Michele Poff

Veganizing Your Favorite Foods

“Mmmmmm.” Delicious foods hit our tongues with a burst of delight. They trigger dopamine releases and allow us to truly enjoy the entirety of our life existence in this fleeting moment. They make us smile from within, let escape an unintended moan, and transport us almost to transcendence. Ahhh. One of life’s simplest and purest pleasures.

No wonder people are attached to our favorite foods!

It is this craving for the transcendence of the dopamine rush that keeps us eating what we eat, for better or for worse.

Plant-based foods don’t exactly have the reputation for triggering delightful transcendental experiences.

What if they did?

Let’s be honest. The primary reason people don’t go fully plant-based is the flavor. Not far behind flavor is the texture. Most plant-based meals are just not the same. And many are severely lacking in tongue appeal. In turn, the dopamine shot isn’t triggered like when you bite into something absolutely delicious.

If plant-based foods could be just as delicious as your usual foods, would you make the switch? It would be a whole lot easier, wouldn’t it!

These are the problems. Let’s find some solutions!

Some Ground Rules

The first thing you need to know about plant-based cooking is that you need to use a LOT of flavorings! So fill up your spice cupboard, your bottled sauce selection, your vegetable stock cubes and miso paste, and your vinegars. You’ll need soy sauce, Bragg’s aminos, mustard, and nutritional yeast. Vermouth and vegan Worcestershire can also come in handy. Visit an Asian market when you can as they have a huge sauce selection – just watch out for the fish sauce, as a lot of Asian sauces contain it. Keep on hand fresh (or frozen fresh) ginger, garlic, and onion, along with your favorite fresh herbs. If you love your sweets, be sure you have good vanilla, excellent cocoa powder, and good raw sugar.

The second thing you need to know is that certain plant-based foods behave differently than you may be aware. For example, ground flax seeds plus water produces a goo that makes an excellent binder in baking. Raw cashews soaked, blended, and heated will become a thick cream—the less water, the thicker the cream. Avocado and ground chia seeds can both be used to make a mousse-type pudding. Frozen bananas in the blender with a little flavoring becomes a perfect substitute for ice cream, especially chocolate. The water from cooking garbanzos is called aquqfaba—it’s so special it even has its own name. It has a variety of surprising uses including meringue and plant-based butter. These are the main surprising qualities from plants, but by far not the only surprises. Dig into some plant-based recipes and be amazed!

Let the Subbing Begin

For some dishes, you can literally just swap out animal-based ingredients for plant-based ingredients. This works wonderfully in a lot of baking recipes. Swap in “flax egg” for egg, plant milk for milk, and a plant-based cheese for cheese. If you want something creamy, you can use heated cashew cream, pureed silken tofu, or oat milk (homemade, from raw oats works best) instead of cow cream. This one always feels like cheating the system – when Fettuccine Alfredo is back in your weekly rotation because it’s not going to kill you if you eat too much of it. Definitely do a web search for “vegan recipe for X” and see what comes up.

Not all dishes have easy ingredient swap options. Mac and cheese, for example, isn’t just a simple swap of a couple of ingredients. There are many dedicated plant-based recipes for making cheez, from a variety of sources. It’s also pretty difficult to re-create a steak or chicken breast. However, fish-n-chips can be recreated with tofu, seaweed, and a nice breading. Tuna salad can be recreated with tofu or chickpeas, then a lot of all of the other flavorings including celery, onion, pickles, a sheet of seaweed ground, mustard, and more. There are a lot of recipes online for these. It’s not going to be exactly the same as your original favorite, and always remember to go heavy on the flavorings. Eventually, you will like these versions a lot better because of how you feel after eating. For those plant-based eaters who really really want their plant-based food to taste like their favorite animal-based foods, like eggs Benedict or sauteed scallops, for example, there’s a plant-based chef called “The Gentle Chef”, and he creates amazing replicas of animal-based foods in the plant-based kitchen. He has many cookbooks out, and his recipes are surprising. His dishes fool even dedicated meat eaters.

Plant Milks and Cheeses

Whatever the plant milk or cheese is made from, that’s what you’re eating. Plant-based food knock-offs do not carry the same nutrient profiles as their dairy counterparts, so pay attention to what’s in them. Coconut is one of the only plant-based sources of saturated fat. So, if you’re having coconut milk ice cream, cheese, yogurt, or just coconut milk, you’re having a lot of fat and honestly, not much else.

Cow cheese is the hardest thing to give up for most people. It’s helpful to find a good substitute. Nothing will ever taste exactly like the original, and it will usually not even come close. But some items can be just as delicious, even if different. Local artisan cashew cheeses are available at Dominical, Tinamaste, and Uvita férias, and some, such as Dios del Queso, deliver great flavor and texture. Cashew cheeses tend to stand up better when heated, such as on pizza, than coconut-oil-based cheeses, which melt and disappear completely sometimes. You can also make your own almond milk mozzarella without much difficulty.

