Posted by: A Part of the Solution | November 3, 2010

Vegan Pantry, Part 6: Substitutes

These are my hard-won, occasionally invented, tricks of the trade. They got me from here to there when I was a pro. They’re still doing the heavy lifting when I’m using a lot of technique to make the vegan eats comparable.


Butter: Unrefined corn oil has a strong, almost unpleasant taste when it’s raw. And that taste will overwhelm even foods like brownies if there’s too much in play. But use about two tablespoons of unrefined corn oil for every cup of oil in a recipe and the results will knock people’s socks off! For solid shortening when baking, I like the Earth Balance Shortening Sticks and Spectrum Organic Palm Oil Shortening. I’ve made danish with these that people refused to believe were  vegan.

Don’t, please don’t, try to use the tub margarines as butter substitutes. They have too much water and your cooking will fail badly every time.

Eggs: Back in the bad old days, the standard egg-substitute was a starchy mixture of stuff and your teeth would stick together as you chewed on your cookie. It never gave much loft or crispness to the finished product. Nowadays, I like 1 1/2 TBSP flaxseed meal whirled in a mini-blender or processor with 2 TBSP of water to equal 1 egg. It multiplies nicely. But process it long enough that it becomes foamy and sticky before adding it to your other ingredients.

Or blend 1 TBSP oil with 2 1/2 TBSP tofu. Again, you want the mixture not just to emulsify, but also to gain in volume by about 1/4 in order for it to do its appointed job. This also multiplies reasonably well.

Or, if you don’t mind a slightly damp quality in your finished product (or you need to add moisture to something you’ve already tried), you can use 3 TBSP of applesauce to hold your project together. But I wouldn’t multiply this up very far. Instead, I’d add one of the other ‘eggs’ to the mix.

Milk: I have to say I like nut milk better than soy milk, since it’s so much less processed. But it’s not inexpensive to put 1/2 lb of raw, unsalted nuts (almond is best for baking) in a blender and grind like all get out whilst slowly adding three to four cups of water (depending on whether you want ‘cream’ ‘full-fat’ or ‘low-fat’ style milk). Walnut will turn a funny color (if purplish beige is funny), and turn your finished product a funny color, too (unless it’s chocolate or dark mocha or something). Don’t forget that the taste of the nut carries over into the food….

Soy milk also tends to leave foods ‘damp’– it’s not my favorite. But rice milk is almost pure sugar and doesn’t hold up to heat well, so don’t use it if you have any choice at all.

If I thought oat milk could be made at home, I would go for it since it’s less allergenic. Thus far, I haven’t run across any reliable home preparations for oat milk.

Meat: You can mimic ‘ground’ by freezing and thawing and then squeezing a block of tofu. Don’t use the shelf-stable silken boxes for this. It’s great in chilis and sloppy joes and casseroles.

Use seitan, and it’s easy to do homemade with gluten, for stew chunks–or to process coarsely for a loaf or more chew than the tofu creates. I will sometimes combine this with judicious amounts of GimmeLean, which is kind of gummy and damp by itself, and definitely improves by sautéing in lots of oil and being cut with other ingredients.

The deli slices, dogs and burgers all available now are very processed and extremely high in sodium. Individual tastes vary, so go through the line-up slowly and consider what you like about the various goodies on the market. I have a lingering fetish for anything in the Nate’s line myself.

Cheese: Nutritional yeast can be your friend here. Combine it, about a third to half a cup, with mashed tofu, a spritz of lemon, freshly grated nutmeg, salt, olive oil and a little chopped flat-leaf parsley. This makes a ‘ricotta’ which had an Italian woman begging us for our source of fresh cheese, which tasted to her just like what grandma used to do. Or add that nutritional yeast plus a little dry mustard powder to a ‘cream’ sauce to turn it into a lovely gloppy base for mac and cheese.



  1. Dang, I’m printing this one out!!

    You rock!

    • In all modesty (I found some when I was sweeping up), I do indeed rock. And that substitute list works. It really works!

  2. You really do rock! Such a great series of fascinating posts. Reminds me how lucky I am to be the omnivorous type who doesn’t scoff at vegan food.

    • There’s a lot out there to eat, and so many ways to combine the foods available to us. The gentle discipline of veganism helps me appreciate what I’m having seasonally so much more profoundly than I might otherwise. And it doesn’t have to taste like a compromise.

  3. This is a good blog message, I will keep the post in my mind. If you can add more video and pictures can be much better. Because they help understanding for better. 🙂 thanks Ozenuma.

    • I don’t have video facilities, nor do I think that short posts like these need that much visual support. I don’t post pictures b/c I’m lazy!

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