How to Veganize a Recipe

When we went vegan, we often read our mothers' and grandmothers' recipes and thought, "So how do we manage to make this vegan?". Over the years, we've veganized a lot family recipes or dishes that we used to eat in restaurants. We've gained some experience in this field that we now want to pass on to you. For some recipes, it's enough to just swap out a few ingredients. For other recipes, however, you have to choose a completely different cooking approach.

It always starts with carefully reading through the ingredient list of the recipe you want to veganize. You should consider: which ingredients are plant-based anyway and don't even need to be changed? Which ingredients are animal-based and need to be replaced – for what purpose are they used in this recipe, and could you even leave them out completely? Of course, there's no right or wrong with this – often, there isn't just one way of doing it. But we hope to give you some initial help with this article and overview.

And last but not least: of course, a vegan diet doesn't mean that you have to try to veganize all recipes to get as close as possible to the "original taste". However, we often get questions about this topic, especially from beginners. When going vegan, some people just likes to stick to familiar recipes before discovering completely new dishes, and we fully understand this.

If you're new to the topic, we've written down a list for you with ingredients which are always vegan. In general, we recommend you to look out for the "vegan" label on products when you're grocery shopping, which indicates that these products are plant-based and good to go.

Ingredients that are almost always plant-based:

  • semolina pasta (egg-free)
  • flour
  • sugar
  • nuts
  • starch
  • baking powder and baking soda
  • oil
  • spices
  • rice
  • ketchup
  • mustard
  • tomato paste
  • vegetable stock
  • soy sauce
  • coconut milk
  • dark chocolate

There are some rather tricky products that can be non-vegan, even though it's not clearly visible by reading the list of ingredients. With these, it's mostly about the fact that there were animal products used during their process of production, some of them also contain animal-based ingredients that are hiding behind E-numbers. So with the following ingredients, it's even more important to pay attention to "vegan" labels on the packaging.

Ingredients that can contain animal products:

  • vinegar
  • fruit juices
  • wine and other alcoholic beverages
  • bread and other baked goods
  • spice pastes

Dairy

Milk: Replacing milk is quite simple because you can (almost) always replace cow's milk one-to-one with plant-based milk. However, since plant-based milk can be based on different ingredients (e.g. oats, soy, cashews, coconut, almonds, or peas), you should consider beforehand which flavor will work best with your recipe.

Yogurt and curd: Yogurt can also often be substituted one-to-one with plant-based alternatives. Besides soy-based yogurt there are also options like cashew, coconut or oat yogurt in supermarkets or organic stores. Here, too, it's best to choose the product that suits the taste of your recipe best. Same goes for plant-based curd, although here, the choice of products is more limited.

Buttermilk: A plant-based substitute for buttermilk isn't available for purchase yet (at least in Germany and as far as we know). However, you can easily make vegan buttermilk at home by mixing 500 ml of vegetable milk with 2-3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. Let the mix rest for approx. 15 minutes. The plant-based milk will curdle as a reaction to the vinegar, giving you a buttermilk-like consistency. You can then use this substitute one-to-one for your recipes.

Heavy cream: If you want to substitute heavy cream in a recipe, you should first clarify whether it's about a cream for cooking (for example, for a sauce) or if it's about whipped cream (with which you decorate cakes). Vegan heavy cream for cooking is available in most supermarkets already. Its texture and taste is very similar to regular cream which allows you to use it one-to-one in recipe. However, it can't be whipped.

If you're looking for plant-based whippable cream you should explicitly check the packaging to see if it says "for whipping," "whipping cream," or "whippable". We also recommend storing this plant-based whippable cream in your fridge and using approx. 1 tsp of cream stabilizer per 250 ml (1 cup) of plant-based cream. Once your cream is whipped, you can use it just like regular whipped cream.

Animal and plant-based fats

Butter: Vegan butter can be found in supermarkets or organic stores. You can use it just like dairy butter. Vegan butter is also solid enough to be cut, and can therefore replace regular butter one-to-one.

Margarine: Some types of margarine that are available in supermarkets are already vegan. So if you need margarine for a recipe, you should have no problem finding a plant-based product. Since the consistencies of margarine and butter are quite different, we wouldn't recommend using margarine if butter is what the recipe requires. Especially in baking recipes, your dough's or batter's consistency is essential and your result might vary significantly depening on whether you use soft margarine or vegan butter.

Vegetable oil: Sunflower, canola, or olive oil are always vegan, so you don't have to worry about vegetable oil in general, yay.