Don’t Forget the Nutrition!

When veganizing favorite meals, a lot of people focus on the flavor and texture, and ignore the nutritional profile of the substituted items. This happens a lot in “meals” like jackfruit tacos, mushroom “burgers”, and cauliflower “wings”.

It’s important to always remember that the whole point of eating food is for the fuel it provides the body. The dopamine factor is a bonus. Thus, meals each need to have substantial calories (500-800 per meal), and sufficient macronutrients (min. 20g protein). This is why subbing in a vegetable for a meat is a terrible idea! Suddenly, even if the mouth experience is a good approximation, the nutrition of that “dish” just took a serious dive. Jackfruit tacos or enchiladas can be a side dish, not an entrée. Same with a portobello burger and anything made from cauliflower. Enjoy these foods absolutely! Just don’t be tricked into believing they are actually an appropriate adequate meal in and of themselves, no matter what the waiter, or even the chef, has to say about it.

Anything made from a vegetable is a side dish. Period. To be an entrée, a dish must have sufficient calories, protein, carbohydrates and/or fats.

Please—tell this to your favorite restaurateurs! Ask them to provide a breakdown of the calories, proteins, carbohydrates, and fats in each dish. Help them understand that vegetable sandwiches or wraps need to be served with a full portion of legumes in some form. No one likes to leave a restaurant hungry after paying top dollar for a full meal.

Join Facebook Recipe Groups

There are gazillions of plant-based recipes online. Join a few plant-based recipe groups on Facebook—and watch your feed fill with dozens of ideas for plant-based deliciousness.

On to a New Adventure

“Veganizing” your favorite foods will require a bit of research and some trial-and-error before you get it right for your own palate. You will also need to be a bit flexible, as these foods will never be “just like” their originals. But don’t give up. There are many many recipes out there for very delicious and heathy plant-based meals. Once you get the hang of this way of cooking and eating, your old favorites lose their appeal —you feel so much better eating this way.

Enjoy!

For this double issue, two recipes.

Recipe for Plant-Based Bacun

(intentionally misspelled because it’s not actually bacon)

You’ll find several recipes online for this substitute. People use sliced carrots, rice paper, and other creative ingredients. But those recipes lack all of the protein of the bacon, making those options merely tongue teasers, not actual meal bases. Here is a recipe using tofu, retaining the protein of bacon. Enjoy it in a BLT!

  1. Firm or extra firm tofu. Cut the block horizontally first, then slice into 1/4” to 1/8” slices. Place in a bowl or the empty tofu box.
  2. Add: Bragg’s soy aminos, coat thoroughly
  3. A few drops liquid smoke, coat thoroughly
  4. A few drops maple syrup, coat thoroughly
  5. Dip each slice quickly into soy milk
  6. Air-fry on high until it shrinks (~25 min). Turn, continue cooking until desired doneness. Make it crispy if you like it that way! An oven can be used in place of air fryer, ~375-400F. Watch the tofu and adjust the temperature. Be patient.

Recipe for Chickpea/Lentil Waffles

In baking, chickpeas impart creaminess while lentils are crispy (making ground lentils a good coating for frying/air frying). Chickpea waffles bend but don’t crack; lentil waffles break and don’t bend. Blending the flours brings the best of both. You can self-grind brown lentils in a high-speed blender, purchase pre-ground lentil flour, or even use whole lentils that you’ve soaked and blended. You’ll want to add FLAVORINGS to these bases.

1. Heat your waffle iron or pancake pan, a little lower heat than usual.

2. Combine: (Ingredient amounts are estimates. Feel free to add or reduce amounts as you wish)1-2 plant “eggs” (e.g., 1 T ground flax + 1 T water)

  • 1-1/4 cup chickpea/lentil flour
  • ¾ cup grain such as whole wheat or rice flour, or whole rolled oats
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 2 Tbsp raw cane sugar
  • 2 Tbsp cinnamon, plus other spices you like: clove, star anise, cardamom, turmeric, ginger.

3. Mix. Add

  • 1-1/2 – 2 tsp vanilla
  • Mashed ½ avocado or 1 banana, or ¼ cup coconut oil
  • Plant milk to consistency

4. Pour, cook slowly on medium-low heat. Remember these are legumes so give them time. Cook until very brown, just before burned. If pancakes, spread them thin and press toward the end of cooking to ensure the middle is cooked. These take a long time to cook.

Have plenty of delicious toppings on hand, and enjoy!

Michele is a professional writer, editor, instructional designer, and qualitative/quantitative researcher. Her book Whacked Out presents science-based wellness tips for all major life areas, including a healthy plant-based diet. She also runs wellness retreat tours in the Brazilian Amazon. Michele can be reached through her retreat website: paradisefoundretreat.com.