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How to Go Vegan

New York Times (nytimes.com)

The New York Times had a cool article recently about how challenging it can be to “go Vegan” cold turkey. It listed a bunch of tips for easing the transition, broken down by which food type you’re trying to replace or replicate, from dairy milk to ground beef to eggs. 

Here’s the list:

NONDAIRY MILK Taste all of them to find your favorite. Coconut and almond milks (particularly canned coconut milk) are thicker and good to use in cooking, while rice milk is thinner and is good for people who are allergic to nuts or soy. Soy milk is great in regular or vanilla flavor for fruit smoothies and breakfast cereal.

NONDAIRY CHEESE Cheese substitutes are available under the brand names DaiyaTofutti and Follow Your Heart, among others, but many vegans say there’s no fake cheese that satisfies as well as the real thing. Rather than use a packaged product, vegan chefs prefer to make homemade substitutes using cashews, tofu, miso or nutritional yeast. At Candle 79, a popular New York vegan restaurant, the filling for saffron ravioli with wild mushrooms and cashew cheese is made with cashews soaked overnight and then blended with lemon juice, olive oil, water and salt.

THINK CREAMY, NOT CHEESY Creaminess and richness can often be achieved without a cheese substitute. For instance, Chloe Coscarelli, a vegan chef and the author of “Chloe’s Kitchen,” has created a pizza with caramelized onion and butternut squash that will make you forget it doesn’t have cheese; the secret is white-bean and garlic purée. She also offers a creamy, but dairy-free, avocado pesto pasta.

NUTRITIONAL YEAST The name is unappetizing, but many vegan chefs swear by it: it’s a natural food with a roasted, nutty, cheese like flavor. Ms. Coscarelli uses nutritional yeast flakes in her “best ever” baked macaroni and cheese (found in her cookbook). “I’ve served this to die-hard cheese lovers,” she told the Times, “and everyone agrees it is comparable, if not better.”

Susan Voisin’s Web site, Fat Free Vegan Kitchen, offers a nice primer on nutritional yeast, noting that it’s a fungus that is grown on molasses and then harvested and dried with heat. (Baking yeast is an entirely different product.) Nutritional yeasts can be an acquired taste, she said, so start with small amounts, sprinkling on popcorn, stirring into mashed potatoes, grinding with almonds for a Parmesan substitute or combining with tofu to make an eggless omelet. It can be found in Whole Foods, in the bulk aisle of natural-foods markets or online.

BUTTER This is an easy fix. Vegan margarines like Earth Balance are made from a blend of oils and are free of trans fats. Varieties include soy-free, whipped and olive oil.

EGGS Ms. Coscarelli, who won the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars with vegan cupcakes, says vinegar and baking soda can help baked goods bind together and rise, creating a moist and fluffy cake without eggs. Cornstarch can substitute for eggs to thicken puddings and sauces. Vegan pancakes are made with a tablespoon of baking powder instead of eggs. Frittatas and omelets can be replicated with tofu.

Finally, don’t try to replicate your favorite meaty foods right away. If you love a juicy hamburger, meatloaf or ham sandwich, you are not going to find a meat-free version that tastes the same. Ms. Voisin advises new vegans to start slow and eat a few vegan meals a week. Stock your pantry with lots of grains, lentils and beans and pile your plate with vegetables. To veganize a recipe, start with a dish that is mostly vegan already — like spaghetti — and use vegetables or a meat substitute for the sauce.

“Trying to recapture something and find an exact substitute is really hard,” she said. “A lot of people will try a vegetarian meatloaf right after they become vegetarian, and they hate it. But after you get away from eating meat for a while, you’ll find you start to develop other tastes, and the flavor of a lentil loaf with seasonings will taste great to you. It won’t taste like meat loaf, but you’ll appreciate it for itself.”

What are your best tips for easing into Vegan eating? And what do you miss the most, or occasionally even crave?  I don’t eat Vegan all the time, but as a lactose-intolerant vegetarian, I end up finding that some of the most stomach-friendly recipes are vegan, too. Think Avocado Pesto Pasta, or Sweet Potato Soup without the sour cream on top, Creamy Kale Salad, and just about any smoothie made with coconut milk or water instead of dairy (like this one or this one).

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