These 20 Vegan Cooking Tips For Beginners will help guide you if you’re new to the vegan lifestyle. From growing vegetables, to choosing spices, this blog covers everything you’ll need.
I picked them up along the way and they helped take my cooking to another level. Going vegan is easier for some than others. People can expect the transition to be simple, it rarely is. Preparing food that you enjoy will certainly make it much easier!
People turn to a plant-based or vegan diet for many reasons. This may be for health reasons, or to reduce your personal environmental impact. Animal agriculture has a huge impact environmentally, and the ethical side of these agricultural systems has been questioned more and more.
Regardless of what your personal reason is, know that you are helping both yourself and the planet with this change of lifestyle. If you are thinking about this change, here is a range of cooking tips to help make it easier.
1. Learn How To Cook Vegetables
You will eat a lot more vegetables with a vegan or plant-based diet. Learn to make the most of them. Vegetables can taste amazing and are a nutritional goldmine.
Boiling vegetables until they are soft and then throwing away the water, as most of us have done, is possibly the worst way to cook vegetables. Not only does it destroy much of the taste, but all of the water soluble nutrients will be discarded with the water.
Steaming vegetables is a much better way to retain both the flavour and the nutritional content. Roasting or grilling them can add a complexity to their flavour. Barbequed or char-grilled corn is a great example of how different things can taste. A tin of processed corn can taste bland and lifeless when compared to the taste of a freshly char-grilled corn cob.
You can breathe new life in to old recipes simply by changing some of your cooking methods. Experiment with stir-fries, salads, casseroles, even desserts! We have many Vegetarian and Vegan recipes for you to try. So, check them out if you are looking for inspiration.
2. Recreate Your Favourite Dishes
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you prepare a vegan meal. It’s often easy to recreate familiar dishes.
Some people think they will have to give up their favourite foods, but there are many alternatives. Some vegans do, and follow a whole food diet, that mainly consists of whole plant ingredients.
However if that’s not what you want to do, there are alternatives. There is no “one way” to eat a vegan diet! With milk, Cheese and even Bacon alternatives, there are plenty of options to choose from. Soya is made into many meat alternatives, and an increase in the use of things like Seitan and Mycoprotein, things like Lasagne or Chilli Sin Carne are easy to make.
Remember, Soya takes on flavours really well. With Tofu, marinate or coat it with a spice mix for incredible results. I even once ate an amazing Crispy Vegetarian Duck made from Seitan that I really couldn’t believe had been made. It looked so realistic, presented feet facing up on a silver platter by a Buddhist monk. The taste was equally amazing, and it shows what you can do if you put your mind to it.
3. Using New Ingredients
Try expanding your culinary horizons. Most vegan dishes are easy to create with familiar ingredients, but as soon as you start your journey, a world of new ingredients is presented.
You will discover new fruits and vegetables, and more specialised and unusual ingredients like Tempeh, Miso or Seitan. You may never have heard of them before, but don’t get intimidated. Most are easy to cook.
Don’t overwhelm yourself. Begin by finding new recipes or incorporating the ingredients into your existing diet to keep your cooking exciting. Chances are you will discover plenty of new favourites! Doing this will not only help with creating a balanced diet, it will stop you from getting bored.
4. Find Inspiration
Getting started and building up a range of go-to recipes helps a lot. Learn from others! As well as cookbooks, the internet is full of amazing vegan recipes that you will want to recreate.
A little searching will help you find some incredible new ideas. Save the recipes for those days when you want something different. From an appetizer for a party table, to a complete menu, you really will find an amazing array of ideas from across the globe.
5. Don’t Always Follow Recipes
Once you get more familiar with vegan cooking, don’t be afraid to just wing it. You can develop your own recipes and variations.
I often make what are substantially very similar meals, but by changing out certain ingredients, flavours and spices, you can make a dish that is different.
You will find unusual flavour combinations that simply “work”. It’s very difficult to go wrong, and if you do, you will learn from your mistakes.
6. Nuts & Seeds
Nuts and seeds really are the most incredible, concentrated packages of nutrition available. These versatile ingredients provide the opportunity to add depth of flavour and a complexity of texture that is hard to beat. Sprinkling some freshly toasted sesame seeds on the top of a stir fry will transform the taste.
