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People often ask me how I feel about vegan products, like faux meats, vegan mayonnaise, or vegan butter.
The answer is that I like them, and I think they're fun to explore and experiment with.
When I first went vegan, I couldn't really imagine a vegan cheese that would achieve a melty texture (rice and soy cheeses didn't quite cut it), a vegan “chicken” made of pea protein, or vegan mayonnaise that would actually taste better than the stuff I was accustomed to. In the last couple of years, though, all of these things have emerged on the scene, making vegan pantries and kitchens a little more diverse.
Of course, there’s a time and a place for these foods. For the most part, I prefer to cook with whole food ingredients, like legumes and grains and traditional soy foods. I love their heartiness and texture, and I think they encourage me to be more creative than I would be if I relied on faux meats or other products for most of my dinners.
There are also cost considerations: Vegan cheeses and faux meats can add up. And then there’s the undeniable culinary satisfaction of making a meal from scratch, using whole foods ingredients and one’s imagination.
If you’re curious about using vegan products in your meatless cooking, think about recipes for which they offer you something really indispensable. If I’m looking for something to replace cheese in a salad, whipping up a batch of homemade tofu feta or cashew cheese is every bit as good as a commercial vegan cheese, if not better.
But if I want to make super traditional pizza, with cheese that melts authentically, some of the new vegan cheeses can be a useful trick-of-the-trade.
These vegan sugar cookies are a perfect example of recipe for which commercial vegan products can be really helpful. I use Earth Balance as a butter substitute in my sugar cookies. It's been around for years, and I find that it's the most authentic, reliable non-dairy butter available. I use coconut oil (or other vegetable oils) in a lot of my baking, and it works nicely (my vegan pie crust is a great example of what coconut oil can do).
But for delicate cake or cookie recipes, Earth Balance will give you the most authentic and consistent results, especially if you’re veganizing a non-vegan recipe: in fact, you can substitute the Earth Balance buttery sticks in a 1-to-1 ratio for butter. One tip about Earth Balance: It’s on the salty side, so you probably don’t have to add extra salt to recipes in which you use it.
This recipe also calls for Ener-G Egg Replacer. Ener-G is a simple mixture of potato starch, tapioca flour, leavening, and cellulose. It’s a time-honored and excellent substitute for eggs in vegan cooking. Once again, there’s a homemade option: If you mix one tablespoon ground flax meal with 3 tablespoons water, you’ll get a homemade vegan flax “egg.” But my experience is that flax eggs work best in quick breads and muffins. For more delicate baking, like cookies, pastries, and cakes, Ener-G is invaluable.
If you want to rely exclusively on your own pantry for vegan cooking, you can. There’s certainly no need for vegan butters or cheeses or meats, and if you prefer to work entirely with whole foods, great.
But if you’re a new vegan or dairy-free eater who’s missing some of the foods you no longer choose to eat, having just a couple of vegan products in your home can help to make life convenient, fun, and evocative of tradition.
These cookies—which are crispy, sweet, and infused with the classic flavors of vanilla and sugar—are tradition at its finest. They’re adapted from a Martha Stewart sugar cookie recipe I grew up with, and every time I make them, their buttery aroma brings me right back to childhood. Thank you for that, Earth Balance.
- 1 stick (or 1/2 cup) room temperature Earth Balance buttery sticks
- 1 cup organic cane sugar (or 1 1/2 cups organic confectioners' sugar—see headnote)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Ener-G egg replacer, mixed with 2 tablespoons hot water
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting and rolling
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Are there any vegan substitute products you rely on? Share with us in the comments!