If you’re new to a whole food plant-based diet you may be missing some of your favorite dishes, wishing you could have your old faves like macaroni and cheese, fried chicken, burgers, ice cream, pizza, or whatever you most love.
It can be especially difficult when you’re confronted with the holidays or someone else’s unhealthy eating habits, especially someone close to you.
But there’s hope, I’m here to tell you! Welcome to “Meatless Makeovers” and “Dairy-Free Delights.”
What if you could easily learn how to transform any dish that you love into a plant-based favorite? With a little skill, knowledge and practice you can retool your foodie favorites. By following the simple instructions below you’ll be a “Meatless Makeover Master” and “Dairy-Free Diva” before you know it! Instead of craving what you can’t have you’ll be discovering and enjoying the amazing abundance of delicious whole plant foods. Read on and you’ll see how easy it is to convert just about any recipe you can think of.
HOW TO MAKE ANY DISH PLANT-BASED
1. FREE TO BE WITHOUT MEAT, FISH or POULTRY!
Easy enough. So many traditional dishes can be excellent on their own without any meat or poultry at all. Take chicken divan – it’s so full of veggies that you can either leave out the meat altogether or add in a plant-based protein such as seitan (“wheat meat”), tempeh (fermented Indian soy), or baked tofu.
In a dish that calls for bacon, you can substitute tempeh bacon, either store-bought or homemade. Make a list of your favorite meals and see when you can just leave out the meat. Here are a few suggestions to get you going meat, poultry and fish-less (is that a word?): spaghetti, tacos, burritos, fried rice, chili, curries, and lasagna.
2. GOT (RID OF!) MILK
There are so many rich and creamy dairy dishes – these can be especially hard to give up if you happen to have a “fat tooth” as I do! But the good news is that there’s an increasing variety of commercial plant-based milk available including almond, cashew, oat, and coconut, that are readily available in most grocery stores.
Or better yet (much better yet!) you can make your own fresh plant-based milk, with substantially more nutrition, easily at home. (See “Three Great Reasons to Make Your Own Almond and Other Plant-Based Milk” and “How to Make Delicious Homemade Nut, Seed and Grain-Based Milk.”) To match the creaminess of half-n-half or full cream, add a few raw cashews to any nondairy milk and blend until smooth in a high-powered blender.
Like other types of animal products, cheese can often just be left out of a dish, but if it seems crucial for a particular recipe, you can use a little nutritional yeast as a substitute.
And if you’re feeling especially industrious, there are a variety of tutorials available online which explain how to your own homemade nondairy cheese. In a pinch, you can use store-bought vegan cheese, but I haven’t been especially impressed (except for a few plant-based artisan cheeses such as Treeline brand or Miyoko’s).
3. DON’T BE CHICKEN: REPLACE THE EGGS
There are a few excellent ways to replace eggs, depending on what you’re making.
- If you’re baking and need something to rise, replace one egg with three tablespoons water and one tablespoon ground flaxseeds.
- If you need to bind ingredients together, mix two tablespoons of flour or cornstarch with two tablespoons water.
- Or, you can try the latest and greatest! It’s called aquafaba, a fancy name for the thick, grey liquid from a plain old can of chickpeas. I know it sounds strange, but this magical chickpea juice whips up to a most excellent froth. The proteins that cook out of the chickpeas must pretty closely mimic egg whites. If it sounds too good to be true, just watch this video.
4. OIL AND BUTTER: YOU’RE FRIED!
OK, oil and butter substitutions can sometimes be a little trickier depending on the recipe, but it’s still totally doable, I promise.
- For sautéing: Use wine, vegetable stock, water or water flavored with soy sauce, also called tamari. (Steer clear of soy sauce if you’re on a low-sodium diet, it’s quite high in sodium.) These saute options work very well with any vegetable, including mushrooms. I guarantee these will be the most outstanding and flavorful vegetables you’ve ever had. You won’t taste the oil, just the true essence of the vegetable as nature intended. Mmmmm, so good!
- To thicken sauces: Use flour or cornstarch.
- For baking: Use a fruit puree like applesauce or mashed bananas, about half the portion of oil or butter called for in the recipe. I’ve heard that vegetable purees work too, such as pumpkin puree, but I haven’t tried those yet.
THREE FAVORITE MEATLESS MAKEOVERS
Potatoes Au Gratin
What’s cheesier and creamier than potatoes au gratin with bacon? Replace the cream or milk with nondairy alternatives, the cheese with a little nutritional yeast, and the bacon with tempeh bacon. Sounds easy, right? It is! Here’s the recipe for Potato Gratin with Jalapeño and Bacon.
You can make a great substitute for cheese sauce from some raw cashews or canned cannellini beans, roasted or raw red pepper, a little mustard, lemon juice and nutritional yeast. Voila – you’ve got cheesy un-cheese sauce! Here’s an amazing Chili-Cheese Dip for dipping baked Oil-Free Potato, Yam or Tortilla Chips into. Yum! Also be sure to check out my recipe for Cashew Cheese Sauce.
Vegetarian Bean and Beer Chili
Made with your favorite beer and plenty of spices, this Vegetarian Bean and Beer Chili is a surefire winner guaranteed to please your toughest critics. Serve topped with Plant-Based Vegan Sour Cream, cilantro, and a few green onions.
MORE GREAT PLANT-BASED RESOURCES
Be sure to check out my article “Plant-Based Substitutions” and my Pinterest page for lots more great meat and dairy substitution ideas. And if you’re looking for a good reference book, try The Complete Guide to Vegan Food Substitutions.
You’ve got this!
I hope you’ll give these tips a try with your favorite recipes and practice being a Meatless Makeover Master. I’d love to hear how you’re magically transforming YOUR favorite recipes into healthier plant-based version. Let me know in the comments below.