Plant-Based Food Tips: Healthy Recipe Substitutions

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Plant-Based Food Tips: Healthy Recipe Substitutions

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Whether you are new to plant-based eating, or an experienced chef, you will come across many instances when recipe substitutions are necessary. You might want to adapt an old family favorite into a plant-based recipe, you may be allergic to a particular item in a recipe or you just may have too much of something in the refrigerator that you want to use up. Here are some substitutions for commonly used recipe ingredients.

Meat, fish or poultry: There are many “meat substitutes” available today that are vegan: hotdogs and hamburgers to chicken nuggets, deli meat and more, all made from plant-based ingredients. While many of these products are highly processed, they can be helpful for people who are transitioning to a whole foods plant-based (WFPB) diet.

Tempeh (a fermented soybean product) and tofu also make good substitutes. Tofu, though somewhat tasteless by itself, will pick up the taste of whatever it is cooked with. Beans and other legumes, as well as starches like potatoes make excellent main dishes. Portabello mushrooms can be used in place of grilled meats, burgers or steaks. Eggplant is a delicious alternative for sandwiches or Italian dishes.

Eggs: Eggs can be replaced with a product call “Egg Replacer” made from a mixture of flours by Ener-G Foods. You can use this product when baking, but not as a scrambled egg or omelets substitute. Try skillet-cooked crumbled tofu with spices and vegetables to create a “scrambled-like” egg substitute.

Plant-based egg replacement options include:

  • 1 egg = 2 Tbsp. potato starch
  • 1 egg = ¼ cup mashed potatoes
  • 1 egg = ¼ cup canned pumpkin
  • 1 egg = ¼ cup puréed prunes
  • 1 egg = ½ banana
  • 1 egg = 1 Tbsp. ground flax seed in 3 Tbsp. water

Milk: Milk substitutes abound in major grocery stores as well as natural food stores. There are many varieties and flavors of non-dairy milks that are made from soy, rice, almond, hemp, etc. These milks can be used in cereals, tea or coffee, and in both baking and cooking. They come in both regular and low-fat versions, as well as sweetened and unsweetened. Try different ones until you find your favorite and remember to read the nutrition label for ingredients. (Tip: If a recipe calls for 1 cup of buttermilk, add 1 tsp of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup of soy or almond milk).

Cheese: Just like milk substitutes, you will find many cheese substitutes made from soy, rice, almond, hemp and other ingredients. Again, many of these products are highly processed and contain added oils but can be helpful in transitioning to a WFPB diet. Tofu or nut butters, even nutritional yeast can be used as well in some recipes to replace cheese or give a cheesy flavor. Soaked and blended raw cashews are often used as the creamy/cheesy part of plant-based dishes as well. Miso, tamari and tahini are also used to replace cheese flavored ingredients in recipes.

Sugar, honey or other sweeteners: Concentrated fruit juice such as apple juice, pureed fruits such as applesauce, fruit preserves, jams, and dried fruits such as dates and raisins all work well in both cooking and baking. Shredded coconut adds a sweet flavor. In many recipes the sweeteners can be left out completely. Try it, you’ll be surprised. Sometimes a simple piece of frozen fruit can satisfy a craving for sweets.

Butter, Shortening, Fats and Oils: You can use vegetable stocks, water or wine for sautéing or frying. In many recipes you can bake instead of fry. When preparing salad dressings use a base of vegetable stock, water or vinegar in place of the oil. Adding mustard and spices can make an excellent salad dressing. Use blended tofu with a squeeze of fresh lemon in place of sour cream or mayonnaise.

When fats and oils are used in baking cookies, cakes and sweet breads one of the best substitutes is date or prune paste. You can make your own prune paste by processing 1 cup of dried pitted dates or prunes with 1/2 cup of water. Substitute 1/3 the amount of prune paste for the amount of oil called for in the recipe. Pureed pumpkin, bananas and other fruits will work in some recipes but they do not hold the moisture as well as the prune paste, and they can change the flavor of the finished product. Unsweetened applesauce works when you are looking for more moisture.

Salt: Use one of a variety of granulated spices such as onion, parsley, garlic, etc. instead of salt to give a “spice” to your meal. Other substitutes include fresh onion, garlic, lemon juice, salsa and hot sauces. There are several “salt substitutes” on the market which do not contain salt. Try low-sodium soy or tamari sauce in some recipes. If you are looking to lower the salt content of your diet, try using less and less until you become used to using no extra salt on your meals.

Pick out of a few of your favorite recipes and try just one substitution at a time until you find the right combination for you and your family. Remember…be creative and experiment. Keep your taste buds and thoughts open as you create and enjoy new, delicious and healthy plant-based meals!