Easing into Veganism
By: Ramya Ramachandran
While I have been a vegetarian for a little over ten years now, I recently have been drawn to vegan cooking, mostly because of how fascinating it is to watch almost any meat or dairy favorite be replaced by a plant-based alternative. It’s easy to be skeptical - no meat and dairy? How?
Well, believe the hype. I’ve done my fair share of experimentation, and I’m here to tell you what’s helped me adopt a more plant-based lifestyle.
Learn to love tofu. Tofu is extremely versatile because it can take on any flavor you assign it, but it can also be a difficult adjustment if you aren’t used to the texture. I challenge you to discover your favorite way to prepare tofu, and I promise you’ll find yourself reaching for it as a cheaper and cleaner alternative to meat (both real and fake). My favorite way to cook tofu is to drain out as much moisture as possible, cube into small pieces, coat in cornstarch and fry. Cornstarch gives the tofu a crispy coating, helping with some of the texture struggles that tofu newbies deal with!
Roast your veggies! This may seem obvious, but for the longest time, I thought that steaming veggies was the only way to do it. Once I embraced the power of my oven, I realized that roasted veggies can be the perfect accompaniment to any meal or the perfect meal in itself. My favorites are sweet potatoes and brussel sprouts coated in oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Pro-tip: Invest in a reusable silicone baking mat to help reduce waste.
Cashews are a miracle product. Reading vegan food blogs, I never believed that blended cashews could taste creamy and cheesy until I tried it out for myself. My first cooking experience with cashews was a vegan Alfredo sauce, and it exceeded all expectations! With cashews, the possibilities are endless! Ricotta, cream cheese, and sour cream are no longer off limits.
Nutritional yeast - not as gross as it sounds. Another fan favorite popularized by vegan food blogs is nutritional yeast - a powdered, inactive yeast that is commonly used to add a cheesy flavor to vegan cooking. Now, as a die-hard fan of any and all cheeses, I assumed that any vegan endorsing nutritional yeast clearly didn’t remember what real cheese tastes like. But when I finally decided to give it a chance, the flavor was real! I’ve been using it as a replacement for Parmesan on pasta and as a seasoning for tofu, and I highly recommend giving it a try if cheese is just as important to you as it is to me.
Find a dressing recipe that works for you. Let’s get real, dressing is the best part of any salad, am I right? Salads are an easy way to get in your daily serving of veggies, but I never felt like I was doing my body any good because my salads were always doused in heavy dressings filled with fats and preservatives. Now, my go-to recipe is a mixture of extra virgin olive oil, Dijon mustard, maple syrup, salt, and pepper. Now I put all the dressing I want on my salads with no guilt, and I’ll never buy another bottled dressing.
If you’re willing to spend the money, make a few easy vegan switches. A big complaint against veganism is that it’s expensive, but that purely depends on how you’re doing it. With a diet centered around vegetables, legumes, and other fresh-food options, veganism is no more expensive than any other diet. However, it can get expensive if your diet is centered around dairy and meat substitutes. In any healthy diet, balance is key. Try out specialty vegan foods to help make your transition easier, but don’t let those make up your entire diet. The easiest swaps that I have made are switching to vegan mayonnaise, vegan sour cream, and coconut yogurt. Since these aren’t products that I consume on a daily basis, I don’t feel bad shelling out the extra money. Pro-tip: Aldi has a great selection of affordable vegan foods. (https://www.peta.org/living/food/vegan-at-aldi-shopping-guide/)
In 2019, being vegetarian or vegan is easier than ever. So, If you’re giving any thought to transitioning your diet, I highly encourage you to give it a try! Even just going meatless for one day a week has endless benefits for your body and the environment. I hope the tips I’ve provided help you get started on an exciting food journey, and I’d love to hear about what’s helped you go meatless or dairy-free in the comments!