January Kickstarter: 8 easy vegan food hacks for reducing meat and dairy intake

This January, we’re on the search for quick, accessible hacks to kickstart 2023 in the strongest way possible. Today’s nutrition kickstarter: easy vegan hacks for making plant-based cooking more simple. 

Contrary to what naysayers will have you believe, going vegan absolutely does not mean missing out on satisfying tastes and textures. It also doesn’t mean spending hours in the kitchen; while there are undoubtedly lots of complex vegan recipes that require loads of specialist ingredients out there, these hacks are so simple that even novices will be able to make them.

Now, some of them are likely to be old news to long-time vegans, but for any veggie-curious eaters interested in adding more plants to their diets or anyone who’s just finishing Veganuary, these hacks may come as a welcome relief.

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Chickpea tuna

Missing tuna sandwiches? Look no further than chickpea ‘tuna’, which mimics the taste and texture of tuna mayo using mashed chickpeas, capers and nori. We recommend this recipe by Loving it Vegan.

“Although chickpeas provide a decent amount of protein, they’re not a one-to-one replacement for tuna,” explains Marilia Chamon, registered nutritional therapist and founder of Gutfulness Nutrition.  

“Like most plant-based proteins, chickpea is an incomplete protein, meaning it doesn’t contain all essential amino acids. However that can be resolved when pairing chickpeas with a whole grain such as bread, as that contains complementary amino acids.”

Chickpea tuna sarnie it is then! 

Tofu feta

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The modern-day vegan cheese market may be massive, but a good vegan feta is hard to find. Luckily, it’s easy enough to make your own. This recipe from A Virtual Vegan is amazing. The secret? Baking the mixture to create that crumbly, feta texture.

The recipe also makes for a slice of fantastic vegan cream cheese – I love to mix it up by adding fresh herbs like dill or chives. 

“Tofu is made of soya beans and contains all nine essential amino acids our bodies cannot produce, making it a complete source of protein,” explains Chamon.

“Compared to regular cream cheese, which is mostly made up of fat, tofu is nutrient-dense – it contains good amounts of micronutrients such as manganese, copper and selenium.” 

Tofu scramble

In my mind, there are two types of tofu scramble – one that tries to emulate sloppy scrambled eggs and one that’s packed full of veggies, making it a delicious and nutritious toast topper.

Your essentials here are two things that every vegan should have in their cupboard – nutritional yeast (an inactive yeast full of vitamins and minerals that adds a nutty, cheesy flavour) and kala namak, aka black salt (Himalayan salt with high sulphur content that tastes like egg). 

Try this recipe from Very Veganish – I add plant milk to make it creamier.  

Vegan egg yolk

A runny poached egg on avocado toast is probably what I’ve missed most since turning vegan, so it’s not an exaggeration to say that my life changed when I stumbled upon an easy vegan egg yolk recipe from It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken.

Made from store cupboard staples and vegan essentials (nutritional yeast and black salt), it tastes like the real deal, with no chickens in sight. Dippy egg and Marmite soldiers? Yes, please. 

‘Nice’ cream

Sure, there’s now a whole world of plant-based ice cream at the supermarket, but did you know you can make a more nutritious version at home using frozen banana? Blending frozen chunks of banana with a little plant milk makes for a delicious dessert, and you can get creative with flavours by adding stuff like dark chocolate chips, peanut butter and other fruits. Forks Over Knives has a great guide to making your own.  

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Creamy sauces

If you think you have to give up creamy delights now you’re vegan, think again! You can create a plant-based white sauce by making a roux using oil or vegan butter, instead of regular butter.

“Neutral oils are usually best as they don’t affect or dominate the flavour – most sunflower and vegetable oils are deodorised,” explains Riverford chef Bob Andrew.

“Be cautious of using olive oil as not only is it expensive, it’s also quite bitter and will bully other more delicate flavours.” 

Then, simply use plant milk instead of cow’s milk. School Night Vegan has a great, simple béchamel sauce recipe. Want to make cheese sauce? Add nutritional yeast rather than vegan cheese, which often doesn’t have a strong enough flavour when added to sauce and sometimes melts weirdly or not at all. 

Soaked and blended cashews make a great cream replacement – try this easy recipe by Minimalist Baker.

Tahini is also your friend – stir it into pasta dishes or soup for richness (and added protein) or make a jar of tahini dressing and store it in your fridge ready to drizzle on top of Buddha bowls, salads and avocado toast. This Love and Lemons recipe is quick and delicious. 

Adding ‘meaty’ flavour and texture

You don’t need to buy tons of processed meat alternatives to replicate the taste and texture of meat – you just have to be smart with your ingredients.

“For a ‘meaty’ flavouring, nutritional yeast is great as it adds a savouriness and depth of flavour,” says chef Anna Williams of Fallow, Piccadilly.

“Adding Marmite can be a great flavour booster but be careful as too much can destroy the balance. Malt syrup can also be used in sweet and savoury for extra richness.

“Kombo (seaweed) is another one that’s great and can even be blitzed down and used with other spices in a rub before or after cooking. 

“With all these things, adding them to meaty, hearty vegetables helps to give that big boost of texture and flavour – big portobello or oyster mushrooms are meaty in texture and can hold and carry a lot of flavour.”

If you miss the smoky taste of bacon, it can be replicated with stuff like liquid smoke, smoked paprika and soy sauce – why not try this tofu ‘bacon’ recipe from It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken

Egg replacements in cooking

Eggs are often used to bind ingredients together, but there are plenty of vegan alternatives, which you’ll find cropping up in vegan recipes.

“Ripe bananas, flaxseed, tofu and aquafaba (chickpea water) can all be used as vegan egg replacements in baking,” advises Andrew. “You can even make meringue-like mixes with aquafaba, as the protein present allows it to be whipped into soft peaks.”

Use the aquafaba drained from tinned chickpeas, or buy cartons of pure aquafaba from Oggs.

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Your best bet in carrying on Veganuary with success or actively reduce your meat and dairy consumption is to follow vegan chefs or influencers on Instagram or Pinterest. That way, you’ll find yourself inspired with exciting new meal choices every time you scroll. I have folders full of saved posts that I reference any time I need some quick and delicious dinner inspo – it makes life a whole lot easier. 

Images: Getty

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