Veganuary is right around the corner! Are you thinking of giving it a try, but have no idea what to eat? I went vegan nearly two years ago, and remember all too well how daunting the idea of cooking without animal products first felt. That’s why I want to share my vegan staples, cooking tips and tricks, and favorite recipes, to get you ready for Veganuary; basically, everything I wish I knew when I first went vegan.
Vegan Pantry: My Staple Food Items
These are the items I have stocked at all times. Some of them you probably keep in your own house already, while others might be new.
TVP (textured vegetable protein) is dehydrated and defatted soy flour. It has 49 grams of protein per 100 grams and can be purchased in various sizes. It cooks up really well and is much cheaper than commercial plant-based alternatives, like Beyond Meat; depending on where you live, it’s probably cheaper than real meat, too.
We buy ours from Veganz. If you live in the US or Canada, you can buy it in bulk, for cheap, at Bulk Nutz 4 You and Bulk Barn, respectively. Lucky you! If you don’t want to buy online, it’s sold in most health food stores and occasionally in larger supermarkets, like Meijer, in the baking aisle.
Nutritional yeast is a godsend. Lovingly referred to as “nooch” by many vegans, it’s used to add a cheesy flavor to dishes. It also has a lot of vitamins, minerals, and 4.5 grams of protein per tablespoon. Not bad!
We like to keep a few blocks of firm tofu in our freezer, and soft and silken for other recipes (such as tofu scramble for breakfast burritos or chocolate mousse) in the fridge. In my Tips and Tricks section, I’ll explain why we store our firm tofu in the freezer, as well as ways to prepare tasty, flavorful tofu.
Money-Saving Tip: if you live near an Asian grocery store, buy your tofu from them! It’s much, much cheaper. My favorite local grocer sells 500 grams for just €1.50.
Beans and Legumes
I always have several cans of chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, and white beans in our pantry. Beans are a great source of protein and fiber and are the main ingredient in a lot of vegan recipes.
Soy Cooking Cream
It doesn’t necessarily have to be soy, but that’s what I prefer. If you ever come across a vegan recipe that calls for inventive (and sometimes expensive) homemade cream sauces, you can just use soy cream. Seriously. I don’t know why some vegan food bloggers go to such great lengths to make cream from cashews or potatoes; just use soy cream, guys.
Tahini is one of the two main ingredients in hummus, which might become a staple food in your household. Hummus is super easy to make and so much tastier when it’s fresh. Tahini is also great for making salad dressings, as well as sauces for things like Buddha bowls.
Couscous, Bulgur, Quinoa and Pasta
Full disclosure: quinoa, like lentils, makes me sick. If you can eat quinoa, though, it’s a good source of protein, as is bulgur wheat, amaranth, and couscous.
Also, did you know pasta has 12 grams of protein per 100 grams? Neat!
Hail Seitan! (…and Tempeh)
I personally don’t cook either of these things at home, but for many vegans, seitan and tempeh are staple food items in their own kitchens. They have a very “meaty” texture. If you’ve ever had imitation duck or chicken at a Chinese restaurant, for example, it was probably made of seitan.
Seitan is made from wheat gluten and tempeh is fermented soybeans. You can buy both at the grocery store; tempeh may be harder to find, but seitan mix is usually in the “health food” or baking section of your grocery store. You can also make them entirely on your own from scratch! Here are two great guides on tempeh and seitan.
Cooking Tips and Tricks
No idea how to cook TVP? Clueless on how to make tofu not taste like slimy nothing? And how do you replace eggs in a recipe? Keep reading to find out!
Tofu: Everything You Need to Know
Tofu is a flavor sponge. Once you understand that, cooking with tofu becomes much easier.
Tofu comes in many varieties. You’ve had silken tofu already if you’ve ever had miso soup, but it can also be used to make vegan chocolate mousse or pudding. I use soft tofu for scrambled “eggs,” and firm tofu if I’m marinating or frying it with any sort of coating.
The secret to tasty tofu is freezing it, and then pressing* out the excess water once it has unthawed. I recommend checking out this guide on pressing your tofu.
Freezing the tofu creates more tiny air pockets within the tofu, so that after you press out the extra water, it will soak up even more of your marinade or sauce. It will also fry up nicely if you’re doing a double-fry method for, say, Maangchi’s Crispy Tofu recipe (see: recipe section), which is a favorite in our house.
If you’re using a marinade, avoid oil. Tofu is mostly water, even when it’s extra-firm. This means that the oil will prevent the tofu from absorbing most of your marinade. Brush the tofu with oil after marinating it if you’re grilling, pan-searing, or baking your tofu.
*Hopefully this goes without saying, but just in case…you should not press silken or soft tofu.
How to Use TVP
Textured vegetable protein (TVP) comes in various sizes. You can use the “mince” as a ground meat replacement. Soy curls or medallions are good for bite-sized pieces. You can even buy “steaks” if you need something larger.
If you’d rather follow a professional’s instructions, check out this video on cooking with TVP. His method is a little different than mine.
You’ll see I add a little vinegar to my rehydration liquid. I do this because I used to find TVP slightly bitter and someone on Reddit gave me the vinegar tip. I think it helps; but, it’s worth noting that a lot of people told me they’ve never noticed a slight bitter flavor. So, you may not need to add vinegar at all.
