10 Vegan Cooking Tips We Learned from Cookbooks

If you follow a plant-based diet, dabble in it, or aspire to, these vegan tips are for you.

Our Vegan cookbook comes out this fall!

Vegan cooking requires you to push beyond a slap-a-steak-on-the-grill-and-call-it-dinner mindset and ponder the produce. Maybe that means zucchini pasta—ahem, impasta—with marinara or mango salsa atop chilled cucumber and avocado soup. Whether you're a well-seasoned plant eater, dabble in it, or aspire to lead a veg-centric life, cooking and eating vegan isn't all that hard. It just takes a little know-how (and maybe a tofu press)—so we took to the books to find out more. From sunflower seed "tuna" to a simpler pesto, here are 10 vegan cooking tips we learned from cookbooks. 

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My New Roots by Sarah Britton

Tip: Make a pan bagnat with sunflower seed “tuna.”

“After soaking sunflower seeds for a snack, I realized that they had the look and texture of canned tuna fish—hence the sunflower seed ‘tuna’ salad. The nori has that familiar taste of the sea, lending its fishy flavor to the seeds.” 

How to: Soak about 1 1/2 cups sunflower seeds and salt at least 4 hours or overnight. Drain and pulse in a food processor along with a finely chopped sheet of nori, some lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, honey, and olive oil until it forms a chunky paste just like tuna salad. Stir in chopped dill, sliced scallions, and capers. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. For the rest of the sandwich, proceed as you would for a pan bagnat.


Street Vegan by Adam Sobel

Tip: For better cashew cheese, add the Indian spice asafoetida.

“Its pungent flavor is somewhere between that of garlic and feet…but in a good way! It’s excellent in Indian dishes and those that require a slightly cheesy, eggy tang.” 

How to: Add a 1/2 teaspoon of asafoetida to your next batch of cashew cheese for more cheesy flavor. You can also throw in a teaspoon or so of umeboshi plum vinegar. Both add umami.


Mastering the Art of Vegan Cooking by Annie and Dan Shannon

Tip: Freeze tofu to improve its texture.

How to: “Drain your tofu, then lightly press out as much of the moisture as you can. When you freeze it overnight, whatever water is left will form small ice crystals; when the ice melts, those crystals will leave little air pockets behind, making your tofu chewier.” 


One Good Dish by David Tanis

Tip: Put down the Parmesan and pine nuts. Make a "knife pesto" where you won't miss either.

“I marveled at how quickly the basil flavored the oil; it’s rather ingenious. Drizzle it over most any vegetable, or stir into a pasta dish.” 

How to: Make the three-ingredient powerhouse by chopping a cup of basil and then adding 4 cloves finely chopped garlic, 3/4 cup olive oil, and some salt and pepper to taste. Leave it at room temperature for 15 minutes before using so the flavors can meld. 

More: Make vegan pesto pizza.


Dirt Candy by Amanda Cohen 

Tip: For better vegetarian bacon, use butternut squash (and buy a smoker). 

“Most vegetarian bacon is nice and salty, but full of chemicals. Here’s a vegetarian bacon with just two ingredients: butternut squash and sugar. The flavor is all in the preparation.”

How to: Peel and thinly slice butternut squash into slabs. Load a smoker with a quart of maple chips—a simple Google search will also show you how to rig your own—and smoke the squash at least twice, releasing steam between each cycle. Pulse some sugar in a blender (this breaks it down, allowing it to caramelize faster), pat squash dry, and toss the squash in the sugar. Bake in a single layer on a lined baking sheet at 375° F for about 4 minutes, flip, and bake 4 more minutes until crispy and an orange-brown color.


Candle 79 Cookbook by Joy Pierson, Angela Ramos, and Jorge Pineda

Tip: Use chickpea flour for vegan, gluten-free crepes. It's meant to bean. 

"This delicious, wheat- and gluten-free recipe is great for savory brunch crepes—we stuff them with sautéed seasonal vegetables and wild mushrooms."

