told to avoid saturated fats, but the evidence for
their unhealthiness is based more or less entirely on animal
fats and hydrogenated
vegetable oil, and it is not clear that there is anything
wrong with the oil of the coconut (or, for that matter, the avocado).
course, not all the important ingredients fall under the above
headings. Here are some more...
This writeup also appears here.
- obviously a vitally important part of any diet, vegan or not. They
have their own excellent entry over on Everything2, so I
won't say any more on the subject than that, except to note that green
vegetables are likely to be one of the main sources of calcium in any
vegan diet which doesn't include a large amount of tahini.
- likewise, so well-covered on Everything2 that they are only worth
mentioning in passing; follow the link for more.
- once more, please follow the link for a detailed treatment. Also,
note that whole
grains generally contain a good dose of iron
and many other nutrients which are lost in the refining process.
and spices - some of the simplest routes to a tasty meal. Buy
fresh herbs and whole spices, learn how to use them, and you need never
eat a dull meal. If you can't get through your herbs quick enough,
freeze them - or buy them in pots and keep a sort of miniature kitchen
- probably the single best source of vegan B
vitamins, the single-celled fungus is also a good source of
minerals including potassium
extract - Marmite,
and so on - is good for spreading on bread, or spooning out and using
yeast flakes make a surprisingly innocuous addition to a
whole range of dishes, imparting just a bit of umami
to the flavour and a hint of cheesiness.
- made from wheat
seitan often stands in for meat in vegetarian
Chinese food; it has a chewy texture, and soaks up sauce well.
- extremely nutritious, used in many Japanese
recipes. Generally an excellent source of calcium
and other minerals, as well as various vitamins, although the
nutritional details will depend on the variety of seaweed in question.
From seaweed we also get agar,
which does much the same thing as gelatine.
- worth mentioning for its iron and calcium content, both very high.
Usually known as molasses
in the US, and sometimes elsewhere.
Some links which might be useful: