Wednesday, 19 December 2012

10 vegan cooking tips for beginners

This vegan shepherd's pie had legumes instead of meat.
A lot of people ask me if it isn't a pain in the backside to cook vegan. For me, it's not. But for those who are just starting out, it very well can be! So I've put together 10 tips to help out the beginners with their vegan eating. Happy cooking!

1. Make it yourself.
Sure, it sucks trying to find packaged food that’s vegan. But cooking at home doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, the beauty of a plant-based diet is its simplicity. You can make things fancy if you like, but make it from scratch. Then you control what goes into it.

2. Explore, don’t modify.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when cooking vegan is trying to make something that is non-vegan into something that’s vegan. Why make fake meat when you can do any number of things that are inherently vegan? Most curries, stir-fries, and any number of wraps, dips and spreads are vegan. It’s much simpler to start there, rather than try to make meatless meat or take the animal products out of recipes that need them.

 3. Don’t forget that vegans eat more than vegetables.
It can get daunting to think about all the things that vegans can’t eat. Really, once we get past meat, dairy and eggs, there isn’t much else to worry about. And while that may seem like a lot, remember that any plant-based food (all grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and of course, fruits and veggies) are fair game.

There are lots of simple ways to modify recipes to make them vegan. Next time you make a stew and you have all kinds of carrot peels and onion skins left over, boil up some vegetable stock and freeze it. Have some ground flaxseed on hand at all times. With these simple preparations, you can whip up a delicious squash soup with cranberry muffins in under an hour for last-minute visits from vegan guests. It makes all the difference.

5. Swap out your sugar.
What most people don’t know is that the vast majority of commercially-sold sugar is processed using animal bones, and so it isn’t vegan. Switch to cane sugar that is organic, kosher, and/or Fair Trade to be sure that it was processed naturally. If it’s pure white in colour, it’s probably not vegan.

6. Find a buddy or two.
Cooking is so much more fun when you’re doing it for more than one person. When I first became vegan, I felt really tired of the same old foods, because I’d cook and then have to eat the same thing for several days because I was on my own. (That’s when being vegan starts to feel like a limitation and chore.) Try alternating cooking at your house, then at a friend’s and share the meal—that way you get delicious variety and some quality time all at once!

7. Develop favourite brands.
Once you find something at the store that fits the bill, make note of it. Try a few different brands to find out what you like, and then stick with your favourite. You’ll save time at the grocery and it makes it easier to collaborate, too. Your partner/roommate/friend sees the same bin of margarine in your fridge all the time, so when you ask him/her to grab another bin while at the grocery, it’s not so daunting anymore!

8. Create a backup repertoire.
You’re certain to find some recipes that are keepers, and that are fun and/or quick to make. When you do, keep them, and also keep the non-perishable ingredients on hand so that you can make it on short notice.

9. If cooking for a vegan friend, give it a try yourself.
If the only time you cook vegan is for when Betty comes over, it’s entirely possible that you’re going to be much less fond of Betty in short order. Try vegan dishes at home from time to time so that you can get used to cooking vegan. You’ll probably even find that there are things you’realready eating that are vegan! (In my 20s, I learned that my grandmother’s raisin cake, which I’ve eaten since birth, doesn’t have any egg or butter because those ingredients were rationed during the war.)

10. Try new ingredients.
Veganism is a good way to try new things and have fun with your cooking! I never tried kale, eggplant, almond milk, quinoa, or spaghetti squash until I turned veggie, and now they’re some of my favourite foods!


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