Pumpkin seeds roasted slowly have an almost cheese like flavour, and can enhances the flavour of so many savoury dishes. Fennel seeds, often used in curries, also have a place in some sweet recipes.
Caraway seeds in the crust of freshly baked bread are wonderful, and roasted pine nuts have to be one of my personal favourites. Their subtle yet complex flavour and amazing nutritional content make the perfect addition to any diet.
7. Making Your Own
There are products that many vegans commonly eat. Plant-based milks, nut and seed butters for example.
Nowadays these are available in most supermarkets and stores, but in my opinion, homemade always tastes better. Making your own ensures there are no unwanted ingredients, and works out much cheaper. You can even make your own vegan cheese!
Making something homemade is far easier than it sounds. It requires just a handful of ingredients, and takes less time than you would imagine once you get used to doing it. Another advantage of making your own is that there is no single use plastics needed. Packaging can be re-used over and over again. Additives can simply be eliminated.
You can find recipes for non-dairy milk and butter alternatives here, but there are many others online. Take the time to find the right recipe for you. Subtle changes in the recipe can change the taste quite dramatically.
8. Choose a Large, Good Quality, Non-stick Frying Pan
Stir fries are a particular favourite of mine. I love the texture of fast fried vegetables. You can make cooking them much easier by using a large, good quality, non-stick frying pan.
Many vegan recipes require frying of some sort, so having a good frying pan is definitely a worthwhile investment. Choosing a large one allows you to cook whole meals in the one pan, and making sure it has a good non-stick coating means you can use less, or even no oil.
Wooden utensils will contaminate food less than plastic ones and eliminate damage during cooking to ensure the longevity of your new pan.
9. Less Is More
With ingredients and kitchen equipment, less really is often more. It’s much better to stock your kitchen with fewer good quality utensils that you know you will use a lot. Having too many simply causes clutter.
The same applies to food ingredients. It’s amazing how many dishes you can cook using just a few simple ingredients. Finding new ingredients is fun, but sometimes the comfort of familiar ingredients is what is needed.
People can be put off from plant-based cooking because they think it requires more or fancy equipment, which it certainly doesn’t.
10. Choosing Your Spices
Spices are amazing, and really important. There are so many different flavours, you can turn any old boring meal into something new. Following new recipes you will work out your own favourites.
As you learn you will work out which spices work best with which foods and what spice combinations work best together. They will give each dish its own unique character. They can also be used to boost both the nutritional content and medicinal values within a meal.
Many spices have surprising effects on the body, and including them in your diet can have amazing effects, even on long term medical conditions.
I personally suffer from IBS, but have managed it successfully for years, by avoiding processed food and improving the health of my gut. Using certain herbs, spices and vegetables that have certain specific effects on my digestive system means my IBS no longer rules my life.
11. Use Sauces To Add Flavour
Soy sauce, tamarind sauce, balsamic vinegar and other things like tamari (a gluten-free soy sauce), work brilliantly in many recipes. They help to add flavour even if you’re making something as simple rice and beans.
If you’re making a stir-fry, sometimes a splash of soy sauce and a little bit of tamarind sauce for sweetness is all it needs! Balsamic or apple cider vinegar will add sharpness to the taste, especially if added when the pan is hot. Just remember to keep stirring as you add any sauce to the pan.
Keeping the ingredients moving as quickly as possible spreads the flavour evenly throughout the food.
12. Making a Thick & Creamy Sauce
Making a rich and creamy sauce can be easy too. Both arrowroot powder and corn starch (corn flour) work really well. When preparing any dish, a thickener like corn starch does the trick with both sweet and savoury recipes.
Before adding it to the sauce, simply stir it together with around twice the amount of water (for example, 1 tsp corn starch to 2 tsp water) then add to the dish around 2 minutes before it’s ready to allow the sauce to thicken. Add it slowly and keep stirring all the time. It will add yet another dimension to your cooking.
13. Learn The Basics & Then Add To Them
Start by learning how to cook a few really good recipes well. Choose the ones that require minimal effort and ingredients. Once you become more adept, you can add ingredients and change cooking techniques to make any given dish unique every time.
Adding different spices or vegetables to a chickpea curry can transform it. Perhaps adding a rich Tamarind Sauce instead of Soy sauce in a stir fry will make a rich and sweet alternative. There are no limits except your imagination.
