Basics of Vegetarian Cooking
By Allison Brewer, read more from Allison at Get Natured.
Imagine this scenario: your college roommate is in town and you haven’t seen her for years. You have invited her and her family to dinner at your house and, after agreeing to come, she shares with you that she and her family are vegetarian*.
What do you do?
First, don’t panic! While you may not be able to serve your signature crowd-pleasing spaghetti Bolognese, there are a variety of delicious and easy-to-make vegetarian options.
So, where do you start?
You might begin by browsing recipes online or consider modifying one of your favorite dishes.
Modifying or “vegan-izing” meat-based dishes
Modifying a meat-based meal to be vegetarian doesn’t always mean simply removing the meat from the dish. In the case of the Bolognese sauce, that might work (using marinara instead) but you may also choose to add a meat substitute in place of the meat. For vegans**, there are non-dairy “cheeses” available (make sure that what you use doesn’t contain casein- a common milk-based ingredient found in many non-dairy cheeses). Here are a few vegetarian versions of common meals:
- Vegetable pizza (use vegan or no cheese for vegans): Try bell peppers, onions and mushrooms for toppings or get fancy with roasted fennel and caramelized shallots. You may consider adding vegetarian sausage, pepperoni, or soy crumbles to make the pizza heartier.
- Pasta primavera: Toss your favorite al dente pasta with sautéed broccoli, garlic, onions, spinach, and sundried tomatoes. Use marinara or alfredo (use a non-dairy version for vegans) sauce or toss the pasta with extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon. You may add vegetarian “meatballs” or crumbles (ala ground beef) if you wish.
- Enchiladas (use vegan or no cheese for vegans): Vegetarian enchiladas can be made using your favorite traditional recipe as long as the sauce is vegetarian (not made with chicken broth). For filling, try spinach, zucchini, corn, and onions. You may add beans for extra protein, iron, and fiber.
- Macaroni and cheese: Homemade macaroni and cheese is delicious and, usually, vegetarian. For vegans, there are recipes available online that use sauces made with nutritional yeast or raw cashews. The vegan versions don’t taste exactly like traditional macaroni and cheese, but they are delicious in their own way.
**Vegans (or strict vegetarians) do not consume any animal products (meat, dairy products, eggs, or honey).
Substitutes for common ingredients
A variety of soy-based meat substitutes are available to replace sliced lunch meats, sausage, ground meat, hot dogs, burgers, and more. An alternative to soy is seitan (or “wheat meat”) made from high gluten flour. Both the soy products and seitan contain a considerable amount of protein and they make for good substitutes for those who desire the heartiness and/or texture of meat in their meals. Other protein sources, such as legumes or nuts, may be used in place of these meat-like substitutes as well.
There are many non-dairy cheeses available that are made from soy, rice, or nut milks. They can be purchased in blocks, as slices, or pre-grated and come in a variety of flavors to simulate the flavor of dairy-based cheeses.
Beyond soymilk, you can find milks made from rice, almonds, oats, hazelnuts, hemp seeds, and more. Many of these milks come in flavored versions such as chocolate, vanilla, or even “nog” during the winter holidays. Soy creamer is also available for adding to coffee or tea or for replacing cream in recipes. Unsweetened versions are available for some of these milks. Soymilk is the highest in protein, followed by hemp milk. Look for milk that is fortified (i.e. calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 have been added).
Other dairy products:
Creamy sauces can be made using nutritional yeast, silken tofu, or raw cashews. Raw cashews are a terrific way to create a cream-like texture- they can even be used to make vegan “ice cream”. Tofu can be used in place of ricotta cheese. Vegan yogurt and ice cream (usually made from soy, rice, or coconut milk) are delicious alternatives to the dairy versions.
Firm tofu can be used to make a tasty scramble. For recipes where egg is not center-stage (e.g. for baked goods) there are a few different options including using silken tofu, flax seeds, or non-dairy yogurt. See the resources section below (under “Other resources”) for a link to instructions for using these substitutes.
Agave nectar is a great alternative to honey.
• Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone by Deborah Madison
• Vegan With a Vengeance and any other books by Isa Chandra Moskowitz
• Vegan Planet and other books by Robin Robertson
• The Joy of Vegan Baking and other books by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau
• Eat, Drink, and Be Vegan and other books by Dreena Burton
• Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson
• Vegan Lunch Box by Jennifer McCann
Fat Free Vegan
Vegan Yum Yum
A few recipes to start with:
Gnocchi with Thyme Vinaigrette and Lemon Cashew Cream (vegan)
Mac ‘n’ Cheese (vegan)
Egg substitutes for vegan baking
What about soy? Is it safe? or What’s going on with soy?
Where do you get your protein?
Raising a vegetarian or vegan family