Ask a Vegan

May 20, 2021 • Lindsey Zinno

Ask a Vegan

Ask a Vegan

We rounded up (almost) all your questions and curiosities about vegan food. 

When I asked if you’ve considered going vegan or eating more plant-based meals, to my surprise, 81% of you said “yes.” I included “eating more plant-based” to the question because veganism often feels unattainable.

I think if I could say anything here before moving on: it’s that I respect and support the traditions and cultures around food. In that, veganism isn’t our savior for the world and can occasionally do more harm than good, depending on what you choose to consume.

And if you feel inclined to defend that veganism is the most sustainable way of eating, yeah, it can be—I made the conscious decision to go vegan when I was studying environmental science in college—but it isn’t always that way. Veganism isn’t the only way to make an impact, so take a moment to remind yourself that you’re most likely doing something really amazing for the environment or society that feels more attainable for you already. I don’t have a house to put solar panels on my roof, but eating a plant-based diet is really easy for me to sustain and shouldn’t feel threatening to you.

So with that happy little foreword/disclaimer, here we are. I’m here to shed light on the potential and genuine joy of vegan cooking, to inspire you, not to convert you, and share some things I’ve learned along the way.

Your questions! Comments! Curiosities!

What’s the best vegan cheese and dairy?

  • Miyoko’s butter and cheeses
  • Almond ricotta recipe
  • Forgers cashew unsweetened yogurt (not the greek yogurt)
  • Oatly, Milkadamia, Elmherst Milked Nuts, Califia Farms are my favorite brands for vegan milks—I think we have to call it m*lk now. With the exception of Oatly, I try to buy all unsweetened milks so I can use them for both sweet and savory recipes. If it doesn’t say “unsweetened” on the container, it’s sweetened. 
  • Want heavy cream for something like pasta alla vodka? You can buy it at the store, sure, but I just throw a handful (say ⅓ cup) of cashews in the blender with 1 cup water—note: soak the cashews for 20 min in hot water if you don't have a high speed blender. Blend until creamy and viola! Coconut cream (from the can) works really well, but not for every recipe if you don’t want to taste coconut in it.
  • Just Mayo!

    Favorite places for vegan recipes?

    When I first got started in vegan cooking, I got most of my recipes from Minimalist Baker, which was (and still is) a epicenter for accessible plant-based recipes that accommodate all sorts of diets: oil free, gluten free, soy free, you name it. I think the first vegan baked good I made was this vegan chocolate cake that I still make for birthdays sometimes. I really enjoy finding non-vegan recipes and just making them vegan. I look at NYT Cooking, Bon Appetit, Healthyish and cookbooks, but lately, I’ve been working my way through any food memories from childhood. I recently bought Claire Saffitz's “Dessert Person” cookbook and have been veganizing those recipes for fun.

    Vegan Lemon Tart

    East Fork also carries a lot of veg-friendly cookbooks: The Palestinian Table, In Bibi’s Kitchen, Vegan: The Cookbook, On Vegetables, Indian Vegetarian, The Vegetarian Silver Spoon, Wild Fermentation, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.

    A starting point for vegan and vegetable-forward recipe developers to follow: 

    Best substitutes for meat that aren’t tofu or beans?

    Beans and tofu are easy ways to get high amounts of protein, and my personal favorites, but jackfruit, mushrooms, Pumfu (a soy and nut free pumpkin seed tofu), seitan, whole grains and sturdier vegetables like cauliflower, squash, carrots, etc. can really hold their own in a meal.

    How to do it in a very low-plastic waste way?

    Most things you can purchase for vegan diets are in the produce section and bulk bins, so it makes it easier to control how and what you store the food in to shop. Easiest thing to start doing is not putting all your produce in bags (like apples, lemons, onions, etc.) and use cloth or mesh bags when you need one. Familiarize yourself with the bulk section and use your own jars or containers if they let you. I find that shopping at smaller grocery stores and open air markets the easiest (and most supportive) of low-waste practices. However, I don’t think it correlates as much to vegan vs. omni diets, since it really depends on how you shop and what you buy.

    A decent alternative to whole milk (for coffee/tea)?