Cooking “Mince” TVP
For every 50 grams of dry TVP, I take about a half a cup of water, one tablespoon of soy sauce, and 1/2 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar. I put that in a pan and, once it’s simmering, I add the TVP and my spices, then cook (stirring occasionally) until most of the water is evaporated. Finally, I add one or two teaspoons of oil and fry until it’s browned. Taste, and add salt if needed.
Alternatively, I will use 1/2 cup of vegetable broth instead of water and omit the soy sauce.
If I’m cooking the mince for chili, I will add one dash of liquid smoke.
Cooking Larger TVP Pieces
Same as above, but double the water or vegetable broth. Add more water as necessary until they’re completely rehydrated. Then, take them out of the pan and let them cool for a minute or two, before squeezing out the excess water with a clean kitchen cloth.
Once that’s done, return them to the pan with your chosen spices and oil, and fry until they’re at their desired crispiness.
The Best Replacements for Egg in Baked Goods
What you use as a replacement depends on what you’re cooking. The point of the egg is to add moisture and also act as a binding agent.
The most well-known are banana and apple. You can use 1/4 cup of banana puree or applesauce for each egg a recipe calls for. Bananas work best in “chewy” recipes like brownies and some muffins. Apple sauce will have a lighter effect. Both will make your treats taste a little like banana or apple.
For most recipes, I prefer to use a flax egg. You can find out how to make one here. In my opinion, this is hands-down the best replacement for eggs for most baked goods.
If you need egg for something like meringue, then you can use aquafaba as a replacement. That’s the liquid chickpeas come in. If you do a lot of baking that requires stiff egg whites, you may even find it worthwhile to just buy aquafaba. Yep, they sell the liquid without the chickpeas.
If you’re making something light and airy, you can replace each egg with 1/4 cup of (strong) carbonated water. Just remember that this only works for recipes you’re going to pop immediately into the oven; if you need to chill the dough, the carbonation will be lost.
Vegan Recipe Blogs and YouTube Channels
Most of our tried-and-true favorites are just veganized versions of stuff we ate before I went vegan, like pancakes, burritos and chili.
Sometimes you have to branch out, though, so here are a few of my favorite places to get vegan recipes.
My Favorite Vegan Food Blogs
Loving it Vegan
The majority of our favorite recipes are from Alison Andrews, who runs the vegan recipe blog Loving it Vegan. We especially love her General Tso’s Tofu, Buddha Bowl, Sweet Potato Soup, and Risotto. For the risotto, I make just a few modifications; I add peas, as well as 4 tablespoons of nutritional yeast towards the end.
Eat Figs Not Pigs
I really like this blog because she isn’t focused on making everything yourself, ensuring everything is gluten-free, or even that it’s particularly healthy. If you’re new to vegan cooking and you’re afraid it will all be “rabbit food,” let Eat Figs, Not Pigs change your mind. I think you’ll love her Vegan Crunch Wrap Supreme and Chick’n Adobo as much as I do.
Alison from Connoisseurus Veg (which I can never type correctly on the first try) posts a lot of great recipes and she’s been at it for a long time, so there are tons of recipes on her site. My favorites include this Vegan Coffee Cake and Creamy Cajun Pasta.
Budget Bytes is not a vegan food blog, but the owner, Beth, does post a lot of vegan recipes. We especially enjoy her salads, such as Zucchini and Orzo with Chimichurri and Lemony Artichoke and Quinoa Salad, which I make with couscous instead of quinoa.
Ready for some amazing Mac and Cheez? Emilie has you covered. This is, hands down, the best vegan macaroni and cheese recipe. The only change I make is that I use soy cream instead of plant-based milk. She suggests using Daiya, which is an American vegan cheese brand. If you don’t have a vegan cheddar alternative where you live, use any mild vegan shredded cheese you like and add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar and 1 or 2 teaspoons yellow mustard, to reach desired tanginess.
This Savory Vegan
If you’re in need of meal plans, look no further than This Savory Vegan. She posts weekly meal plans that will make deciding what’s for dinner this week so much easier. As for specific recipes, we really enjoy her Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto on gnocchi and pasta, as well as her Creamy Garlic Pasta with Brussels Sprouts.
The Simple Veganista
This blog is focused on easy recipes with as few ingredients as possible. We really enjoy her Vegan Shepherd’s Pie; the only modification I make is that I use TVP instead of lentils. Another great recipe is her take on West African Peanut Stew.
No list of vegan food blogs is complete without Minimalist Baker. Her blog and cook books are the most well-known. You may find that you need to make slight adjustments to her recipes, as they’re written with people who eat gluten-free in mind. If you ever see Tamari sauce, for example, you can just use soy sauce, like in this amazing Baked Crispy Peanut Tofu recipe.
Awesome Vegan Recipes on YouTube
Cheap Lazy Vegan is a great place for easy recipes, as well as Korean classics, like her delicious Tteokbokki recipe.
The Easy Vegan also shares simple, tasty recipes. This Vish and Chips is a bit more complicated than his other recipes, but it’s seriously tasty. Give it a try!
Honorable mentions: I prefer written recipes, which is why this list is so short. However, I’d be making a huge mistake if I didn’t recommend that you also check out Yeung Man Cooking, Avant Garde Vegan, and Mary’s Test Kitchen.
That’s all for now! If you have any questions about Veganuary, check out their website here. If you have any further questions, please feel free to comment below or ask me on Twitter. I’m happy to help! Next week I will (hopefully) have a post about my favorite vegan products in Germany. I’ve also got two posts about learning German up and ready to go, so look for those in the next few weeks.