Do you want to lighten-up your holiday dinner without sacrificing taste?
Do you have a vegetarian, vegan, or someone with an egg or dairy allergy/intolerance coming to dinner?
Try some of these tips to cut out dairy and other high saturated fat and cholesterol ingredients—essentially “vegan-ize” your meal (or parts of your meal).
- Eating vegan just means that one is not eating animal foods like meat, dairy, seafood, and eggs. Since all cholesterol comes from these products, vegans eat a zero-cholesterol diet!
- Vegetarians eat dairy and eggs, but no meat or seafood.
- What about those who don’t want to be vegan? No problem—everyone’s health can benefit by eating more plant-based, whole foods. Most of the recipes I post on Chef in Medicine are aimed at getting people to eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and other plant-based foods that we know improve health.
- If you are trying to vegan-ize recipes, the easiest recipes are those that only have one or two animal food items and these items are not the key ingredients.
- For dishes that do have meat, dairy, seafood, or eggs as main ingredients, there generally are ways to vegan-ize them, but those methods are either more advanced and/or use a lot of heavily processed, plant-based foods to replicate the animal food being replaced.
- Despite generally focusing on less processed plant-based foods, I have given some recommendations for these processed, animal food replacement items, based purely on taste, for those who would like to use them to get through the holidays. I have only included widely-available brands (for the most part). There are a lot of faux meat and dairy products out there that either taste terrible, don’t work well in recipes, or aren’t available in many areas of the US.
Here are quick tips on replacing some dairy and other animal-based foods in recipes:
- EGGS: In baked items, an egg can be replaced with 1 tablespoon ground flax seed mixed with 3 Tablespoons hot water (called a “flax egg”). Alternatively, you can use a product called “Egg Replacer” as directed on the package. Both methods only work for recipes with 1-2 eggs in them, but don’t try this with recipes where eggs are the main ingredient.
- CREAM (AKA. HEAVY CREAM): In items where cream is an ingredient, blend equal amounts of raw cashews and water together until completely smooth. Use as you would cream. This works for everything except whipped cream.
- WHIPPED CREAM: Warning—the following is loaded with saturated fat, but is delicious, plant-based and dairy-free. Buy a can of coconut cream or regular (not-lite) coconut milk and refrigerate until very cold (~8 hours or overnight), making sure not to shake the can. Then open the can and scoop out the solid coconut fat into a mixing bowl (reserve liquid for another use), using a hand or stand mixer beat in 1/4 cup powdered sugar (or more, to taste) and 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract. Use as you would whipped cream or whipped topping.
- MILK: Silk Unsweetened Soymilk yields the best results when substituted for milk in my experience, but you can use any unsweetened non-dairy milk (rice, almond, coconut, etc.). Beware that “plain” or “original” non-dairy milks often contain sweetener and are terrible in mashed potatoes or savory food. Make sure to find unsweetened. Plain and original versions are fine for using in dishes that you don’t mind being sweet. Also note that most commercially-available nut-based milks contain very few nuts or nutrients (except those added in processing) and their creaminess generally comes from gums and thickeners, especially the “low-fat” or “lite” types.
- MEAT: it really depends on the recipe. If your recipe calls for a bit of bacon or sausage to flavor vegetables, just leave it out and use a bit of olive oil instead to add the fat that you’d miss without the bacon/sausage. If you really want the smoky flavor, add a few drops of liquid smoke, though I won’t vouch for it’s health benefits or lack thereof. For items that are made up almost entirely of meat, you can find non-meat alternative versions of sausage (both breakfast and link), turkey, lunchmeat, meatloaf, chicken breast, chicken strips, hamburger, cube steak, meatballs, and burgers on the market that taste great. Most are highly processed and not as healthy as whole plant foods, but are generally healthier than most meat products and good transition foods or alternatives for those trying to cut down on their meat consumption. The following recommendations are based solely on which taste the best to me rather than which are healthiest.
- Tofurky makes a very good Thanksgiving turkey (called Holiday Veggie Roast or Holiday Vegetarian Roast). I don’t find their other products to be particularly tasty.
- Gardein makes the best chicken breast replacement (called Chick’n Scallopini) and decent burgers, cube steak (called Beefless Tips), ground beef (called Beefless Ground), chicken strips and tenders, a good Thanksgiving turkey (called Holiday Roast) and individual serving stuffed turkey breasts (called Stuffed Turk’y). I avoid their items aimed at replicating other processed junk food.
