Sunday, September 1, 2013

How to Transform your Favourite Recipes into Healthy Vegan Meals

I thought I'd start off my Vegan MoFo with an article that I wrote a while ago that introduces you nicely to my MoFo theme! I'm going to share a month of transforming traditional recipes into delicious health vegan meals! Sound good?

This article was first published in the December 2012 issue of Natural Food Magazine

How to Transform your Favourite Recipes into Healthy Vegan Meals

Temptation can be the downfall of many a diet and the best of intentions. The enticing whirlwind of friends, family, parties, dinners, and holidays can make even the most determined person falter.  The temptation to succumb to 'just one bite' of those traditional treats you've always loved can be immense but if you can transform your indulgences into healthy vegan meals you can still enjoy them with a clear conscious and good health!

The main issue with 'treats' is primarily that the treat food ends up eaten in vast quantities for an extended period of time. While one bite of a dessert is a minor issue, spending late November to January overindulging in calorific, devilish extravagances is quite another. I can assure you your body (and waistline!) will bear the brunt of the assault; so to help you and your body out this holiday season here are some tips to keep in mind.

·        Make sure you eat a good healthy meal before going out, this way your willpower has an extra boost as hunger won't be an issue.

·        If you can help choose venues or bring food to events do! and make sure there will be some healthy options, others will appreciate it too.

·        Try to make your own food- if you're going to indulge then at least you know exactly what's in the food. Plus anything you make yourself will always be healthier than processed packaged options!

·        Go over the reasons that you want to be healthy, make a list if necessary to remind yourself when you falter. This will also help you respond to others if they can't accept that you just don't want that slice of cake.

·        Take each moment as it comes, if you do choose to indulge a little then enjoy every bite but make good choices afterwards- there's no use using it as a free ticket to binge eat your way through the festivities.

Having said all that I think the best option to keep you happy, satisfied and full of holiday cheer is take the recipes that you love and make them healthy and vegan!

This may sound a little tricky at first, I mean what happens without egg? how do you replace cheese? what am I going to do without sugar?! but the longer you do it the easier it get. Just give it a go!

Now I wouldn't be so mean as to leave it there- I need to help you out a little more. I'll show you how I go about re-vamping a recipe to make it healthy and vegan by going through some substitute ingredients and giving you a couple of demo recipes.

Firstly you want to get the feel of a recipe rather than worrying about each individual ingredient. What sort of recipe is it? What are its most important qualities? What do the ingredients bring to the dish?  is it there to bind the mixture, add depth, texture, flavour? Once you've established its role you can then determine the void it will leave in the recipe. For instance if your cheesecake recipe requires the majority of mascarpone you can sub in tofu but if it just calls for a spoonful  you're better off using soy or coconut milk. The last thing to consider is does it really need to be replaced? its it a key component to the dish? Often you can get away with just leaving out say the meat or cheese to make it healthy and veg.

Now obviously this is not going to taste identical, but it will taste great and you will enjoy it while staying healthy. In my opinion cutting a little 'perfection' for health seems far wiser than compromising your health for something that tastes exactly like you remember it.


Meat- has many options, if you're replacing the texture then tofu, seitan, textured vegetable protein, tempeh, are all good choices. If flavour is what you're after then smoked tofu, mushrooms, Veggie burgers or any of the above marinated will work well. Mock meats are another option but as they're still processed and contain salt, sugar and oil they are to be used in extreme moderation. You can also find natural veggie stock powders that mimic the flavours of beef and chicken. Gelatin can be replaced with agar agar, fruit pectin, carrageen, guar gum, locust bean gum or starch/flour thickeners.

Eggs- Replacing eggs in baking you have a multitude of options. You could use 2tbsp cornstarch/arrowroot +2tbsp water, 2.5tbsp ground flax or chia seeds + 3 tbsp water that will combine to make a gel, 1/4 cup fruit or vegetable puree (banana, pumpkin, apple sauce, carrot, zucchini etc), commercial egg replacers such as No-egg or Ener-G, 1/4 cup blended silken tofu or non-dairy yoghurt, 1tbsp vinegar + 1 cup non dairy milk, 1 tbsp nut butter + 1/8 cup non-dairy milk. If you're replacing eggs as a binding agent in say burgers then oats, potato, flour/starches or flax/chia 'eggs' work best.


Milk- Almond milk is naturally sweet but not too thin or thick, soy milk is a fairly thick rich milk that comes in different flavours, rice milk is naturally sweet but much thinner, oat milk is much the same with a more oaty taste, hemp milk has a nutty flavour and coconut milk makes a rich creamy milk substitute that has a defined coconut flavour.

Cream- Coconut cream makes a lovely replacement for thick cream (you can also leave it to settle and whip the thick top layer with sweetener for a whipped cream substitute), coconut milk can be used to replace thin cream as can soy creamer. Non-dairy milk heated and thickened with flour/starch/agar agar can be taken to any consistency desired.

Butter- In sauces or dressing butter can be replaced with nuts or seeds and nut/seed butters (tahini, almond, peanut, cashew, sunflower etc.) or oils like coconut oil. In baking you can substitute with numerous options- coconut butter (blended coconut flesh), fruit and vegetable purees (banana, pumpkin, apple sauce, carrot, zucchini etc), cooked beans, chickpeas or coconut cream. Butter as a spread can be replaced easily with avocado, hummus or nut butters.

Ice cream- Blended frozen fruit with non-dairy milk makes my favourite 'ice creams' but there are also commercially available soy ice creams, rice ice creams, coconut ice creams but they are usually high in sugar so are to be consumed in moderation.

Sour Cream- Can be replaced with 200g silken tofu + 1tbsp vinegar + 1tbsp lemon juice.

