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Beginner's Guide to Vegan Ingredient Substitutions

Whether you're thinking of going vegan once a week, or taking the plunge and cooking exclusively without meat and dairy products, you'll need to know how to substitute a few of your go-to cooking staples with plant-based ingredients. But before you run out and start stocking up on vegan-friendly substitutes for everyday ingredients, give these simple swaps a try.

Instead of Meat

Tofu

One of the most common vegan meat substitutes is tofu, and for good reason. It is packed with protein, holds its shape while cooking, and soaks up all the flavors in your dish. Reach for firm or extra-firm varieties, to keep a great texture after cooking. Try and remove as much moisture as you can, by gently squeezing or blotting, before cooking.

This recipe for Tofu Tacos is a good example of how you can easily flavor tofu any way you want. Mixed with plenty of spices, this dish is easy to prepare and can be customized to suit your family's taste. Skip the cheese called for in the recipe, if you want a vegan dish.

Tofu Tacos I

Tofu Tacos I | Photo by Buckwheat Queen


Related: Learn more about cooking with tofu, and get more tofu recipes.


Mushrooms

Mushrooms have a meaty texture and savory flavor that make them a great stand-in for beef, especially in burgers and stir-fries. Plus, mushrooms are a good source of selenium, vitamin C, and iron.

This Portobella Mushroom Burger is marinated in balsamic vinegar and spices, and cooks up nice and juicy. Replace the sliced cheese with your favorite vegan-alternative, or just sprinkle the top with a little nutritional yeast for a savory cheesy flavor.

Portobello Mushroom Burgers

Portobello Mushroom Burgers | Photo by CookinBug


Related: Learn more about cooking varieties of mushrooms--including how to make vegan mushroom bacon--and get more mushroom recipes.


Jackfruit

Long used as a meat substitute in Asia, jackfruit is packed with protein, potassium, several vitamins, and fiber. It can be used in both sweet and savory dishes, and is often compared to the taste and texture of pulled pork. That makes it perfect for vegan-friendly sandwiches and tacos.

To make Jackfruit Pulled Pork, you can use fresh jackfruit, or save time and energy and purchase package jackfruit. Just like the "real thing," this tastes even better the day after it's made, served piled on buns with vegan coleslaw.

BBQ Jackfruit Sandwich. Photo by Bigstock

Photo via Bigstock


Related: Learn more about using jackfruit in recipes.


Beans and Legumes

Nutty and earthy in flavor, beans and legumes are a great source of protein and help digestion because they are packed with fiber. They are also inexpensive to buy and easy to prepare in a number of different types of dishes. Beans, chickpeas, and lentils can be tossed into, or the main component of soup, pate, and hot or cold salads. And, when mashed, they become a great substitute for ground beef in meatballs, burgers, meatloaf, and pot pies.

This easy recipe for Lentil Soup can be spiced up to suit your taste. In addition to carrots and celery, toss in your other favorite root veggies, like potatoes, turnips, or rutabaga. Or, add a handful of kale or other greens along with the spinach, to really make this a powerhouse meal. Freeze any leftovers in small containers for quick weeknight dinners. Watch the video to see how to make it.


Related: Learn more about cooking with beans, and choosing and cooking lentils.


Instead of Cream

Cashews

Soak cashews in water to cover for at least 1 hour and up to overnight. When drained and well-blended, the result is a thick and creamy base for sauces and soups.

Vegan Broccoli Soup is a made thick and creamy with cashews blended with vegetable broth, potatoes, and broccoli.

Vegan Broccoli Soup

Vegan Broccoli Soup | Photo by linds


Related: Learn how to make vegan cashew cream, and get 7 delicious ways to use it in recipes.


Instead of Cheese

Miso

Although it's not melty like cheese, miso paste (fermented soybeans) adds a cheese-like savory flavor to many dishes. For every tablespoon of cheese, try adding 1 teaspoon of yellow or brown miso paste instead. It's great in soups, quiches, and sauces. In addition to flavor, miso has the added benefits of having probiotics that aid digestion.

Traditional Alfredo sauce uses Parmesan cheese for its creamy appeal, but in Isa's Butternut Squash Vegan Alfredo Pasta, mellow white miso gives the dish a savory, cheesy taste.

Isa's Butternut Squash Vegan Alfredo Pasta

Isa's Butternut Squash Vegan Alfredo Pasta | Photo by Lindsey

Nutritional Yeast

Along with miso paste, adding a few tablespoons of nutritional yeast to a dish (or mixing it into your cashew cream), adds a surprising "cheesy" flavor. Start with 1 tablespoon of nutritional yeast for every tablespoon of cheese. This is great to use in pesto, in sauces, on top of pasta, and more. Plus, nutritional yeast is packed with B vitamins and protein.

Easy Creamy Vegan Macaroni and Cheese uses a healthy dose of nutritional yeast for its "cheesy" flavor. It also has that traditional yellow color that kids will recognize.

Easy Creamy Vegan Macaroni and Cheese

Easy Creamy Vegan Macaroni and Cheese | Photo by Buckwheat Queen


Instead of Eggs

Silken Tofu

If you love eggs, reach for a container of silken tofu. Firm tofu cooks up rubbery, but silken or medium tofu will give you a softer texture, whether it's in a scramble or a quiche.

Add your favorite veggies to this Scrambled Tofu, made with silken tofu. Omit the cheese, for a truly vegan dish, or substitute with your favorite dairy-free replacement. This scramble is also great piled on tortillas.

Aquafaba

If your recipe calls for egg whites, grab a can of garbanzo beans instead. Drain the liquid, which we normally toss down the sink, to make an egg white replacement that can be used in meringues, mayonnaise, mousse, and more.

You'll be amazed how these Vegan Rose Meringues whips up just like the egg white version. A hint of rosewater gives them a subtle floral fragrance.

Vegan Rose Meringues

Vegan Rose Meringues | Photo by Buckwheat Queen


Related: Learn more about using aquafaba in recipes.


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Jackie Freeman

About Jackie Freeman

Recipe developer, food stylist, culinary tinkerer and mama of two kitchen monkeys! When I'm not cooking (or cleaning up after cooking), I'm outside running, skiing, gardening and dodging Nerf bullets.