Eggs

Unlike milk and butter, substituting eggs in a recipe isn't quite as simple. First, you need to check if the recipe is savory or sweet. If you want to substitute an egg in baking recipes, it's best to read this article in which we listed eight ways to replace eggs. Therefore, we want to focus on egg substitutes in savory recipes in this article.

Is it even possible to veganize an omelet, scrambled eggs, or fried eggs? Yes, it is indeed! However, so far (at least in Germany) there's not the one and only product that you can use as a one-to-one substitute for an egg. Instead, there are several ways to imitate vegan egg dishes, so you always have to adjust the substitution according to your recipe. We often use plain tofu, which you can crumble by hands, or silken tofu, which is often blended.

Here are some of our vegan egg recipes:

Vegan Egg Salad
Vegan Omelet Made of Tofu
Vegan Scrambled Tofu
Vegan Fried Eggs

Meat

Plant-based schnitzel, burger patties, roulades, or chicken breast? You might be surprised by how many vegan convenience products you can find in supermarkets nowadays. But often vegetables are also a great option as "substitutes". Thick slices of kohlrabi or celeriac can be breaded just like schnitzel. Cooked and mashed vegetables or legumes can be shaped into burger patties and meatballs. To find a suitable substitute, you should always consider what consistency you're aiming for – something more tender or fibrous? Season your ingredients with relevant spices for your dish and you'll be amazed that even a carrot can become a delicious sausage substitute for vegan hot dogs.

Here are some of our recipes in which we use vegetables as a meat substitute:

Carrot Dogs with Two Toppings
Kohlrabi „Schnitzel“ with Cucumber Salad
Vegan Köttbullar (Swedish Meatballs) with Cream Sauce
Vegan Sauce Hollandaise with Asparagus and Celery Root Schnitzel

Especially if we want to get more "fibrous" textures, we like to use textured soy. It's made from defatted soy flour that is shaped into different forms. You can buy it in the shapes of soy granules (for minced meat), but also as large TVP steaks (for cutlets), medallions, cubes, or else.s. TVP should be soaked in hot water for approx. 10-15 minutes first. Afterwards, you can drain it and squeeze our as much liquid as possible to make sure that the consistency won't be squishy later. Since it's quite neutral in taste, you should season or marinate it generously afterwards, then prepare it according to your recipe.

Check out some of our recipes with TVP:

Vegan Goulash with Pan-fried Dumplings and Red Cabbage

Vegan Schnitzel with Homemade Croquettes
Vegan Soy Cutlets with Potato Salad
Vegan Spaghetti Bolognese

Besides TVP, seitan is probably one of the best-known plant-based alternatives to meat – its consistency is surprisingly close to that of meat. Seitan consists of wheat gluten and you can either buy convenience products in various shapes, or make seitan yourself at home.

Here are some of our seitan recipes:

Vegan Goulash with Seitan, Bell Pepper, and Pasta
Vegan "Sauerbraten "(Marinated Seitan Roast) with Spaetzle and Red Cabbage

Fish

Replacing fish can be tricky as there are only a few substitutes available to buy, and since it isn't easy to make your own vegan "fish". Plant-based fish can be made from plain tofu, which is pickled or wrapped in nori sheets, from banana blossoms, or from a mixture of vegetables. Nori sheets are seaweed that add a fishy flavor to tofu or else. In combination with breading, this option often comes quite close to the original since products like fish sticks or fried fish fillets get a lot of flavor from their breading. So the difference is noticeable but not significant. To substitute a fillet of grilled cod, on the other hand, is way more difficult (if not impossible so far).

Here are some of our vegan fish recipes:

Vegan Fish Sandwiches with Homemade Fish Sticks
Vegan Fish Tacos with Avocado Cream
Vegan Chickpea "Tuna" Tacos
Mini Sandwich Bites with Vegan Salmon and Tuna

Gelatin

If you want to replace gelatin in a recipe, it's best to use agar-agar which you can buy in supermarkets or organic stores. Agar-agar is most commonly available powdered, but you can also find it in the form of sheets similar to gelatin. The package should also tell you how much agar-agar substitutes how much gelatin, so it's a great way to veganize recipes. It's best to stick to the package instructions when preparing agar-agar – this will depend, for example, on whether you want to use it to thicken a cold or hot mixture. An exeption are acidic mixtures like creams with lime and lemon juice as agar-agar doesn't mix well with those, so you may need twice the amount.

Here are some recipes in which we used agar-agar:

Vegan No-Bake Raspberry Yogurt Cakes
Vegan Coconut Panna Cotta with Strawberry Sauce
Vegan Panna Cotta with Caramel Sauce
Vegan Peaches and Cream Cake

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