- Field Roast makes great sausage, Thanksgiving turkey (called Celebration Roasts), lunchmeat (called Deli Slices), and burgers. I find their products to be somewhat less processed than Tofurky or Gardein, and their sausages to be downright delicious! However, for holiday turkey replacements, I like Tofurky best, followed by Gardein and then Field Roast.
- I have not found fake seafood products to be very tasty and would suggest you avoid them.
- BUTTER: I use the Earth Balance Original , Olive Oil or Omega-3 (the non-whipped version) for spreading or the Vegan Buttery Sticks for recipes and baking. These have more salt than unsalted butter (the type often used in baking), so you generally have to leave salt out of your recipe if using more than a tablespoon or two of butter replacement.
- SHORTENING OR LARD: Vegetable shortening is actually vegan but is often full of the most unhealthy thing you can eat—trans fat. I generally substitute either “butter” (as above) or unrefined coconut oil if a solid fat is needed. Unrefined coconut oil does have a distinct coconut flavor, so choose refined coconut oil to avoid this if you don’t like coconut. However, refined coconut oil has been shown to be quite unhealthy (the jury is still out on unrefined). If liquid oil would work it is certainly a healthier choice; I use canola, safflower, or grapeseed oils (all oils with little of their own flavor) when baking and olive oil when cooking savory foods.
- CHEESE: Most cheese eaters will be disappointed with many of the widely available vegan alternatives. An exception I’ve found for cheese slices is the Field Roast brand Chao Cheese, which comes in three flavors (all good and not as heavily processed as many others). For shredded cheese that you cook in or add on top of a dish (like pizza, lasagna or pasta), I recommend Follow Your Heart Vegan Gourmet Shreds; they also make some good smoked gouda and other slices. Daiya shredded cheeses are also available widely but I find them to be bland and oily; their blocks are much better tasting than their shredded cheese.
- CREAM CHEESE: There are many on the market of varying quality, but the best-tasting is Tofutti Non-Hydrogenated Better Than Cream Cheese. If you can find the one with the yellow label it is made without hydrogenated oils and is much better for you than the white label one which does contain hydrogenated oils (trans fat). Again, this is quite processed. Other cream cheese replacements I’ve tried tend to be inconsistent in terms of taste and texture from batch to batch. Hopefully, this will change in the future.
- RICOTTA CHEESE: use crumbled soft or firm tofu (block-style, not silken) in place of the ricotta cheese for items that aren’t blended and firm or extra-firm silken tofu for items that are blended. See this great primer on different types of tofu if you’re not a tofu guru.
- SOUR CREAM: Tofutti makes a version, but I prefer to use Forager’s Cashewgurt Unsweetened Cashew Yogurt. Apologies if this isn’t available near you. I’ve recently seen it popping up at Whole Foods stores in the Bay Area.
- YOGURT: Unfortunately, most of the commercially-available options are highly-sweetened and I avoid using them (just as I recommend people avoid the highly-sweetened dairy versions of yogurt); they are available at most larger grocers, however. I’ve also recently seen Forager’s Cashewgurt Unsweetened Cashew Yogurt at Whole Foods stores in the Bay Area and have been impressed. It is both tasty and completely devoid of added sugars. I use this in most recipes requiring yogurt.
- ICE CREAM: Try my recipe for Vegan Vanilla Bean Ice Cream and dress it up with whatever toppings your heart desires! Otherwise, look for options that are not fat-free as these tend not to taste very good and be made up nearly entirely of sugar. Don’t be fooled by those ice “creams” that claim to have no sugar—they generally mean they have no white sugar, but can still be filled with other types of sugar. Cashew-based (and some coconut milk-based) ice “creams” tend to be less processed and tastier than soy, almond, and rice milk-based varieties. Great options include Larry & Luna’s Coconut Bliss and So Delicious’ Cashewmilk Frozen Desserts (So Delicious makes other frozen desserts that aren’t as good as their cashew-based types). The exception to my comment about the almond milk ice creams is Ben & Jerry’s Non-dairy Pints , which are delicious.
- EVAPORATED MILK: My Award-winning Vegan Pumpkin Pie uses Mori-Nu Firm or Extra-Firm Silken Tofu (this type is sold on the shelf in an aseptic package, unrefrigerated) in place of both the evaporated milk and eggs generally found in pumpkin pie recipes. This substitution doesn’t work in all recipes using evaporated milk and/or eggs.
**I am not paid to endorse products, nor do I received free products, from any of the companies mentioned above. I am simply recommending what works based on my experience and taste preferences.