Many people are entering the bright world of veganism for so many different reasons. However, things can get really complicated when trying to cook without staples like butter, milk, eggs, and cheese. This article gives you a few quick tips and tricks to accommodate vegans and omnivores alike.
Many people think of vegan diets as restrictive. And in a way, it is, but not in the way that most people think. Almost everyone has a restrictive diet in terms of not eating things they find gross or offensive. A lot of it is cultural. And while we've all heard about people eating chocolate-covered ants, bat guano, and kiviak, I'm not talking about food from different cultures. I mean, what is considered 'on the menu' can vary greatly even within one household. For instance, many people happily consume bacon and ham but are disgusted at the thought of pig tail, pig snout, pig feet, and chitterlings (pig intestines).
Obviously, vegans don't consume any animal products, however, we eat a wide variety of foods. NOT JUST SALAD! And whilst this article is geared towards non-vegans cooking for vegans. Trust me. It's an article in service of vegans everywhere. There have been many well-intended meals that I had to pretend to eat, choke down, or simply decline. Declining to eat something can be embarrassing and upsetting for both the guest and the host. It just doesn't feel good to me as it is hard to go against my upbringing because my mama raised me right. For a long time, I didn't know how to comfortably deal with those situations, and I struggled... a lot. But after reading this article, this will not be a problem you will have to face.
TIP #1 Understanding the 'No Thank You' List
I still get asked regularly about what a vegan can or cannot eat. I know it's pedantic, but vegans can eat anything we want to eat. We choose not to eat animals or cruelty-related food. The easiest things to remember on the 'No Thank You' list are meat, fish, eggs, and dairy.
Many vegans decline to eat honey. As well as anything that comes as a by-product of animal slaughter like gelatin and lard.
It can be tempting to remove all of the non-vegan elements of a dish in an attempt to produce a vegan masterpiece. I've experienced this a few times. Please don't do that. Most ingredients serve some sort of purpose in the dish, so just removing them will yield tragic results. Not to worry though, because veganizing a meal is easier than you think.
There are so many vegan products available now, it is simple to make vegan replacements like dairy milk to non-dairy milk, dairy butter to non-dairy. Warning: I would steer clear of many vegan cheeses on the market. Go for a cultured cheese that's made from real food like nuts and seeds. Leave anything that's mostly starch, oil, and flavorings on the shelf. It's really hard to go wrong when you buy real food: Legumes, Fruit, Vegetables, Grains, Nuts, and Seeds. So do that. Buy real food.
Tip # 2 Keep it Simple: Vegan or Vegan Friendly
Some of the most enjoyable parties I've been to had a combination of vegan dishes and non-vegan dishes, so people could personalize their meals.
Tapas, Fajitas, and Curry are a few examples of meals where you can make components so that it's easy for vegans to keep it vegan but everyone else can eat what they'd like to as well.
Many products are naturally vegan and have always been so without advertising it. Hummus is almost always vegan, nutritious, and easy to build a menu around. Honestly, give me a hummus wrap with roasted vegetables any day. It's hard to go wrong with roasted vegetables.
Hearty vegan soups like Black Bean or Minestrone are an easy go-to. They can be made deliciously vegan with ingredients you probably already have on hand. Just swap the chicken or beef broth for vegetable broth instead. Serve with some great bread and you've got a winner every time.
TIP # 3 Read The Labels
Reading the label is a must. It's just good practice. A lot of animal products or by-products find their way into the darndest places.
When looking for animal products, I often discover a plethora of chemicals, preservatives, and artificial flavors. The vegan shelves are rife with junk as people try to mimic foods that bring them comfort through familiarity. Whole food or foods that have been minimally processed with few ingredients are usually safe bets.
There is also a world of unintentionally vegan products. Pasta is a great example. Some dry pastas are made without egg. Some tortillas are made without lard. Some jams are made without gelatin. Some guacamole is made without sour cream. You don't have to venture to the specialty section of your grocery store to find these items. Most stores carry a variety of brands, so it shouldn't be that difficult to find vegan-friendly options.
Processing aids/food additives are not on the label. Sometimes, the non-vegan element of food is not listed on the label. Food additives come into direct contact with your food but are neutralized, removed, or have trace amounts in the finished product. Processing aids come into direct contact with your food, but aren't considered ingredients, so by law, they aren't required to list them. Granted, I don't have a problem with my apples being washed in citric acid. I do have a problem with adding gelatin to my apple juice or isinglass (ground fish bladder) to my beer. This is one of the biggest reasons I turned to whole foods. Too many things gross me out about the way my food is handled before it gets to me.
I'm not sure most vegans will refuse apple juice or beer when offered. However, there are loads of online resources to help guide you to vegan options!
TIP # 4 Ask Your Vegan
Many people love to be invited to share a meal with family and friends. As anyone with any type of dietary restriction, we understand the struggle is real. It's highly likely that your vegan has eaten many substandard meals as they developed their vegan culinary skills.
New things often bring new challenges. I'd never presume to offer recipes or advice to someone who hasn't requested it, but I will ask if my host would like me to bring a vegan dish to the party.
I did this quite often when my children were young and needed to eat more than the carrots and celery on the veggie platter. Many people appreciated the offer even though some champions already had it completely covered.
Don't be afraid to ask your guest for suggestions? Perhaps they have a favorite recipe they'd love to share or ideas on how to veganize your menu. Perhaps it's as simple as separating some items. If you're making fajitas, cook the meat separately from the peppers and onions. Better yet, just serve Portobello Mushroom steaks instead. Go for vegetarian refried beans. Check the guacamole. Add vegetable stock instead of chicken stock to the Spanish rice. And voila!
Tip #5 Relax
Entertaining is about having fun. I know a lot of people put in a lot of effort to have a get-together beyond the menu. There are so many vegan blogs and online recipes in the world. Google whatever it is you want to cook with the word VEGAN and a plethora of things will come up. Some of my favorite vegan blogs are Mary's Test Kitchen, The Minimalist Baker, and The Post Punk Kitchen.
So whatever the occasion, remember to have fun. And if people were raised right, they'll appreciate any effort made.