How to: Blend a cup of soy milk, 1/2 cup of chickpea flour, a couple tablespoons of arrowroot powder, and some salt until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and add a touch of finely chopped herbs, like parsley or chives. Using a nonstick skillet or crepe pan, cook crepes as per usual—making sure each side is cooked until lightly browned.


The Simple Art of Vegetarian Cooking by Martha Rose Shulman

TipToast grains to amp up flavor.

How to: Quinoa, barley, and millet benefit the most from a good toast. “Just stir in the pan over medium-high heat, either dry or using 1 tablespoon oil for each cup of grain, until they begin to smell a little bit like popcorn. Then add water or stock and follow the basic cooking directions. If you want to toast them in the oven, put the grain on a baking sheet and place in a 325° F oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until you get that faint popcorn aroma.”

More: Rethink your morning yogurt with toasted quinoa.


The Oh She Glows Cookbook by Angela Liddon 

Tip: If you make your own almond milk, don’t toss that almond pulp byproduct. Make granola.

“Just mix everything together in one bowl and place in the dehydrator overnight. The next morning, you’ll wake up to delicious, crunchy granola to enjoy with your homemade almond milk.”

How to: Mix together leftover almond pulp, a cup of rolled oats, a bit of cinnamon, a dash of vanilla extract, 3 to 4 tablespoons of maple syrup, and a pinch of salt. Spread out onto a dehydrator tray lined with a nonstick dehydrator sheet and “bake” 11-12 hours at 115° F or until it’s dry and crispy. 


Green Kitchen Travels by David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl

Tip: Double up on nut butters for a stellar vegan cookie. 

“The best-tasting vegan cookies I have tried are often made from nut butter, which totally makes up for the lack of egg and butter. I learned that from a vegan bakery in New York. The cookies here use a mix of almond butter and tahini (sesame paste), which gives them a nice texture and a wonderful spectrum of flavors.” 

How to: Using a recipe like this, replace 1/4 cup almond butter with tahini. If you want to stick with your favorite nut butter-based cookie, keep the almond butter-tahini ratio 3:1. 

More: A (non-vegan) creamy polenta recipe from Green Kitchen Travels.


Vegan Pie in the Sky by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero

Tip: Partially freeze olive oil for perfectly flaky pie crust. "This helps the fat blend into the dough in little pockets, creating the flakiness you crave.”

How to: For your next vegan pie crust, freeze the oil an hour beforehand in a plastic container. It should look “opaque and congealed but still somewhat soft, like the consistency of slighty melted sorbet.” Add the oil by the tablespoonful to your flour and salt mixture, then cut it into the flour using your fingers or a pastry blender until the mixture looks pebbly. Proceed with normal pie crust making.  

Do you have a vegan cooking tip or two to share? Tell us in the comments below!

Photos by James Ransom and McKel Hill (cashew cheese)

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The Food52 Vegan Cookbook is here! With this book from Gena Hamshaw, anyone can learn how to eat more plants (and along the way, how to cook with and love cashew cheese, tofu, and nutritional yeast).

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I fall in love with every sandwich I ever meet.


Inge C. August 1, 2015
Jessica K. August 1, 2015
These tips are life changing! Thanks for putting them all together!
Lydia W. July 31, 2015
honey isn't vegan!
AntoniaJames July 31, 2015
Bake tofu in slabs or cubes on parchment in a hot oven -- without pressing or marinating -- for chewy, really tasty tofu. Turn them over, or not, as you wish. Some sides will be less toasty brown / crusty if you don't; they'll soak up any stir fry sauce or marinade a bit better. If you cook a bit longer, turning a few times so all sides are light tan, you can toss the chunks, as soon as you remove them from the oven, with a flavorful salt, pepper and ground spices + toasted sesame seeds (think Dukkah), or finely chopped rosemary and toasted pumpkin seeds, for a quite nutritious savory snack.

And, taking less than 3 minutes of active work time, it's so easy! I usually bake tofu when baking bread - symbiotic baking, I call it, as the steam released by the tofu in the hot oven improves the bread's crust. ;o)
Molly August 1, 2015
Awesome! Thank you!
Bella B. July 31, 2015
great tips!