When I was vegetarian and considering a vegan lifestyle, I remember feeling daunted by the idea of changing my routine, especially my husband and my “cheese and cracker nights.” On stressful weeknights, David and I enjoyed making a meal out of cheese and crackers. On the side we’d have some nibbly things, like olives and pickles. We lit candles, shared glasses of wine, and listened to music. The whole experience was like detoxing from the day. Because I enjoyed the ritual so much, it seemed like a lot to give up, even when ethically I felt that veganism was the path most consistent with my ideas about compassion and mercy. (Not to mention that polishing off slice after slice of cheese wasn’t exactly a healthful habit.)
What I realized is that I didn’t have to give up the ritual. We could still light candles, and we could still enjoy a glass of wine with finger foods. For something easy and tactile, on hectic weeknights we now partake in toasted pita bread and cool, creamy hummus with a side of carrot slices, broccoli florets, turnip pickles, and olives. For something on the pungent side, we’ll make a big salad topped with roasted chickpeas and serve it with a crusty baguette and flaxseed oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping. Or we’ll pile bruschetta onto toasted bread and serve it with a delicious salad topped with artichoke hearts, tomatoes, and pine nuts. Even frozen steamed potstickers are a quick and tasty choice. All of these are hands-on, shared foods that come together quickly. They reconnect us after a harried day and immerse us in our meal time together.
So when I’m asked “What about milk and eggs?” my first answer is that we don’t need a direct replacement for each food that we used to eat. If we moved to another country where our usual fare wasn’t widely available, we’d eat different foods. If I moved to Italy, maybe I’d enjoy some gnocchi for lunch instead of, say, chickpea tacos. I wouldn’t think of gnocchi as a “chickpea taco replacement.” It’s just something different. More than anything, I’d encourage anyone considering veganism to explore the wealth of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds that they may have been ignoring instead of trying to replicate what they’d already been eating as a vegetarian or non-vegetarian.
All that said, we are creatures of habit, and when we are transitioning and even beyond, it can be nice to occasionally eat things that are familiar or seem like old favorites, while we’re also trying new foods and new cuisines. Here are some ideas of foods that may seem similar to the things you were already eating.
There are a lot of nondairy milks to try, and each one can be good for different purposes and different palates. The Trader Joe’s soy creamer or Wildwood creamer are both really popular for coffee. I was accustomed to skim milk before going vegan, and so I prefer rice milk, which is thinner, in coffee or on cereal. I use the Organic Rice Drink at Trader Joe’s or Rice Dream elsewhere. Soy milk, hemp milk, and almond milk are a bit thicker. For a homemade option, thick and creamy cashew milk is my favorite. It’s worth trying out a few different plant based milks and seeing what works for you and your needs and preferences.
Instead of animal-based cheese on top of chili, nachos, or sandwiches, I like using avocado or guacamole. Its creamy, fatty taste gives a wonderful mouth-feel to foods. For nachos or quesadillas, I make a queso that’s made from cauliflower (although you’d never believe it). If you’re looking for something store-bought on the melty side, Daiya is a popular choice. It’s vegan, of course, soy-free and made of cassava, which is a root vegetable. It comes in several flavors; I think cheddar is best. For a spreadable cheese, the hickory smoked cheddar from We Can’t Say It’s Cheese is fantastic. It has a smoky essence and smooth, creamy texture. Plus, it’s made from all natural ingredients like oatmeal.
As a pasta topping instead of parmesan consider grinding walnuts in a food processor. For a cheesy flavor, add nutritional yeast flakes. (You can usually find yeast flakes in bulk bins at natural grocery stores.)
For a texture that is similar to ricotta, blend a handful or two of raw cashews in a blender with lemon juice, a garlic clove, and just enough water for it to blend. It makes a really creamy and delicious topping for pasta, stuffed inside of shells, or spread over roasted vegetable sandwiches. Mix up the flavor by adding oregano, basil, or dill.
Try a twist on an old favorite. Instead of buttered toast, how about peanut buttered toast or almond buttered toast? Instead of buttered popcorn, splash on a few generous shakes of your favorite hot sauce and a spoonful of nutritional yeast flakes onto air-popped popcorn. Toss the popcorn until it’s evenly coated. It’s a spicy snack with lots of crunch. No salt is necessary.
Still looking for a buttery taste? The best vegan butter is Earth Balance. It doesn’t have any trans fat, and there are versions that are organic, soy-free, and also one that uses olive oil. It’s available in most grocery stores.
For salad dressings, there are plenty of jarred dressings that are vegan. Some are better than others, but I still prefer homemade.
Here are some of my favorite salad dressing options. Top your salad with:
- A squeeze of lemon
- A simple dressing made with lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, and a pinch of dried herbs like basil, oregano, or thyme
- Balsamic vinegar & olive oil
- Creamy Garlic Dressing
- Creamy Cafe Dressing
As for sandwich toppings, most of those are vegan anyway. Organic ketchup and mustard, relish, barbecue sauce, sauerkraut, and prepared horseradish are all usually vegan. Instead of mayonnaise consider black bean, pinto, or traditional chickpea hummus or a layer of avocado or guacamole. There’s also a product called Vegenaise that pretty much duplicates the flavor of mayo but without the cholesterol.
My favorite ice cream is Coconut Bliss. It has four or five ingredients. It’s made from coconut milk, and it’s ridiculously rich and delicious.
Instead of scrambled chickens’ eggs, try a tofu scramble seasoned with cumin, chili powder, paprika, a squeeze of lemon juice, and a bit of turmeric for color. Top it with avocado, salsa, or hot sauce and serve it with toast, tortillas, or fresh fruit.
When making things like pancakes or baked goods, eggs are used for binding, leavening, and adding moisture. They can be replaced with:
- Ground flaxseed and water: For the equivalent of one egg, mix 1 Tbsp of ground flax seeds and 3 Tbsp of water in a food processor or blender until thick and gelatinous.
- Banana: One egg can be replaced with about half of a banana.
- Applesauce: One egg can be replaced with ¼ cup of unsweetened apple sauce.
Read the final installment in this series and what I think is the most important key in transitioning from the consumption of eggs and dairy to vegan.