Top left: Vegans can have their cake and eat it too. Vinegar is a great egg replacer and is used in this decadent chocolate cake. It tastes just like a normal chocolate cake with a spongy layer and creamy chocolate frosting;

No meat, no dairy, no eggs? No problem!

My niece announced earlier this year, that she will no longer be eating meat, dairy, eggs and any other animal by-products. She was going vegan! Thinking that it was another whimsical teenage phase, I didn’t think much of it. But after six months, she is still embracing her new lifestyle choice. Though I love to explore different cuisine and cooking techniques, I have to admit, I found veganism totally intimidating.

My niece announced earlier this year, that she will no longer be eating meat, dairy, eggs and any other animal by-products. She was going vegan! Thinking that it was another whimsical teenage phase, I didn’t think much of it. But after six months, she is still embracing her new lifestyle choice.

Though I love to explore different cuisine and cooking techniques, I have to admit, I found veganism totally intimidating.

After her announcement I began to eliminate all our signature meals which she enjoyed having at our house. No more backyard wiener roasts, no more fresh baking welcoming her arrivals and the idea of having her over for birthday parties and family get together seemed to be more daunting.

The first few times she stayed with us, I simply prepared food that I was most comfortable preparing — Indian food. The Indian cuisine bases its meals around lentil and vegetables, using meat as a supplement or not at all. So I would prepare a repertoire of vegetables curries and lentil dahls during her visit. But after a few of these, my kids’ faces would transform into painful contours whenever she phoned that she was coming.

I decided it was time to quit focusing on everything my niece could not have and discover recipes that could be enjoyed together again. So, I went on the quest to become more “vegan-educated”.

I learned about vegan friendly products available at the grocery stores and some clever substitutions that can be used to accommodate the vegan diet. I explored store aisles which I normally overlooked. After a few months of experimentation and learning about different ingredients, I have incorporated my niece’s new lifestyle choice into our family meals.

Meat can be easily replaced with mock meat products available in grocer’s refrigerator or freezer section. Essentially, this is a substitute for meat made with ingredients such as soy, tofu and wheat gluten, which tries to replicate the taste, texture and appearance of real meats. After cooking and grilling up a few, I have discovered that they are designed to be cooked just like their real-meat counterparts. If you can grill a hot dog, you can grill a “not dog” too!

I also ventured into the world of tofu. My family hates tofu and I have been banned from bringing it in the house, but I love tofu! I have experimented with it many times and disguised them into many family meals.

On its own, it has very little flavor, so it can be used in a variety of dishes, both sweet and savory.

Silken and regular tofu can be found on most grocery store shelves. Silken tofu is equivalent to thin custard or heavy cream and I have found works well in pureed or blended dishes, like dips and spreads, soups, and baked desserts.

You can make many recipes much healthier by substituting pureed silken tofu for mayonnaise, cream or sour cream. Regular tofu comes in medium firm, firm or extra firm and generally has a meaty texture so it works well in stir fries and for grilling. Crumbled tofu can be substituted for cottage cheese or ricotta cheese in lasagna and similar dishes

Since tofu really has no flavor, it’s important that it is seasoned properly. If you grill a slab of tofu with nothing on it, it won’t taste very good. Tofu acts like a sponge, so it’s important to give it flavors to absorb. Whenever I make tofu as a meat replacement, I always marinate it first, usually all day so that it really soaks in.

With so many non-dairy options available, it’s not hard to replace dairy milk in the vegan diet. You can find all different milk alternatives at most grocery stores. There is almond, rice and soy milk that taste just as good and could easily be replaced in recipes that calls for dairy milk.

Buttermilk can be replaced with soured soy or rice milk. For each cup of buttermilk, use 1 cup soymilk plus 1 tablespoon of vinegar. Several brands of non-dairy cream cheese are available in some supermarkets and health food stores.

Butter can be replaced with several different products, the most common of which is margarine. However, not all margarines are vegan. It is very important to read the labels of margarines and look out for things like whey, lactose and modified milk ingredients. Vegan Becel and Earth Balance margarine are the safe choices when looking for non-dairy product. There are also other ways of replacing butter like using all vegetable shortening or oil.

