A guide to veganising recipes

This extensive guide to converting old recipes to plant-based was written by Lancey Morris from SweetLancey.com.


One of the most challenging parts of becoming a vegan is giving up your favourite meals. The thought of turning down a cheeseburger for a tofu salad just doesn't seem right, and you don't know where to start with plant based alternatives. Another trap new vegans fall into is simply removing the meat from their regular meals, and eating whatever is left on the plate. This leads to uninspired, unhealthy and disappointing dishes, and unhappy, poorly fed vegans. You deserve better!

Becoming a vegan isn't about limiting or depriving yourself. In fact, moving to a plant based diet means discovering new and diverse ways of eating, and for many people, brings out the creative chef within.

Nevertheless, there is certainly an art to veganising meals, and there are very few dishes that can't be made using plant based alternatives. Here are my tips for turning any dish into a vegan masterpiece.

1. Determine what you're looking to recreate

If you're trying to make a plant based burger, what you're really looking for is a meaty patty that will satisfy your cravings. If you're in the mood for a curry, it's probably the creaminess you're worried about losing. As for desserts, perhaps you want to make a chocolate pudding but don't know where to start without chocolate.

Once you've figured out exactly what it is you'd like to recreate, the task becomes easy.

Personally, I like my Bolognese to taste smoky and meaty, so I make it using lentils, mushrooms, spices, and the vegan's secret weapon, liquid smoke. I prefer my burgers to be bursting with spices and chunky beans, so I look for black beans, onion, garlic and spices like ground coriander and paprika. For the mighty lasagne, I prefer a smooth and cheesy result, so I blend together some pumpkin, nutritional yeast, soy milk and mustard, to create a healthier bechamel. For a brief list of recipes and a substitution guide, read on, but don't be afraid to do your own research as you go along.

2. Decide what you can go without

As tasty as it may be, a black bean burger will never taste exactly like a Big Mac, and that's a good thing! Part of becoming a vegan means changing the way you consume food, and your tastes will change with it. Whilst the smell of fried chicken used to make me dream of my meat eating days, now it has no effect, other than to remind me of animal suffering and childhood obesity.

Although removing meat from your diet may seem like an impossible task, you're actually discovering a whole new range of food you would never have otherwise tried. Before going vegan, I probably ate a version of the same 10 meals, based around a cut of meat with a low variety of plant based sides. Now, I am always discovering new ways to enjoy food, from mixed nut parmesan to chickpea water meringues! I feel healthier, more creative and full of energy. Make a list of what you can't live without, research alternatives, and give everything else the flick.

3. Find exact vegan substitutes

If you're feeling like a treat or just aren't digging the cashew cheesecake you made, there are thousands of exact vegan substitutes available in stores or online. You can buy anything from vegan cheeses, chocolates, ice-creams, meat, honeycomb etc. I treat these options as more of a, well, treat, but you can certainly integrate them into your diet as you see fit. During the week, I'm more likely to eat salads, curries and stir-fries, but on weekends or for entertaining, I might bust out a vegan chocolate ice-cream or a cheesy pizza. Moderation is key! A quick Google search will bring up a range of options, and even local supermarkets are starting to stack vegan treats.

4. Learn how to read a menu

Learning how to read a menu is one of the skills all vegans eventually master. At home you have control of your ingredients and know exactly what you need to create a hearty, meaty, vegan pasta bake, but many restaurants don't know (or care) how to cater to vegans. If the mains on the menu don't seem appropriate, ask for clarification from the chef. The stir-fry sauce might be made with fish and oyster sauce, so ask for it without. If that fails, shift your focus to combining the sides. Don't be afraid to ask the wait staff questions and politely request changes to the menu, like ordering a garden salad but adding a side of roasted mushrooms, grilled sweet potato and avocado. If I'm attending an event with a set menu, I always call in advance and the chef is usually more than happy to accommodate.

Final tips

  • Decide what you can and can't live without, and be clear on what you're trying to recreate
  • Don't just remove the meat from your favourite dishes - it won't work and you'll be left dissatisfied
  • Research plant based alternatives, and don't be afraid to modify your favourite meat based meals. Not every vegan alternative will be exactly what you're after, but you may discover a completely new (and healthier) dish you can't live without
  • Be clear on what your body requires to be healthy, and be diligent. Don't just fill up on bread and Oreos (as delightful as that sounds), or binge on vegan junk food. Done right, the vegan diet is nutritious, delicious and easy to maintain, but it takes planning and research. Throw an extra handful of spinach into your pasta - once it wilts you won't even notice it's there!

Substitution Guide

Here are a few examples of how to make vegan substitutions in recipes.

Butter

  • Olive oil (on bread)
  • Shortening + vegan butter (for buttercream icing)
  • Coconut oil (hard coconut oil can be whipped like butter for cookies)
  • Vegetable oil (for baking)
  • Vegan margarine (eg Nutelex)
  • Avocado

Cheese

  • Nutritional yeast
  • Raw nuts + nutritional yeast (for vegan parmesan)
  • Roasted pumpkin (for a cheese sauce base)
  • Blended cashews + spices
  • Vegan cheese (eg BioCheese)

Cookies, cakes and desserts

  • Aquafaba (tinned chickpea water)
  • Oils
  • Vegan milk
  • Dark chocolate
  • Cacao nibs
  • Coconut cream
  • Traditional baking ingredients like flour, sugar, golden syrup etc.
  • Accidental and intentional vegan substitutes

Cream

  • Coconut cream (ideal for whipping)
  • Soy milk
  • Coconut milk
  • Vegan cream

Eggs

  • Avocado
  • Hummus
  • Oil
  • Aquafaba
  • Flaxseed meal + water
  • Chia seeds + water
  • Banana
  • Tofu

Meat

  • Tofu
  • Beans
  • Legumes
  • Jackfruit
  • Mushrooms + breadcrumbs + spices + liquid smoke etc.
  • Vegan meat

Milk

  • Soy milk (great for cakes)
  • Coconut milk (great for curries)
  • Almond milk (great for warm drinks)
  • Other vegan milk alternatives like oat or rice milk
  • Homemade vegan milk

Pesto

  • Basil + olive oil + garlic + nutritional yeast + salt

Recipe Ideas

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