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How to simply 'vegan-ize' just about any recipe

Updated: Jan 10, 2022

When we began the journey to a whole-food, plant-based, no added oil way of eating, my first instinct was to grab for all the new alternative 'meat' products that are now in the grocery stores. It's okay to do that, and I'm certainly thrilled to see those products. It was much harder, back in the day, which is why I 'gave up' on going vegetarian (not to mention, gasp! "vegan"!) then. I could only take just so many 'steamed veggie plates' and spaghetti Marinara. Sigh.

The 'meat' and dairy substitutes on the market today are really tasty and convenient, but they're also highly processed, and pretty high in calories, too. And, those added calories tend to come from fat, and too often, saturated fats like coconut oil. Plus, they're expensive.

Fortunately, I've found better, more healthful, less expensive and just as flavorful ways of doing the WFPBNO (Whole food, Plant-based, No Oil) thing. And, it only takes a handful of swaps and tweaks.


Eggs are a difficult thing for many people to give up. They are the preferred way to leaven cakes, for example, and are a great 'binder' in recipes like my Vegan Meatloaf. the good news is that there are plenty of great swaps:

Aquafaba* - 3 tblsp. whisked until frothy

Ground Flaxseed - 1 tblsp. flaxseed + 3 tblsp. water, whisked and allowed to thicken 5 minutes.

Applesauce or Mashed Banana - ¼ cup.

Prune puree or Apricot puree - ¼ cup.

Chia seeds - 1 tblsp. whole or ground Chia seeds + 3 tblsp. water, stirred and allowed to gel 10 minutes.

Pumpkin or Squash puree - ¼ cup.

Tofu - ¼ cup 'silken' tofu, blended until smooth.

Each one of the above swaps equals one whole egg.

It helps to consider what you're making (a sweet or savory dish, baked goods etc.) and how you'll be using the swap. Prune puree adds a sweetness that works particularly well with chocolate. The pumpkin or squash adds an egg-like color. Whole Chia seeds add a poppyseed-like texture, so if that isn't what you're after, use ground Chia seeds. Flaxseeds - which should always be used ground rather than whole - give baked goods a nice moisture. Bananas should always be on the riper, softer side. Remember that a 'banana' flavor will come through, so if that's not in your plan, use a different swap. Aquafaba is a good choice since it has a very neutral flavor.

BTW: I keep little individual portion containers (think baby or kid-sized) of applesauce and prune in the pantry for uses like this. It prevents having a partially used container of the stuff languishing in the back of the refrigerator.

*Aquafaba is the liquid drained off from a can of garbanzos/chickpeas. NEVER let that go down the drain! It's vegan 'gold'. If you can't use it immediately, freeze it.


Butter is a hard thing for many of us to give up, too. The vegan 'butters' in the dairy aisles are very high in calories and saturated fats. Not a good thing. However, there are ways around this.

Aquafaba stars once again - save that juice from the canned chickpeas and freeze it! When making a pan sauce or gravy, you can pour that in to thicken the sauce and give it a 'mouthfeel' similar to butter. Starches like corn starch, Tapioca starch, flour or even Wondra can thicken sauces and gravy easily - and when made into a slurry before adding - lump-free. Just add the necessary spoonfuls of starch to cold water in a jar with a tight-fitting lid, and shake it like you mean it. Then add it to your sauce. Bring to a quick, brief boil, stirring constantly, until the sauce has thickened. You can deglaze a pan with just a drizzle or two of water or vegan broth after sautéeing foods. This will produce a quick sauce. Finally, do like the Italians do - use that water you cooked the pasta in to thicken your pasta sauce. The cooking water has dissolved starches from the pasta.

What to put on toast and rolls is another challenge. When I was first transitioning to WFPBNO, I hit on a version of hummus that makes a great stand-in for 'butter'. In fact, I call it 'Buttah' and have a recipe for it. Simply get the food processor out, pour in a can of drained (save that Aquafaba!) rinsed chickpeas. Add a dollop of miso, some sweetener like maple syrup or honey, some ground flaxseeds (for Omega 3's) and process until smooth and creamy. It goes so well with jam or, swoon, dairy-free 'Nutella'.


