Monday, September 2, 2013

Vegan MoFo and Tips for your Vegan Pantry

September is Vegan MoFo (Vegan Month of Food!). Hundreds of bloggers across the country will be posting nearly every day all about vegan food. Posts will include recipes, lifestyle suggestions, personal stories--basically anything and everything related to vegan food! I had a lot going on myself this month, so I didn't sign myself up to commit to the 20-or-so recommended posts for the month, but I look forward to a blog-filled month with lots of great entries! And I'll certainly be contributing as many as I can myself! kick off Vegan MoFo, I've started putting together some of my own vegan pantry suggestions. Today, I'll just start off with my suggestions for vegan baking. I've also put together lists with dinner/lunch and breakfast suggestions, including some in-depth descriptions of the various milks, oils, and vinegars available to incorporate into and enrich your vegan cooking. I will compile all of these entries into a "Vegan Pantry" section tab at the top of the blog, so that they can be easily referenced.

Maintaining healthy eating habits can be a real struggle if every snack or meal involves a long debate or look at a recipe book. Lots of people wonder how it's possible to eat "only" vegan food at home. Being familiar with the options, and keeping your favorites stocked in your pantry can be a huge step in the right direction! Below is a list some of the things I keep on hand, including quite a few items you might not be so familiar with. I hope this will serve as a good introduction to some new ingredients, as well as some creative ways in which you might utilize some of the items with which you're already familiar.

My Baking Pantry Staples:
Be aware that vegan substitutions in baking can be a bit tricky! They may require some experimentation. For more information on vegan baking substitutes (and when to use them), I'd recommend checking out the Post Punk Kitchen.

Agar powder
Also known as agar agar, this gelatinous substance has traditionally been used in Asian desserts. It is a great vegetarian gelatin substitute, and can be used as a thickener for puddings, jelly, ice cream, gravies, and soups, among other things. It is a seaweed derivative (but doesn't taste like it), and is typically sold in powdered or flake form (the powdered form can generally be substituted 1:1 for gelatin).

Agave syrup
Also known as agave nectar, agave syrup is extracted from the agave plant. It can be used as a substitute for sugar in most recipes (see "Sugar" section below), and while I still use it from time to time, it does have its own drawbacks (The "healthfulness" of agave has been a subject of much debate in the natural foods community). But if you have some lying around, or prefer it over cane sugar, it's a nice option and can generally be substitute about 1:1 as a sweetener.

Apple sauce
You're probably quite familiar with this one...but do you know all the different ways you can use it? There's the more obvious 1:1 substitution for oil in most baking recipes, but 1/4 cup apple sauce can also substitute for 1 large egg. If you've never tried, I'd recommend making your own apple sauce can be healthier than what's in the jar, and also tastier!

Arrowroot powder
Arrowroot, also known as arrowroot starch, is a great thickener. It's derived from a tuber, and is easy to digest. It's nice because it has a more neutral flavor than many other thickeners, and can stand up to freezing. To use, just mix powder with equal parts liquid, and whisk together, then stir into hot liquid for about 30 seconds, until blended, being careful not to overheat. 1 tbsp arrowroot should thicken about 1 cup liquid.

1/2 ripe (or overripe) banana mashed (or blended) very well= 1 egg. Bananas are an awesome egg replacer, which is why banana bread recipes often don’t call for eggs. They make things really moist, so they can be an excellent option. The taste can be a bit intrusive, however, so be sure to keep that in mind when choosing the baked goods in which you'd like to incorporate it.

The dairy-free, vegan (duh!) kind. There are several options out there, many of which are quite tasty and virtually indistinguishable from their butter alternatives, particularly when baking. I highly recommend Earth Balance.

Canned pumpkin
1/4 cup canned pumpkin can substitute for one large egg. In the fall especially, I love making pumpkin muffins, pumpkin cake, etc. Plus, if you have a vegan dog, a little bit of canned pumpkin can be a great treat for him (and a great vehicle for sneaking in his pills!).

