I get asked a lot what exactly I eat while staying vegan. That always catches me by surprise, because it seems pretty simple to me at this point, after adhering to this way of eating for over 2 years. And not only do I cook exclusively vegan, but a lot of my dishes are also gluten-free. My father has Celiac, which is a pretty severe gluten-allergy, so I’m always aware of ways to make foods gluten-free if needed. It’s funny – I often cook for my parents when I’m home visiting and it’s a question that people ask me a lot – “can you do vegan AND gluten-free?” Yes, actually. It’s not difficult. So, to answer all those questions, I decided to pull together a little primer on my favorite vegan & gluten-free substitutes.
But first things first, let’s start at the basics in case you’re new to vegan and/or gluten-free cooking. Vegan is pretty simple – nothing that comes from an animal. This means no meat, no dairy, and no eggs. Gluten-free is somewhat more self-explanatory – no gluten, which is a protein found in wheat and other grains like barley and rye. Corn and rice products are often good substitutes for wheat items, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. Below is an overview of some of my favorite substitutions and recipes I’ve made using those substitutions. Enjoy!
First off, let’s talk eggs. When I first went vegan I thought I was going to miss eggs in a bad way. A real bad way. But the fact is, they’re so easy to substitute that it wasn’t hard at all. I have two favorite egg substitutes for baking, actually. One is a gluten-free option, while the other does contain some gluten. The first is a simple flax egg. Yes, you read that correctly. A flax egg. It’s really a super simple “egg” to whip up at home. Simply mix one tablespoon of ground flax seed with one tablespoon of water, and chill for about 15 minutes in the fridge. Surprisingly, this creates a very egg-like consistency that can be used to replace eggs in any baking recipe, like muffins or even fritters.
If gluten isn’t a concern and you don’t have 15 minutes to wait for your egg to chill, I’m also a big fan of an egg replacer from Bob’s Red Mill. It’s a powder that works similarly to a flax egg with no chilling required. Use in the same types of recipes.
But of course we all do things with eggs other than just bake. What about scrambled eggs and quiches? Well, I’ve found tofu to be a great substitute for these items. Firm tofu can be scrambled (with a bit of turmeric for color) along with your favorite veggies like mushrooms and spinach for a delicious scramble. I like to pair mine with some Field Roast vegan sausage and hot sauce for a perfect homemade brunch. And silken tofu is a great way to make a quiche that’s egg and dairy-free. I made mine with silken tofu and veggies, and it was just as delicious as any other quiche. I’m sad to report, however, those of you looking for a way to replace a fried egg are simply out of luck. Some things I haven’t bothered to recreate.
Milk is really the easiest thing to substitute for, actually. Before I even went vegan I was already keeping almond milk in the apartment instead of milk. I prefer to use an unsweetened unflavored almond milk to cut down on added sugars and other things you just don’t need. But in terms of a substitute for dairy milk – almond milk works wonders in any recipe, on any cereal, or in any baked goods. You can, of course, also use soy milk or even low-fat coconut milk in any recipes that call for milk as well. It’s a very easy substitute to make.
My go-to substitution for cream is not almond-derived. I really love using coconut cream. Now, it might sound a bit strange or hard to find, but in fact all that really means is buying a can of full-fat coconut milk and not shaking it up. When you open the can, the cream is at the top. It’s thick, rich, and doesn’t usually leave a taste of coconut in a dish.
I use it to make vegan ice cream at home with just a food processor and some frozen bananas or berries. I also use it in dishes to give a creamy base – like in my Greek-style phyllo mushroom recipe. The coconut cream is a perfect non-dairy substitute that gives the dish a thicker, creamier consistency without adding any coconut flavor.
If you’re feeling really ambitious you can actually make your own almond or cashew cream using a bit of patience, a food processor, and a nut milk (or jelly straining) bag. This is a bit thinner than a coconut cream, but still tastes delicious and can be used in the same way. One of my favorite fall recipes uses a combination of cashew and almond cream with mushrooms to stuff in a pumpkin. The result is delicious.
This is a big one, right? To be honest, there’s a ton of different ways to substitute for meat. But first you have to get around the idea that it’s going to taste just like your favorite juicy beef burger. It’s just not. But there are definitely ways to make the transition to meat-free much easier without giving up on any deliciousness. Being vegetarian or vegan doesn’t mean eating tasteless cardboard-like faux meats. The most obvious choices are usually tofu, beans and mushrooms. But there’s so many options out there, you’ll be sure to find one that works for you.
For burgers, I actually like to go with either a chickpea or black bean base. You benefit from the protein in the beans (for those of you concerned about protein intake when giving up meat) but also get to add in a lot of other healthy ingredients like sweet potatoes and spinach, to take the burgers to the next level with both flavor and nutrition. Two of my favorite recipes are my Southwestern Chickpea Sweet Potato Quinoa Burgers – which use all the ingredients in the title, and are naturally gluten-free – and my Black Bean Quinoa Burgers – which add spinach to the mix and are also naturally gluten-free.
Are you a big fan of meatloaf and meatballs? Well don’t despair – because I have a fix for that too. A combination of lentils, shiitake mushrooms and bread crumbs can be a great way to make up some homemade meatloaf or meatballs without going near beef. I’ve pulled off cocktail-style meatballs, traditional meatloaf, and meatballs for spaghetti – all using the same lentil, mushroom and bread crumb base. They’re all relatively simple recipes that are delicious and a great way to have a family staple fit into a vegan lifestyle.
Cheese is a bit different to substitute, mostly because there are so many different kinds of cheeses and different uses for all those cheeses. For me, I’ve noticed a lot of recipes just toss some cheese on top of whatever else is called for, and it’s not always necessary for the recipe. Then on the other hand you’ve got foods like lasagna, where simply leaving the cheese out isn’t an option.
For lasagna and other recipes that call for ricotta, I like to use a firm tofu as a substitute. It might sound strange, but when you toss some tofu into a food processor with other ingredients like onions, garlic and basil, you have an awesome and flavorful ricotta substitute that has the same consistency as ricotta and will fool any cheese-lover. I’ve even used my favorite ricotta recipe and swapped out the basil for mint – for a really delicious spin on ricotta that’s perfect for spring when mixed with a beet pasta.
In the case of wanting a bit of melty cheese to top your lasagna, taco, or pizza, I find Daiya brand shredded vegan cheese a good option. But sometimes you’re looking for a gooey fried goat-cheese replacement. And you know what? You can do that too. Cashews soaked in water and pureed with garlic and basil then rolled in bread crumbs and lightly fried is a perfect way to cure a goat cheese salad craving.
You can do a similar recipe with cashews and chickpeas to create a wine and grape-approved cheese that mimics a parmesan or feta. It can be crumbled for a topping or sliced and eaten as is for those of us who simply need something to accompany a cracker.
There are actually a lot of different ways you can replace wheat flour in recipes to make the recipe gluten-free. My personal favorite at the moment is chickpea (also called garbanzo bean) flour. Not only does it add a bit more protein to a recipe, but it acts very similar to a wheat flour and is a really easy switch to make. I use it in recipes for muffins and fritters, and even for creating the top of a guilt-free peach crumble.
There really are so many different options for swapping out meats, eggs, dairy and gluten in your favorite recipes. And maybe, just maybe, it will get you thinking of ways to add more plant-based and gluten-free foods into your own diet. Even if it’s just for experimentation’s sake.