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So you’ve decided to try a plant based diet. Congratulations! Whether your goal is improving your health and reducing your chances of chronic illness, saving the planet, or reducing animal suffering, you’re taking a huge step in the right direction!
But where to start? A good first step is to look at the dishes you regularly prepare and find healthy plant based substitutions for the animal based ingredients. What are your favorite things to eat? Pizza? Burgers? Tacos? Pasta? There are easy ways to make any of these items plant based.
Mexican – swap beans for beef or chicken. My mozzarella or a vegan cheese sauce for cheese.
Burgers – instead of that ground beef patty, try a delicious black bean burger, portobello steak, or other veggie burger. When buying veggie burgers at the store, be sure to check the ingredients if you are following an oil free diet for health reasons.
Asian – tofu or seitan are wonderful substitutes for meat in stir fries, noodle dishes, and other Asian recipes.
New vegan cooks as well as more experienced plant based chefs often come across times when they want to adapt a recipe to plant based. Here are some ingredient substitutes to transform your recipes into healthier plant based versions.
Plant Based Egg Substitutes
For baking, there are a number of possible substitutes. Each of these are equivalent to 1 egg:
- 1 tablespoon of ground flax seed with 3 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon chia seeds with 3 tablespoons water
- 1/4 cup fruit puree like applesauce, banana, or prune puree
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch or arrowroot with 3 tablespoons water
- 1/4 cup silken tofu
- 1/4 cup unsweetened plant-based yogurt
- Egg replacer (Ener-G or other brand) according to product directions
Different vegan egg substitutes work better in different recipes, so experiment to find out what works best with what you’re cooking. Some of the fruit purees will add a distinct flavor and additional sweetness, so take that into account when you choose which to use.
Also, aquafaba (the liquid from a can of chickpeas) works wonderfully as a replacement for egg whites in meringues and mousse. When it’s mixed with an electric mixer, it gets fluffy just like whipped egg whites.
For breakfast, scrambled tofu is an delicious substitute for scrambled eggs. Adding a bit of kala namak (black salt) helps add the egg flavor. You can vary this dish by including whatever vegetables you like.
Vegan Alternatives to Milk
There are more options for plant-based milks than ever before! In most instances, these can be substituted cup for cup in place of dairy milk.
- Soy milk – this is the non-dairy milk I use for almost everything. It has a nutritional profile very similar to cow’s milk, and can be used in most vegan recipes.
- Almond milk – a very popular non-dairy milk. It’s lower in fat than the other nut milks.
- Rice milk – a good option for those who are sensitive to nuts and soy. Rice milk has a thinner consistency than other plant-based milks. One disadvantage of rice milk is that it could have high levels of arsenic.
- Cashew, hazelnut, or macadamia milk – these milks are thicker due to the higher fat content of the nuts. They result in thicker, creamier sauces, and are good in baked goods.
- Oat milk – another good nut-free and soy free alternative that can work well in sauces and baked goods.
When a recipe calls for buttermilk, you can make your own vegan buttermilk substitute by placing 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice in a one cup measuring cup and then filling the cup to the one cup level with plant based milk. Stir it together and let it sit for a few minutes, until the milk begins to curdle.
Vegan Cheese Substitutes
Cheese is one of the hardest foods to give up when going vegan because of its addictive properties. There are many vegan cheese substitutes on the market these days, but many of them are high in oils, making them an unhealthy choice. Here are some healthier recommendations for cheese substitutions:
- Nutritional yeast – this deactivated yeast is a molasses byproduct. It has a cheesy or nutty taste, and is great sprinkled over popcorn, pizza, and pasta. It also adds the cheesy taste to vegan cheeses and sauces.
- Vegan parmesan – grind up some nuts with some nutritional yeast, a touch of salt, and a couple of seasonings to make “parmesan” to sprinkle on your pasta, pizza, and salads.
- Ricotta – blending some firm tofu with just a few other ingredients makes an easy ricotta substitute that is perfect for lasagna, stuffed shells, ravioli, and more!
- Cheese sauces – there are many recipes for plant based cheese sauces. Some are made with raw cashews, which produce a creamy rich sauce. Others are made from a combination of cooked vegetables like carrots and potatoes. When you add nutritional yeast, an acidic ingredient, and other flavorings, you can make some delicious sauces. No need to give up comfort foods like this Vegan Mac & Cheese!
There are many varieties of dairy free ice cream in the store. But it’s so much healthier to make your own.
My recipes for vanilla ice cream, strawberry ice cream, and peppermint ice cream are absolutely delicious! You can also make “nice cream” by putting frozen bananas and other fruits or flavorings in the blender and pureeing them.
