A couple weeks back, I posted (here) about how much I love Mark Bittman’s style of recipe writing because, rather than merely providing instructions on how to make one specific dish, he offers tools and skills you can use to get creative in the kitchen. Having an arsenal of dependable, versatile cooking techniques is useful to any home cook, but it’s essential to us vegans who are constantly called upon to revamp recipes to our dietary requirements. Vegetarians can usually just swap out meat for a plant-based protein, but those of us who avoid all animal products must also find alternative ways to bind, thicken, bread, and stuff our meals. But have no fear. With these 5 techniques in your toolkit, you’ll be able to easily veganize almost any mainstream (savory) recipe.
Breading: Have a craving for breaded seitan cutlets, eggplant Parmesan, or fried green tomatoes? Make a mixture of equal parts vegan mayo and water or nondairy milk, and use exactly as you would eggs. Dredge the item in flour, dip in mayonnaise mixture, and roll in bread crumbs, then bake or fry according to the recipe. For Asian style tempura, use panko breadcrumbs.
Frying batter: For a light, crisp, airy batter for frying, use baking powder to obtain a light, crisp crust without egg. I love this awesome batter recipe on Serious Eats), which also uses gin to prevent greasiness. Or, make an easy beer batter with 3/4 cup of flour, one bottle of beer, and seasonings of your choice.
Roux (aka Cream Sauce Base #1): The backbone of traditional gravies, cream sauces, stews, and chowders, roux is a paste made of equal parts flour and fat that can be used to thicken any liquid. While traditional roux is made with butter, any vegan fat will work just as well. Simply melt the fat, add the flour, and stir over low heat until the flour starts to color, then add your desired liquid (e.g. broth or non-dairy milk) and simmer until thickened. (The darker you let the flour get, the richer and deeper the flavor of the sauce will be.)
Cream sauce bases # 2 and #3: To make a rich, creamy sauce without using a roux, soak cashews in water overnight (or, if you’re in a hurry, simmer for a least an hour) and blend until creamy, then thin to desired consistency with water or non-dairy milk. Alternatively, blend silken tofu to liquify. Either base can then be seasoned as you would any cream sauce. For a cheesy flavor, add a tablespoon or so of nutritional yeast.
Soft cheese (for stuffed shells, chiles rellenos, lasagna, pizza): To make a creamy, slightly sweet, cheesy filling that functions like ricotta, blend roughly equal parts soaked-cashews and tofu with a couple spoonfuls of miso paste and/or nutritional yeast. The mixture will even brown in the oven like real cheese.
Custard, omelette, or quiche: When blended into a thin liquid and then baked or cooked on the stovetop, tofu will firm-up and become fluffy much like eggs. Mix in desired fillings before cooking, just as you would when making a non-vegan quiche, omelette, or custard. See this gorgeous quiche on Oh She Glows, or this fun omelette on Post Punk Kitchen.
Reader, what tips and cheats have you come up with since going vegan? Are there any foods from your pre-vegan days you’re still struggling to figure out how to recreate?