January 14, 2013
By Tara Parker-Pope
When I first heard former President Bill Clinton talk about his
vegan diet, I was inspired to make the switch myself. After all, if a
man with a penchant for fast-food burgers and Southern cooking could go
vegan, surely I could too.
At the grocery store, I stocked up on
vegan foods, including almond milk (that was the presidential
recommendation), and faux turkey and cheese to replicate my daughter’s
favorite sandwich. But despite my good intentions, my cold-turkey attempt to
give up, well, turkey (as well as other meats, dairy and eggs) didn’t go
well. My daughter and I couldn’t stand the taste of almond milk, and the
fake meat and cheese were unappealing.
Since then, I’ve spoken with
numerous vegan chefs and diners who say it can be a challenge to change a
lifetime of eating habits overnight. They offer the following advice for
stocking your vegan pantry and finding replacements for key foods like
cheese and other dairy products.
NONDAIRY MILK Taste all of them to
find your favorite. Coconut and almond milks (particularly canned coconut
milk) are thicker and good to use in cooking, while rice milk is thinner and
is good for people who are allergic to nuts or soy. My daughter and I both
prefer the taste of soy milk and use it in regular or vanilla flavor for
fruit smoothies and breakfast cereal.
NONDAIRY CHEESE Cheese
substitutes are available under the brand names
Follow Your Heart, among
others, but many vegans say there’s no fake cheese that satisfies as well as
the real thing. Rather than use a packaged product, vegan chefs prefer to
make homemade substitutes using cashews, tofu, miso or nutritional yeast. At
Candle 79, a popular New York vegan
restaurant, the filling for
saffron ravioli with wild mushrooms and cashew cheese is made with
cashews soaked overnight and then blended with lemon juice, olive oil, water
THINK CREAMY, NOT CHEESY Creaminess and richness can often be achieved
without a cheese substitute. For instance, Chloe Coscarelli, a vegan chef
and the author of “Chloe’s Kitchen,” has created a
pizza with caramelized onion and butternut squash that will make you
forget it doesn’t have cheese; the secret is white-bean and garlic purée.
She also offers a creamy, but dairy-free,
pesto pasta. My daughter and I have discovered we actually prefer the
rich flavor of butternut squash ravioli, which can be found frozen and fresh
in supermarkets, to cheese-filled ravioli.
NUTRITIONAL YEAST The name
is unappetizing, but many vegan chefs swear by it: it’s a natural food with
a roasted, nutty, cheeselike flavor. Ms. Coscarelli uses nutritional yeast
flakes in her “best ever” baked macaroni and cheese (found in her cookbook).
“I’ve served this to die-hard cheese lovers,” she told me, “and everyone
agrees it is comparable, if not better.”
Susan Voisin’s Web site, Fat
Free Vegan Kitchen, offers a nice
primer on nutritional yeast, noting that it’s a fungus (think
mushrooms!) that is grown on molasses and then harvested and dried with
heat. (Baking yeast is an entirely different product.) Nutritional yeasts
can be an acquired taste, she said, so start with small amounts, sprinkling
on popcorn, stirring into mashed potatoes, grinding with almonds for a
Parmesan substitute or combining with tofu to make an eggless omelet. It can
be found in Whole Foods, in the bulk aisle of natural-foods markets or
BUTTER This is an easy fix. Vegan margarines like Earth
Balance are made from a blend of oils and are free of trans fats. Varieties
include soy-free, whipped and olive oil.
EGGS Ms. Coscarelli, who won
the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars with vegan cupcakes, says vinegar and baking
soda can help baked goods bind together and rise, creating a moist and
fluffy cake without eggs. Cornstarch can substitute for eggs to thicken
puddings and sauces. Vegan pancakes are made with a tablespoon of baking
powder instead of eggs.
and omelets can be replicated with tofu.
Finally, don’t try to
replicate your favorite meaty foods right away. If you love a juicy
hamburger, meatloaf or ham sandwich, you are not going to find a meat-free
version that tastes the same. Ms. Voisin advises new vegans to start slow
and eat a few vegan meals a week. Stock your pantry with lots of grains,
lentils and beans and pile your plate with vegetables. To veganize a recipe,
start with a dish that is mostly vegan already -- like spaghetti -- and use
vegetables or a meat substitute for the sauce.
“Trying to recapture
something and find an exact substitute is really hard,” she said. “A lot of
people will try a vegetarian meatloaf right after they become vegetarian,
and they hate it. But after you get away from eating meat for a while,
you’ll find you start to develop other tastes, and the flavor of a lentil
loaf with seasonings will taste great to you. It won’t taste like meat loaf,
but you’ll appreciate it for itself.”
Ms. Voisin notes that she
became a vegetarian and then vegan while living in a small town in South
Carolina; she now lives in Jackson, Miss.
“If I can be a vegan in
these not-quite-vegan-centric places, you can do it anywhere,” she said. “I
think people who try to do it all at once overnight are more apt to fail.
It’s a learning process.”