There are a few commercial brands of vegan mayonnaise available. But again, these are high in fat and are also quite expensive. For an oil free and affordable option, try my vegan mayonnaise recipe.
Oils & Butters
On bread or toast, I like to spread some roasted garlic in place of butter. Other spreads include hummus, smashed or sliced avocado, nut butter, or even a bit of salad dressing like my Savory Garlic Dressing.
For sauteing or roasting, use a bit of water, vegetable broth, fruit juice, wine, or vinegar to keep your food moist while cooking.
Use nuts, vinegar, vegetable broth, or fruit juice in place of oil in salad dressings.
For baking, fruit puree is a good substitute for the oil, but be aware that different fruits can change the taste of the finished recipe. I’ve also had good success using nut butters.
For more detailed information on cooking without oil or butter, see my page Oil Free Cooking Tips.
Legumes such as beans, peas, and lentils are an excellent plant based source of protein that is easy to use in place of meat. Beans are high in fiber and low in fat. You can buy them in dried or canned form. If you buy the canned beans, either buy unsalted varieties, or rinse them before using them. They can be used whole or mashed.
Tofu is made from soybeans, and comes in several different forms. Most varieties are non-GMO and organic, but be sure to check the labels.
Firm, extra, firm, and super firm varieties of tofu can be cubed, sliced or crumbled. Since tofu has very little flavor on its own, it is best to press it and marinate it before cooking. the pressed tofu acts like a sponge, soaking up whatever flavors you cook it with. It can then be stir fried, baked, or grilled.
For a chewier texture, freeze and thaw the tofu before using. This creates tiny air pockets in the tofu that will soak up even more flavor.
Silken tofu varieties are great for blending into sauces and desserts.
Tempeh is made from fermented whole soy beans. It has a chewier texture than tofu, and also soaks up the flavors of marinades and sauces. Tempeh can be baked, roasted, steamed, or added to stews. It can also be ground up and used as a ground beef substitute.
Seitan , or “wheat meat” is made from vital wheat gluten, the protein in wheat. Because of this, it should be avoided by anyone sensitive to wheat.
Like tofu and tempeh, seitan has little flavor on its own, but can be made into some delicious meat substitutes with any flavorings you like. Some seitan products are remarkably similar to meat products in flavor as well as texture.
Seitan can be purchased at the store, but it is easy to make yourself. The nice thing about making your own is that you can control the ingredients used. For some delicious oil free seitan recipes see:
There are a number of ways to let veggies take the center stage on your table. Portobello mushrooms make a great plant based meat substitute. Marinate and grill them, and put them on a bun with your favorite burger toppings.
Slice or mince mushrooms and add them to pasta, soups, stews, stir fries, and taco fillings.
Make veggie steaks from thickly sliced cauliflower or cabbage. Or how about a whole roasted cauliflower?
And don’t forget about carrot dogs. Marinated carrots can be grilled up and served on a bun at your next cookout!
A big trend in vegan cooking right now is jackfruit. Jackfruit can be purchased fresh or canned. When it is cooked, it has a very neutral flavor and takes on the flavors of sauces and seasonings. It is often used as a plant based meat substitute for pulled pork or shredded chicken.
Soy curls are an amazing plant based alternative to meat, and they’re produced right here in my home state, Oregon. They are made entirely from 100% organic soy beans.
Soy curls come in a dehydrated form. They need to be rehydrated before using in a recipe. You can then flavor them any way you like, and add them to any recipes where you might add some meat.
The texture of the soy curls is similar to seitan. Here are some of my favorite ways to eat them:
Processed Mock Meats
There are many vegan meat alternatives in the stores. You can find everything from burgers, hot dogs, chicken, sausage, and meatballs to even fish and shrimp. These products are great for people who are new to a vegan diet. They can make the transition easier. And they are definitely better for the environment and animal welfare than their animal based counterparts.
However, most of these store bought products are highly processed, and have high levels of fat and sodium. For an optimum healthy diet, avoid or at least minimize these products, and considered them a rare treat.
As you can see, there are so many ideas for eating a vegan diet! Give some of these plant based alternatives a try. While they won’t be exactly like what you’re used to eating, keep an open mind (and open taste buds) and you’re sure to find some tasty meals that are better for your health, better for the planet, and better for animal welfare.
Want a convenient printable sheet with vegan ingredient swaps? Click here to download this handy reference guide.
Looking for some help and community as you follow your plant based journey? Come join my Oil Free Vegan Recipes and Support Facebook group, where you can share your favorite oil free vegan recipes, ask questions and get to know fellow vegans.