Chia Seeds
Like many people, I didn't know much about chia seeds until recently. Their use originated in Central America. They are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, as well as fiber. They've been kind of blowing up on the health food scene for a variety of reasons. They're supposed to provide energy, while also being much more filling than many other seeds. When combined with water, the fiber causes the seeds to gel (which you may be familiar with if you've ever tried the chia-infused drinks they sell in the stores!), allowing them to be used in puddings and even jams. If you'd like to make your own chia-seed infused drink (and save on the expensive bottled beverages at the store!), you can put a tablespoon or two in your lemonade or fruit juice. Just let it sit for about five minutes to gel. They can also be substituted for eggs in baking. They can be a bit more difficult to find, and are quite expensive in health food stores, but a little will go a long way. If you have a Mexican grocery store near you, I'd highly recommend shopping there; if they carry chia seeds they are often much more affordable (and equivalent to what you'll find at the health food store!).

Egg replacer
There are a variety of egg replacers on the market. The main ones I know of are Ener-G and Bob's Red Mill Egg Replacer. I've never actually tried the Ener-G brand, but I've found Bob's Egg Replacer to work well. While it's an easy substitute in a pinch (just follow the package directions), I find that it does tend to make baked goods denser, and even slightly chalky sometimes. My favorite vegan baked goods usually call for vegan yogurt or other moist ingredients as a substitute for eggs.

Flaxseeds can be another great vegan egg substitute, and they have omega-3 fatty acids. Be sure to store ground flaxseeds in the freezer because they're quite perishable. Like some other vegan substitutes, you have to be careful with flaxseeds as they do have a distinctive flavor (for more tips on when to use them, see the Post Punk Kitchen tips). 1 tablespoon ground flaxseeds whisked together with 3 tablespoons of water replaces one egg.

White flour (I recommend organic, unbleached, all-purpose flour) is of course a pantry staple we are all familiar with, but as you start exploring healthier recipes you may find that different baked goods call for flours outside of your normal comfort zone. Oat? Brown rice? Potato? Amaranth? Whole wheat? Some of these flours may need to be combined with others (such as the regular white stuff), because they may not rise on their own. Using them in combination with or instead of white flour is a great option, as they contain nutrients, protein and fiber that white flour does not.

I'll discuss these more in tomorrow's post, but soy, almond, rice, and coconut milk are all great options for vegan baking.

These will also be discussed further in tomorrow's post, but canola oil is an essential for me when baking, while coconut oil can be incorporated into certain desserts (such as chocolate truffles), as it hardens when cooled.

There is vegan shortening available that works well and, I think, is virtually indistinguishable from the "other" stuff. Again, I'd recommend trying Earth Balance (available at most health food stores, and at all Whole Foods I've ever been to).

Vegan sugar is...a bit complicated. It depends on how you define ‘vegan.’ Refined sugars available at the supermarket are generally derived from cane sugar or beet sugar, and do not contain animal products. Most cane sugars are, however, processed with animal bone char, which is used to remove color, impurities, and minerals from sugar. Conversely, bone char filtering is never used in beet sugar processing. Unfortunately for consumers, it is difficult to know the source of the white refined sugar that most foods contain. Many manufacturers use both cane sugar and sugar derived from sugar beets. If you do choose to avoid sugar processed with animal bone char, Whole Foods, many natural food stores, and even many regular grocery stores, do sell vegan refined sugars. Additionally, certified USDA organic sugars are not processed with bone char. C&H Sugar, Domino Sugar, Florida Crystals, Hain, Sugar in the Raw, Wholesome Sweeteners, and 365 (Whole Foods Brand), all offer some organic, vegan options.

Vegan yogurt used to be all about soy, but these days there are other alternatives, including almond-based and coconut-based yogurts. I don't generally care for the texture of almond yogurt on it's own (in fact, I think the coconut-based yogurts may be favorite), but incorporated into baking all three types of yogurts make a good egg substitution, while providing moistness. 1/4 cup of yogurt can be substituted for 1 egg in a recipe.

That's all for now...hope this helps you to get baking!
vegan chocolate bundt cake

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