As you progress you will get new ideas, and your cooking skills will grow, as will your confidence.
14. Tahini & Nut Butter In Sauces
Adding nut butter or tahini to sauces, as a subtle hint or a major ingredient, is a great way to cook a delicious sauce. One fantastic thing about nut butters is the number of different varieties available in supermarkets now.
Each one has a unique flavour, and can work in many sweet and savoury dishes. Adding peanut or almond butter to cookies or brownies is wonderful, but it can work just as well in a curry sauce, or as a thickener in soups. Likewise, Tahini can introduce the delectable taste of sesame seeds in a new and exciting way.
Experiment, certain food combinations work really well, and aren’t always the ones that you may be familiar with.
15. Mix It Up
Mixing up sweet and savoury flavours can yield surprising results. Don’t go overboard. For instance, if a sweet flavour overwhelms a dish that’s supposed to be savoury it is unlikely to work. Adding a few berries or grapes to a salad, or orange juice in a stir-fry is a fantastic way to create a great balance of flavours.
Adding a pinch of salt in some cakes or other sweet dishes can enhance the flavour in a way that works wonderfully. I often add some salt to my oats in the morning, just as the Scottish do, it never disappoints.
16. Have a Shopping List Of Basic Ingredients
It is incredible just how many vegan dishes can be created from basic ingredients. So it is helpful to have a go-to shopping list. It will ensure that you always have those staples in your kitchen.
As a starting point, take your favourite 5 recipes, make a list of the ingredients, and work from there. This list will reflect your personal preferences and dietary requirements. You may use them in the recipes you know well, but they will all be adaptable, and allow you to experiment as you become more confident.
17. Vegan Food Swaps
These are the easy alternatives to non-dairy basic ingredients. They are helpful when you want to recreate an old favourite dish, especially while you’re still adjusting to the lifestyle. Regular milk for plant milk (such as oat, soya, coconut, almond, etc.,) is an obvious swap.
Chia or flax seed “eggs” work by stirring together 1 tbsp chia seeds or ground flaxseed with 2 tbsp water per ‘egg’ and letting it sit for around 10 minutes before using them in a whole range of recipes.
Honey can be switched for maple syrup, while nut butters and oils work well in place of regular butter for baking. Following these principles, you can make adjustments to old recipes without having to learn many new ones.
18. If In Doubt, Create a Bowl
Nourishing bowls are a favourite of mine. They are versatile, full of flavour and texture, and don’t require following an intricate recipe.
You can follow a basic formula and create a range of tasty meals really easily. I like to start with a base of leafy greens like Spinach or Chinese Leaf. Then, I add carbohydrates like rice, potatoes or noodles.
Next, it is good to include a good proportion of protein. Tofu, Chickpeas or kidney beans are my personal “Go to” items. Adding some healthy fats is important too, and can be done with ingredients like Avocado, or with some good quality cold pressed oil.
Add some good quality vegetables and finish it all off with some savoury Soy sauce, Tahini, or maybe even some sweet Tamarind sauce. This will complete a great and easy nutritionally balanced meal.
Simple to prepare, tasty and nutritionally complete, they are hard to beat.
19. Use Your Freezer
I like to use fresh simple ingredients as much as possible, but when I cook I tend to cook in big batches. I will freeze some, to simply give me more portions of the same dish. But I will also freeze portions of rice or the vegetable portion of the meal separately.
I can use the rice with other dishes, and the vegetables with something different, like noodles. People worry that vegan cooking is time consuming, but you can make it simple fast and easy. Countless recipes can be made in no time, with no intricate preparation.
20. Always Try To Learn
This is what will help you improve your vegan cooking most. We should never stop trying to learn. If you actively encourage yourself to learn new recipes and try new ingredients, you won’t get bored. Just like with any other art, there’s always room to improve your skills. This is what will keep it exciting.
I hope you find these hints and tips useful. Vegan, vegetarian and plant-based cooking can be a joy. Don’t see it as a loss, it isn’t. It is the opportunity to explore the wonderful world of food in ways you simply hadn’t previously.
As you progress you will find new and even more exciting ideas and ingredients. Embrace them. The humble potato can become the most exciting ingredient in the right hands.