In baking, when egg is used as binder, one egg can be substituted by using 1/4 cup of applesauce, mashed banana or silken tofu. Vinegar is also a great egg replacer and as mentioned earlier, it can turn ordinary soy milk into buttermilk.

I think my greatest lesson learned through this journey was just how easy it is to turn everyday meals into vegan friendly by simply substituting a few common ingredients. For example, if I was planning on making potato salad for a barbecue then I substitute soy-based vegan mayonnaise for the traditional egg-based variety. Making a salad? Leave the cheese and dressing out on the side for people to add themselves, and you’ve ensured that everyone can enjoy the veggies, even if they can’t eat dairy products or creamy dressings. I found many of my baked goods that I would welcome my niece with could easily be made by using vegan friendly ingredients.

And the kicker — the rest of the family wasn’t able to tell the difference!

I have discovered that there are countless morning bread recipes, wide range of meatless main course meals and some so decadent chocolate delights that we can still enjoy with our veganarian!

Tandoori Tofu Kabob

350g firm tofu

3 tbsp soy milk

2 tbsp Tandoori masala

1/4 tsp red chili powder

1/2 tsp garam masala

1 tbsp fresh ground ginger

1 tbsp fresh ground garlic

1 tbsp olive oil

1/2 tsp salt or according to taste

Cubed vegetables (red, green pepper, tomatoes, zucchini etc.)

Skewers, soaked

Cut tofu into 1-inch cubes. Mix all ingredients (except tofu and vegetables) in yogurt. Add tofu and marinate overnight. Skewer tofu with vegetables and grill for 5 minutes on hot barbecue. For a juicer kabob you can also sauté in olive oil in frying pan.

Fresh Tomato “Cream” Sauce with Garlic and Basil

5 hot house tomatoes, – chop them up with juices

1/4 cup of tomato paste

1 cup of raw cashews – soak them in water overnight

1 cup finely minced fresh basil

6 cloves garlic

Linguine, cooked

Chilli pepper for garnish

Using a blender, blend the tomatoes to juice consistency. Next, add 1/4 cup of the tomato paste and the soaked cashews (drained). Puree until the cashews are fully blended — this could take a few minutes. In a large pan, heat 1/4 cup of olive oil and add 6 cloves minced or pressed garlic After 2 minutes, add the sauce from the blender and mix it all together. Lower the heat and mix in the cup of fresh basil. Mix the pasta and the sauce and serve with some fresh basil on top and crushed chilli peppers for garnish.

Vegan Chocolate cake

1 1/4 cups flour

1 cup sugar

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup warm water

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 tsp distilled white or apple cider vinegar

Chocolate Glaze

1/2 cup sugar

4 tbsp vegan margarine (Becel)

2 tbsp soy milk

2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In an 8X8 square pan/dish, mix together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt with a fork, making sure it is really blended together. Add the water, vanilla, oil, and vinegar, and again, mix together so that it’s really blended together. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides if necessary. Place in oven and bake for about 30 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean. Cool on a rack completely. For the glaze, in a small saucepan, bring sugar, margarine, milk, and cocoa to a boil. Stir frequently; then reduce heat to a simmer for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. It’ll look gloppy, but it’s just the bubbles! Remove from heat and stir for another 5 minutes.

Add vanilla, stir, and immediately pour onto cake. Glaze dries really quickly, so spread it immediately.

Vegan Blueberry Muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 lemon zest

3/4 cup sugar

1 cup soy milk

1/3 cup Canola oil

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon white vinegar

1 and 1/2 cups fresh OR frozen blueberries

Preheat the oven to 375F. Lightly grease a muffin tin. In a medium bowl, combine together flour, baking soda, salt and lemon zest. In a large bowl, combine the sugar, milk, oil, extract, and vinegar. Mix well. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, stir until just combined. Don’t over stir. Gently fold in the berries using a rubber spatula. .Fill the muffin tins about 2/3rds full. Bake until a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, about 22 minutes.

Madhu Badoni is a Red Deer-based freelance food writer. She can be reached at madhubadoni@gmail.com. Watch for Madhu’s Masala-Mix blog on bprda.wpengine.com

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