You've no doubt heard all about plant milks. Soy, oat, rice, hemp, almond and the rest. This isn't new territory for most people. However, they can have different properties that make some better than others, depending on the use you have in mind.

Don't boil Almond milk as it can separate/curdle. Nut milks have a higher fat content and can be a good choice for baked goods - but they can have a pronounced 'nuttiness' that you may or may not want. Oat milk is one of my 'go to' choices since it has a very neutral flavor, and is still lightly sweet and creamy. It's a good choice for baked goods. Soy milk is my choice for morning cereal, and is also good in baked items, but like Almond milk, it can curdle if allowed to boil. Always look at the labels of plant-based milks to be sure there isn't a bunch of sugar or oils.

Buttermilk is as easy as adding vinegar or lemon juice to your choice of plant-based milk. In a one cup container, add a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice, then stir in enough P-B milk to make one cup. Let it curdle. Add to your recipe.


Cheese is devilishly hard for many people to leave behind. You might be surprised to learn that dairy cheese is actually 'addictive'. It's also high in saturated fat and calories. Vegan 'cheese', like vegan 'butter' may sound like an acceptable swap, but beware. The vegan substitutes are just as high in saturated fat and calories as their dairy counterparts. The good news is that, over time, as a WFPBNO eater, you'll want cheese less and less. But, getting that 'cheese' flavor is simple - just start working with Nutritional Yeast! A whole host of 'cheese' sauces can be made with Nutritional Yeast - or 'Nooch'. When combined with ingredients like puréed pumpkin or hard winter squash to add that 'orange/yellow' coloring, you'll wonder why you didn't give up dairy cheese sooner. For a 'cheese' sauce, you can add Nooch to my Creamy Chikin Gravy, instead of the Kitchen Bouquet (which adds a darker, brown coloring), and some puréed pumpkin!


Here's where the swaps can get difficult. As I said earlier, the new meat alternatives are hardly 'whole foods' in that they're highly processed, and they come with undesirable percentages of added, often saturated fats. And, they're expensive. But, really, if you can look and think outside the butcher box, the options are astounding.

Legumes are often the stars of the show when meaty protein is required. Lentils are a great stand-in for meat in 'loafs', burgers and meatballs. Beans are awesome, too. All legumes come packed with flavor, fiber and loads of nutrients.

Tofu is a protein that people seem to either love or hate. I love it. My husband, well, not so much. Tofu is a 'blank canvas' that can take on any flavor. It can be marinated, grilled, baked, blended and more. It's truly a chameleon. I've been known to fool my husband, only telling him that it was tofu after the fact.

Tempeh is a fermented soy product that is easy to use. Slice it, cube it. Marinate it. Sauté it or grill it. You can buy it in vacuum-packaged portions that keep well in the 'meat' tray of the fridge.

Seitan is another favorite, and I make my own, as the stuff in the grocery store is too pricey for my taste. Made from Vital Wheat Gluten*, you mix it up as a dough, and then steam or poach it (depends on the recipe). It can be sliced like deli meats for sandwiches, or into slices for sautéing. I'll shred it with a fork, and include it in a stir-fry, or toss into soups in place of 'chicken'. I'll be adding my favorite way of making seitan on this website soon.

*Vital Wheat Gluten is what is leftover from milled wheat after the starches have been washed away.

Canned Green Jackfruit is a wonderful substitute for beef or pork ... and is particularly neat as BBQ pulled pork or chicken. Buy cans of 'green' - as in unripe - Jackfruit in Asian markets, drain, rinse and sauté! Slather with your favorite BBQ sauce - which should also be homemade. I mean, really? BBQ sauce is drop-dead simple to make.

P.S. - If you're looking for a multi-pack of the Better Than Bouillion No-Chicken, No-Beef, Vegetable Base - here it is. Here's a link to the Mushroom Base. The Maizena Roux Pour Bechemel is here. And, the Maggi Arome is here.

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