Yoghurt- Can be exchanged with silken tofu+ non-dairy milk + lemon juice; alternately there are coconut yoghurts and soy yoghurts available.

Cheese- Nutritional yeast, an inactive yeast, is a vegan's best friend. Full of protein and essential B12, it has a distinct cheesy flavour that features in many 'cheese' recipes. There are numerous nut or tofu based cheese recipes that you can try, in addition to many white/cheese sauce recipes.  There are also numerous processed vegan cheese alternatives available but they are to be used in extreme moderation and labels read cautiously.

Sugar- Can be substituted with low calorie natural alternatives like stevia or unrefined sugars like maple syrup (proper maple syrup), agave, palm sugar, coconut sugar, rice malt, molasses, barley malt, evaporated cane juice. Alternately fruit is a great option, fresh fruit, dried fruit, fruit juice, apple sauce/fruit purees all have their place in different recipes.

Salt- You can use soy sauce, miso paste, bean pastes, olives, vinegar, capers and other salty ingredients to balance your dish. You can use stocks and stock powders too but if you really need a little salt make sure you go for a good sea salt rather than table salt.

Fat- Depending on the use you can choose between nuts, seeds, nut/seed butters (tahini, almond, peanut, cashew, sunflower etc.), tofu, silken tofu, edamame, peas, beans, chickpeas, fruit or vegetable puree (banana, pumpkin, apple sauce, carrot, zucchini etc), coconut oil, coconut cream/milk or avocados to replace processed fats.

Refined Carbohydrates- Can be substituted with whole grains such as barley, quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat, millet etc. Starchy vegetables like potato, sweet potato, turnip etc also make good replacements for processed carbohydrates. Pasta can be interchanged with thinly cut vegetables like zucchini or sweet potato and bread with rice cakes, sprouted breads, flat wholegrain breads and whole flour versions of your favourites. Flours can be exchanged with wholegrain flours like buckwheat flour, chickpea or besan flour, oat flour, quinoa flour etc.

Now we've gone through all your options here are a couple of examples with actual recipes, courtesy of the Australian Women's Weekly.

Spicy chicken marinated tofu with chilli lime dipping sauce 

8 chicken thigh fillets - This is a major component of the dish that definitely needs to be included, firm smoked or regular tofu would be my choice but vegetables would also be delicious
2 tablespoons fish sauce 
- This flavour-filled condiment adds salt and flavour and can be easily replaced with soy sauce or miso
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
2 fresh small red chillies, seeded, chopped finely
1 teaspoon caster sugar
- Omit or replace with a couple of drops of stevia or soaked dried fruit such as dates
1 tablespoon olive oil 
- Omit as it is used for cooking, if it was part of the sauce you could replace it with a nut/seed butter like tahini
lime wedges, for serving
chopped fresh coriander leaves and green onion, for serving
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons sugar
- Omit or replace with a couple of drops of stevia or soaked dried fruit
2 teaspoons fish sauce
- Again, replace with soy sauce, dashi or miso
1 fresh small red chilli, seeded, chopped finely
2 teaspoons finely chopped coriander stalks

1. Cut chicken smoked tofu into 4cm pieces.

2. Combine the fish sauce
soy sauce, garlic, chilli and sugar stevia in a medium bowl. Add chicken tofu; mix well. Cover and refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight, turning occasionally.

3. CHILLI LIME DIPPING SAUCE: Combine all ingredients in a small bowl; stir until the sugar is dissolved.

4. Heat large frying pan or barbecue flat plate over medium heat. Brush pan with oil; cook chicken, in batches
tofu for about 4 minutes each side or until browned and cooked warmed through.

5. Insert toothpicks into the chicken
tofu pieces. Serve with Chilli Lime Dipping Sauce and lime wedges, sprinkled with coriander and onion. 

And a dessert recipe for good measure...
Trifle Recipe

85g packet passionfruit jelly crystals- Substitute agar-agar based fruit jelly
280g small plain sponge cake
- Make your own mini cake or cupcakes with wholegrain flour, applesauce, non-dairy milk and baking powder
1/2 cup (125ml) pineapple juice
- Try for fresh not canned
4 medium (1.7kg) mangoes, sliced 
- Again, make sure they're fresh
6 passionfruit
- Fresh, not canned in sugar
300ml thickened cream
- Blended silken tofu with a drop of stevia
1/4 cup (40g) icing sugar mixture
- Omit or add additional stevia/dried fruit to the mixture
2 tablespoons finely grated lime rind
1 cup (280g) Greek-style natural yogurt
- Blended silken tofu + lemon juice

1. Make jelly according to packet instructions  2g agar agar : 500ml liquid, boil for 5 mins to dissolve agar agar then pour into a shallow container; refrigerate for about 3 hours  30 mins or until firm.

2. Cut sponge into cubes and place in the base of a glass serving dish. Sprinkle with
fresh juice. Cut jelly into cubes and place on top of sponge. Top with half the mango and passionfruit.

3. Beat
blend cream, silken tofu icing sugar stevia and rind in a small bowl with an electric mixer hand blender until soft peaks form until smooth. Fold in yogurt blended silken tofu and lemon juice. Spread cream  tofu mixture over fruit, then top with the remaining mango and passionfruit. Cover; refrigerate for several hours before serving. 

I hope that all makes sense now and you're feeling more confident in manipulating your recipes to suit your healthy lifestyle.

So there you have it, this Vegan Month of Food (Vegan MoFo) I'll be cooking meals from some of my favourite recipe books- whether vegan, vegetarian, health conscious or standard. I'll be breaking down the ingredients and processes and showing you how I cook from the chefs and recipe books I love while maintaining my nutritional and ethical integrity. Let the fun begin!

Love and Smiles,

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