Thursday, September 5, 2013

Vegan Pantry Ideas Part 3

"Green" Cashew Cheese Spread
This cashew cheese (above) was made with refined coconut oil.

Here's my final page on with entries about oils, vinegars, and milks, as promised! I've linked all of these entries to the top of the page (under the "Vegan Pantry" tab) so you can now easily access this information anytime. I added a few entries to the Pantry (including nuts!) and will continue to do so if I come up with anything else I think might be especially helpful. I hope you find it of some use as you venture forward on your vegan eating adventures...

Oils and Vinegars
The advantage to stocking oils and vinegars in your pantry is you can throw them on veggies, stir-fry or a salad in a pinch. They can be a slightly healthier alternative to store-bought dressing, and once you become familiar with them, adding them to a freshly cooked meal can be just as easy! Additionally, oils and vinegars can be an important addition to many vegan baked goods.

Apple cider vinegar
I love, love, love apple cider vinegar. A splash can make a great addition to some greens (I love adding it to brussel sprouts and kale), or be an excellent start for a salad. Additionally, a bit of apple cider vinegar mixed with soy milk can substitute for buttermilk (just whisk together 1 tbsp vinegar with 1 cup milk, and let sit for 5-10 minutes).

Balsamic vinegar
I also love balsamic vinegar (I guess I'm something of a vinegar nut). I like adding it to salad dressings, and putting a splash in my green beans or on some freshly-boiled gnocchi. If you are also a balsamic-lover, might I recommend to you one of my favorite childhood snacks: half of an avocado with vinegar poured into the pit cavity (you scoop a little vinegar up with each bite of avocado). One of my childhood classmates (along with the rest of her family) ate her avocados this way, and I still love it!

Canola oil
There's not too much to say about canola oil, except that I consider it an absolute staple when baking. It has a more neutral flavor than most other oils, and can be substituted in any recipe calling for vegetable oil.

Coconut oil (refined)
Don't worry if you don't like coconuts! Unlike unrefined coconut oil, refined coconut oil has been exposed to high temperatures, so it does not retain it's original "coconut" flavor. It can, however, be a great addition to many baked goods and is a common ingredient in vegan truffles, as it hardens upon cooling. It's become a very "hot" ingredient in vegan and health-food cooking over the last few years.

Grapeseed oil
This is another great option. Although it's pretty expensive as far as the oils go, it has virtually no flavor, so it makes a really great base for dressings.

Olive oil
Everyone's pretty familiar with olive oil these days. It's great for frying, for dressings, and even for tossing with cooked veggies. It does have a distinct flavor, however, so it's not appropriate for use in baking (unless you're planning on making an olive oil cake!).

Peanut oil
I still remember when I first tried peanut oil. This stuff is awesome, especially because of its nutty flavor. I love using it in stir-frys to impart an extra-rich, nutty flavor (you can use it instead of whatever other oil you'd normally fry in). It can also be a great addition to cookies. One of my all-time favorite cookies--the chocolate thumbprint cookies from Vegan with a Vengeance--calls for peanut oil.

Red wine vinegar
This is another nice option for dressings and veggies. It's slightly sweeter and milder than balsamic vinegar, so use accordingly.

Sesame oil
This stuff is great for stir-frying. There's toasted sesame oil and regular, and both are delicious in my book! You can also incorporate a bit of sesame oil into an asian-style dressing (and some toasted sesame seeds and rice vinegar and you're good to go!).

There are a lot of vegan milk alternatives, and if you'd tried more than one of them, you know that they can be quite distinct from one another. Aside from taste, they have slightly different properties as well. Also, don't forget that different brands generally taste very different.  They come in unsweetened, original (although the "original" flavors have a bit of added sweetener, most people find them much more palatable, and a better approximation to milk), and vanilla flavors. Many brands also offer a chocolate milk, if you're feeling particularly indulgent.

Almond milk has gained popularity in recent years for a number of reasons. While it offers most of the richness of soy milk, most people find it much easier to digest. Also, since most vegans do incorporate some forms of soy into their diet (such as tofu), it's nice to be able to have a non-soy alternative so that you're not limited to consuming soy products all-day long! While almond milk has a relatively neutral taste, it can come off as a bit nutty, so I do tend to avoid using it in frostings and some beverages and desserts. For the most part, however, it can be easily substituted into any recipe that calls for soy milk.

Coconut milk
The coconut milk you buy in a can at the grocery store is generally reserved for specific special dishes, such as a soup or curry (rather than being poured over your cereal). The great thing about it is that it actually has a significant fat content, so it can create a nice, richly robust flavor that is impossible to get with almond, soy or rice milk. Because of this high fat content it can also be used to make vegan whipped cream.

Rice milk
Rice milk was never one of my favorites and you won't find it featured in too many vegan recipes. That being said, it can often be used in place of soy milk, and until almond milk came around was generally called upon as an alternative. It does not have the rich body of almond milk, and therefore particularly in beverages it can seem a bit thin or diluted. Be sure to experiment if you're using it for the first time in a baked good, but I think you'll find it will work just fine 90% of the time.

Soy milk*
Soy milk is a great milk alternative that is currently the most common dairy-free option in most restaurants and other food establishments. Its relatively rich body and somewhat neutral taste approximates, in my opinion, dairy milk more closely than other alternatives.

Breakfast Standbys
Breakfast options are pretty straight forward. Just add some dairy-free milk to your cereal and you're good to go! Of course, you can also go the muffin, toast, or bread (like banana bread!) route. I also like to throw in a little smoothie from time to time:

If you keep lots of fruits (frozen and fresh), some silken tofu or vegan yogurt on hand, you'll be pretty ready to throw together a smoothie any time. Check out my recipe for one easy idea to get you started! And, of course shakes or smoothies can be a nice dessert treat, too...don't forget to add in some almond butter or peanut butter in for protein and flavor!

See the "Baking, etc." section on my "Vegan Pantry" page.

*A note on soy: There have been all kinds of studies and discussions about the healthfulness of (unfermented) soy, with many people claiming that it can be detrimental to your health. Nothing from a reliable source that I've read, however, suggests that soy intake on a moderate level is bad for you. Vegans may therefore need to be particularly careful to ensure that they're not eating substantial amounts of soy with every meal. With the number of increasingly soy-free options available, however, this really isn't an issue for most people. Some people do have trouble digesting it, so this is something to keep in mind if you're introducing it into your diet.

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