Vegan foods have come a long way since the grainy baked goods of the ’70s. These breakthroughs in the world of vegan cooking aren’t highly processed junk. They’re plant-based foods that are kinder alternatives to their animal-based cousins. And they’re changing the face of veganism.
One of the biggest complaints that I hear about a vegan diet is that vegans rely too much on “fake” food to satisfy cravings for the animal products we left behind. While I definitely enjoy my share of meat analogs, I see where folks are coming from with the point. If you’re giving up meat, eggs, and cheese, then give up meat, eggs, and cheese.
I think that pragmatic view makes veganism feel unapproachable, though. A vegan lifestyle is about protecting animals, not aceticism. The vegan community is constantly experimenting with cooking techniques and flavors, and some of the results have made eating vegan much more accessible than it once was.
Eggs are useful for baking. Cheese tastes good. Bacon may not be a spice, but its smoky, rich flavors certainly enhance a dish. If we truly want more folks to go vegan, finding ways to replace foods like these makes transitioning to a vegan diet seem less overwhelming.
Don’t be scared by the name! Aquafaba is just bean cooking liquid. The community has started calling it aquafaba, because we thought “bean juice” didn’t do this magical egg replacer justice. Garbanzo or white bean liquid seem to get the best results, but you can also use red bean, black bean, or lentil, as long as you have enough liquid.
For most baking recipes, three tablespoons of aquafaba replaces one egg. Folks have used it to make cookies, brownies, cakes, and pies. Even meringue! If you want to see the amazing food science in action, there’s a Facebook group dedicated to hits and misses with aquafaba.
This is the latest breakthrough in vegan cooking, and the way that it mimics egg in a recipe is uncanny. Skeptical? I was too, but since making my first aquafaba meringue, you can consider me convinced!
2. Vegan Cheese
Wait! I know, vegan cheese can be so, so bad. And so, so processed. But there are companies out there now making fermented vegan cheese out of nuts that rival their dairy cousins. Really. We are getting so good at it, that even NPR is covering the power of vegan cheese.
You can even make your own vegan cheese – and cream cheese! – at home. The NPR piece mentions Miyoko’s Creamery, but before the creamery, Miyko Schinner published a cookbook called Artisan Vegan Cheese that rocked the vegan community. Her recipes are mostly for fermented cheeses, but there are some more beginner-friendly ones too.
A lot of vegan hubs also have locals making their own vegan cheese. Here in Atlanta, my friend Allison makes the best cashew cheeses that I’ve ever eaten. My mom – who grew up in France – even gave Allison’s Pure Abundance cheese her stamp of approval. If my mom gives a cheese the thumbs up, you know that it’s good.
3. Coconut Bacon
There’s a joke that “vegans will make bacon out of anything,” and it’s true. There are tons of ways to make plant-based bacon in your own kitchen. Probably the most satisfying, though, is coconut bacon, which you can make from scratch or buy pre-made.
Caveat: coconut bacon does not taste exactly like bacon. But it does fill that bacony gap without chemical ingredients by hitting all of the key things about bacon: it’s rich, fatty, smoky, and a little bit sweet. My favorite coconut bacon is from a small company called Phoney Baloney’s. Here’s what’s in their bacon:
Organic coconut, organic tamari (water, organic soybeans, salt), maple syrup, liquid smoke (water, natural hickory concentrate), grapeseed oil, sea salt, pepper, spices.
This bacon is my go-to when I’m traveling somewhere that isn’t very vegan friendly. A sprinkling of coconut bacon turns an iceberg lettuce salad and plain baked potato into a feast.
4. Whipped Coconut Cream
When I went vegan almost a decade ago, I was pretty sure that I’d never have whipped cream again. There are some more processed vegan whips out there now, but if you want a whole food, plant-based whipped cream, look no further than a can of coconut milk.
Just like my late Nani Dorothy’s homemade whipped cream, you only need two ingredients to make this. Three if you want to be fancy. And just like when Nani made whipped cream, you get to lick the beaters when you’re done!
I know: coconut’s health claims are dubious at best. But remember that coconut bacon and coconut whip are replacing bacon and heavy cream. Vegan food doesn’t always have to be health food. It just has to be free of animal products.
5. Vegan Mayo
I think that my love of mayo – like my love of cheese – came from my mom. When I first went vegan, vegan mayo was disgusting. It kind of looked like mayo, but the taste and texture were totally wrong. Those days are done, though. And vegan mayo doesn’t have to be loaded with processed ingredients like you might think. The most popular commercial vegan mayo right now is probably Just Mayo. Here’s what’s in it:
Non-GMO Expeller Pressed Canola Oil, Filtered Water, Lemon Juice, White Vinegar, 2% or less of the following: Organic Sugar, Salt, Pea Protein, Spices, Modified Food Starch, Beta-Carotene.
Not too bad, right?
If you’d prefer to make your own, I just ran across a worlds-colliding recipe using aquafaba to make vegan mayo from scratch. Breakthroughs using breakthroughs!
It is worlds easier to cut out or cut back on animal products now than it was 10 years ago. Really, even than it was just a year or two ago. Vegan food has come a long way, baby.
Is there a vegan food that has made eating vegan easier for you? I’d love to hear about your favorite vegan food breakthroughs in the comments!