Cooking for the holidays is enough to stress out anybody but for new vegans, it can be especially nerve-wracking. Similarly, cooking can be a challenge for any new vegan but the holiday meal is huge! On top of just wanting to serve a delicious feast that everyone will love, there are so many other things to worry about. How will you make a huge feast without meat, eggs or dairy? Will people like this food or even be willing to try it? Will the holidays be the same without the traditional dishes you have eaten your whole life or is everything as you once knew it over? Will you have to spend the entire holiday season defending your choices? It’s enough to make anyone say “Bah! Humbug!” We want to make it easier for everyone. Cooking doesn’t have to be full of obstacles. Here are some cooking tips for the new vegan this holiday season.
1. Plan a Menu
Things run smoother when they are organized. Plan what dishes you would like to make for the holidays. Do you want a vegan version of a turkey or other meat dish like pot roast? Do you want to make traditional dishes with a vegan spin? Does your holiday meal have to include mashed potatoes, stuffing, and pumpkin pie? Think about what your favorite dishes of the holidays are and plan a menu that you and everyone else will enjoy.
2. Collect Recipes
Look for recipes of vegan versions of the foods on your menus. There are recipes for just about every dish out there. Read through several recipes for each dish and see which ones appeal to you and which appear to be at your cooking level. You can also use your old family recipes and figure out what substitutions you need to make for the non-vegan ingredients. Check out How to Veganize Your Favorite Familiar Dishes for guidelines. Make a list of the ingredients and appropriate ingredient substitutions needed to make the dishes so you will have a complete shopping list. You don’t want to be in the middle of cooking only to realize you don’t have a crucial ingredient. For holiday meal ideas, see 10 Delicious Vegan Main Dishes for Christmas.
3. Know Your Substitutions
Once you have a list of the animal ingredients that need to be replaced, think about what plant-based foods can used in the dish. Write down a plant-based substitution for each of the ingredients you circled. For instance, if the recipe uses chicken, pork or beef, cross that out and write down “tofu” or “seitan” or “jackfruit.” Read about the 10 Vegetables that Can Substitute for Meat. If the recipe uses fish, jot down “tempeh” or “chickpeas.” See How to Make Vegan Seafood without the Fish for ideas. Replace any milk or butter with non-dairy milk and vegan butter or coconut oil. You can easily live without cheese when you have delicious vegan versions of cheese. Does the recipe say you need eggs? Guess what, you don’t. Learn How to Cook and Bake Without Eggs and How to Replace Eggs in All Your Favorite Dishes. Leave the bees alone and use any of these 5 Best Alternatives to Honey. There is a vegan way to substitute almost every food. For a quick reference, see 10 Food Substitutions Every Plant-Based Eater Should Know. Looking at recipes with appropriate swap-outs in mind lets me believe that anything any chef makes, I can make vegan.
4. Be Realistic
If you are new to vegan cooking, the holidays may not be the time to experiment with complicated recipes. Unless you are confident in your kitchen abilities, you may not want to choose now to tackle a seitan roast or making your own vegan cheese. The last thing you need is to have your confidence plummet when your main course doesn’t come out as you expected. Set yourself up for success and choose recipes that are do-able for you. If you are ambitious and want to try making something difficult, make sure you have a back-up dish, just in case. Take a look at these 13 Meatless Monday Meal Ideas for the Beginner Cook for simple but delicious recipes.
5. Give Yourself the Gift of Time
It takes time to get used to new things so be sure to give yourself extra time to shop for, prepare and cook your holiday dishes. When I was a new vegan, grocery shopping took me forever while I tried to figure out what to buy and read every label. Take your time in the store and instead of feeling stressed, try to immerse yourself in the variety of vegan foods available to you. Read Navigating the Grocery Store as a New Plant-Based Eater: What You Should Know for shopping tips. Some vegan foods require different prep work than you might be used to such as tofu which requires time for pressing and marinades that might need 24 hours to get their best flavors. Even if a recipe says it should only take 30 minutes, plan on twice that amount of time. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
6. Stock the Pantry and Fridge
Make sure your pantry and fridge are filled with lots of plant-based options. There are some items that are vital to every pantry. Make sure your condiments are vegan too. Being vegan is a great excuse to try all sorts of new foods. Have a fully stocked cabinet of spices and dried herbs as well as fresh herbs in the fridge. Read 12 Must-Have Items for Your Vegan Pantry for tips and ideas. The kitchen should be organized so you know where everything is when you need it. Get organization tips by reading How I Organize My Kitchen for Easy Vegan Cooking.
An important tip for new vegans regards having realistic expectations. There is a vegan version of almost every food but don’t expect them to taste like the original, non-vegan versions. Vegan cheese is delicious but it doesn’t taste exactly like dairy cheese. Veggie burgers are great but they don’t taste like the meat burgers you are used to. Learn to appreciate the new flavors and textures of vegan food rather than comparing them to their non-vegan counterparts.
8. Take Help from the Store
Today, vegans have so many choices when it comes to food. When it comes to store-bought products, there is a vegan substitute for almost everything and if there’s something missing, I can guarantee you someone is working hard to develop it. There are vegan meats, vegan chicken, vegan fish, vegan hot dogs and sausages, vegan milks, cheeses and ice creams, vegan butter, and even vegan eggs. These incredible products allow us to make all our favorite dishes in a snap. Don’t feel bad about taking a little help from the store and buying some pre-made vegan products. While it’s possible to make your own vegan milk, cheese, butter and even your own tofu and tempeh, give yourself a break. Non-vegans don’t make all their own ingredients and you don’t have to either. Wait until after the holidays to practice making your own cheese and seitan but during this crunch time, take advantage of all the vegan products out there.
9. Allow for Mistakes
When I first began vegan cooking, I made a lot of mistakes. There was tempeh that tasted like sneakers, seitan that looked like brains and even soups that ended up going down the drain. To this day I still can’t make a good tofu omelet though my chickpea omelets are incredible. My gluten-free baking efforts also tend to be hit or miss at times. Even if you are a good cook, mistakes will be made. Have back-up plans in case a dish doesn’t work out to your liking. Don’t beat yourself up! A less than optimal dish doesn’t mean you have no future as a vegan or vegan cook. It just means you have to practice more and try, try again. Learn to laugh and your mistakes and eat them anyway.
10. Have Fun
The most important tip I can give you is to have fun. The holidays are supposed to be about joy and festivities. Find the fun in trying new recipes and new foods and introducing these new dishes to your loved ones. Imagine how satisfying it will be when everyone loves the food and can’t believe that cake doesn’t contain eggs or butter.
The holidays can be filled with pressure so don’t put any more on yourself than necessary. Think of yourself as an elf in Santa’s vegan kitchen and give yourself and your loved ones the gift of a spectacular vegan holiday feast.
We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 15,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
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