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Essential Vegan Alternatives

Adopting any "free-from" diet, whether by choice or necessity, can be challenging at times, but I would argue that it also makes you a more creative cook. For vegans the challenge is sourcing the right ingredients to replace eggs, dairy and honey. The good news is that it's fun to experiment with delicious and healthy alternatives such as mashed banana, flax seeds and coconut oil. And, of course, you needn't be a full-time vegan to give these a try!

A trip to your local health food store is often handy for vegan cooking, as you’ll find a better choice of ingredients and knowledgeable staff on hand. But you can sometimes find what you need in the supermarket too. Just look out for the vegan symbol on packaged products or read the label carefully as the traditional V for vegetarian symbol doesn’t mean it’s also vegan. Look carefully for hidden milk products such as casein or whey and remember that E numbers may contain animal products. These are often found in margarines, crisps and biscuits, while gelatine is often found in yogurts and desserts.

We're also more than happy to share our vegan expertise with you. Keep an eye on our upcoming vegan classes and diploma courses. Our vegan Christmas classes always fill up quickly!

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Essential Vegan Alternatives

Eggs

You can buy egg replacer products, but I much prefer natural alternatives. Eggs act as a rising agent, so if you’re taking away eggs, increase the amount of baking powder you use.

  • Soya yoghurt has a slightly sour taste and light texture, great for muffins, scones and soda bread.
  • Mashed banana and soaked pureed dates all work well as an egg substitute in cakes, puddings, pancakes and muffins, also adding flavour and sweetness. They work well as binders giving a moist texture to your baking.
  • Flax seeds can replace egg when you don’t want added flavour or sweetness. To replace one medium egg use 1 tablespoon of golden flax seeds ground to a powder mixed with 3 tablespoons of water. The mix will turn into a mucilaginous gloop and act an excellent binder.

Vegan Cheese

Milk and Cream

Replace milk with soya, almond, rice, oat or quinoa milk. For cooking I like soya or almond best. Replace cream with soya cream, coconut cream or cashew or almond cream. To make your own nut cream, soak cashew or whole blanched almonds in plenty of water overnight. Next day blitz in a blender until smooth and silky.

Butter

Replace butter with sunflower or soya margarines but choose varieties made with non-hydrogenated fat. Most supermarket brands contain milk and lots of additives and artificial colourings, so look in your wholefood store for a natural, dairy-free margarine. For a fat that sets hard like butter try cold pressed coconut oil. It’s expensive but does have a gentle flavour and is cholesterol free so a good choice when replacing a small amount of fat in a recipe.

Cheese

Soya yoghurt is also excellent for making delicious labna (strained yoghurt). Pour a tub of soya yoghurt into muslin or a clean tea towel over a sieve with a bowl underneath to collect the liquid and put a weight on top. Leave in the fridge overnight. Next day scoop out the labna and either eat sweet or savoury. Sweetened it makes a wonderful carrot cake topping, for savoury try rolling in herbs and use as an alternative to cream cheese – it’s also far healthier! Or for the adventurous make your own cheese with soaked ground cashews and flavoured with Rejuvelac and matured over a few days.

Yoghurt

Use soya or coconut yoghurt for puddings like our creamy Shrikhand (photo below) but for savoury dishes you’ll need unsweetened. Annoyingly, most brands now have added sugar so do check the labels. You can make homemade labna cheese with unsweetened soya yoghurt.

Shrikhand Saffron Yoghurt Dessert

Gelatine

Agar Agar is derived from seaweed (Gelidium) and is a vegetarian setting agent and an alternative to gelatine. I prefer Agar flakes to the powder. To make a fruit jelly with Agar Agar flakes: in a saucepan sprinkle 1 tablespoon of agar agar over the surface of 250mls of fruit juice and bring to a boil, then simmer for 5 minutes stirring until the flakes dissolve. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, and then pour the jelly into a mould to set.

Honey

For a liquid sweetener I like to use apple juice concentrate or syrups such as maple, date and agave.

Chocolate

Not all dark chocolate and cocoa is dairy free, so check for the vegan symbol. You can also now buy vegan white chocolate!

Did I miss anything?

Do let me know in the comments, Facebook, and/or Twitter!

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