    Oatly in the blue cartons, full fat or regular are great for coffee and tea. I use a milk steamer to froth the milk and it’s delicious! Cashew, macadamia and oat are probably the most creamy, but Oatly is the holy grail, in my opinion, for frothy milk.

    What is your favorite egg alternative in recipes?

    Depends what for! Flax eggs (let it sit longer than the recipe usually calls for), aquafaba, mashed banana, applesauce, chia egg are all used for various baking recipes. Tofu is wondrous for making scrambled eggs and this chickpea and tofu egg recipe is perfect for sandwiches and omelets.

    How hard is it to eat out?

    It can be hard sometimes, for sure. Telling a restaurant you’re vegan doesn’t always come with open arms, so take a good look at the menu, ask the right questions, call ahead if you need to. I find calling or email the chef in advance is most polite than to come into a restaurant expecting the kitchen to bend over backwards for you. That said, I've had many experiences where I've been blushing at the table eating a salad.

    I recommend joining your city's vegan Facebook group. There's so many people out there sharing tips and recommendations for vegan friendly restaurants that satisfy all kinds of eaters. 

    How do you cope with not wanting to inconvenience your non-vegan friends?

    You cook for and with them! In the earlier years of me being vegan, I hosted vegan potlucks at my house. That was a way to show my friends food that I enjoy and gain my confidence. Self consciousness will wane over time. The inconvenience is a two-way street, too, you shouldn't feel ashamed for the way you eat and you don't owe them an explanation for your reasons why! Don't shame them either. 

    What are your favorite tricks to get rich/umami taste without meat?

    It depends what I’m making, but I use miso, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, nutritional yeast, mushrooms, and we carry an umami powder that’s pretty amazing.

    Crispy tofu with red thai curry

    Best way to cook tofu and make someone love it?

    1. Slice the block in three steaks, wrap in a towel, put a cookie sheet on top of the towel with something heavy on top (skillet or something), allow to press for 20-30 minutes.

    2. Transfer tofu steaks to a cutting board and cut desired shape and size.

    3. Add to a bowl, toss in soy sauce then corn starch.

    4. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a pan on medium heat and add the tofu one by one (don’t dump it in). Do not crowd the pan, allow space between the pieces of tofu. Allow tofu to sear for 3-4 min, then flip one by one. Sear the other side. Serve with rice, sauces, etc.

    Tips on incorporating more veggies?

    This is a fun one! Anything I’m blending always gets a big leaf of kale it seems like. I make this vegan alfredo sauce often and always put greens in it. Also daily smoothies and juicing, but I’m more partial to smoothies because of the waste of juicing. I grew up with my mom folding pureed carrots into marinara sauce, and honestly, don’t knock it till you try it. Anything saucey is easy to add more veg to and there’s always room on your plate for an extra seared or roasted vegetable.

    Nut-free ways to make things creamy?

    There’s lots of recipes out there, but using plant-based milks and added arrowroot or tapioca starch is an easy way to make a creamy base. Other alternatives can include avocado, coconut cream, silken tofu, and blending ingredients like steamed cauliflower, sweet potato, squashes, and seeds are surprisingly creamy!

    Any other questions? Ask below! 

    Comments (5)

    • Eliza

      Loved what you did here. Thanks
      Have you ever tried any of Mississippi Vegan’s recipes? (Timothy Pakron)
      He has some delicious creations!

    • Lisa Patterson

      Very helpful. I’m not vegan but would be happy to do more healthy meat/dairy free days and this has some great tips.

    • Lynda Shuler

      Thank you for this! My husband decided, literally overnight after his brother had a heart scare, that we were going plant based from that day forward….cold turkey! I have been struggling with cooking healthy, tasty food ever since. It’s a big learning curve for me. All of this was so, so helpful and the links to the different IG pages are great! Thank you, thank you!!

    • Carla Casale

      Do you have to take vitamin supplements to stay healthy? Also, do you need to ease into a vegan diet to let your body adjust? Thanks!

    • Katie Anne

      Thanks for sharing! Since you mentioned not having your own roof to put solar panels on, I thought I’d give a shout-out to Arcadia Power, which is a great way to support clean energy even if you aren’t a homeowner.

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