Every time I watch a cooking show on television and the chefs are challenged to make a vegan meal, they literally freak out. They act like they are at a loss to make a delicious dish without meat, dairy, eggs, or honey.
Anyone watching that would think it must be really hard to be a vegan chef, maybe even almost impossible. But it isn’t. Cooking amazing vegan food is easy. Here are my 5 secrets to becoming a great vegan chef and producing a huge variety of irresistible dishes, day after day.
1. Look at food with vegan-colored glasses.
Vegan food is not so different from non-vegan food. It just requires a few substitutions and a little imagination and creativity. Whenever I see a recipe, I automatically substitute the animal products with vegan products in my mind. If there is chicken, I see tofu or tempeh. If there is beef, I see seitan or mushrooms.
Looking at recipes with appropriate swap-outs in mind lets me believe that anything any chef makes, I can make vegan. In fact, I can make virtually anything vegan, and you can, too.
2. Flavor, flavor, flavor!
Delicious food is about texture and flavor. A common mistake people make with vegan food is to NOT treat it as they would meat. No one would cook a steak without seasoning it first whether with a rub or a marinade; yet so often cooks take a block of tofu, drain it, cut it up and just cook it without doing anything to it first. No wonder tofu has earned such a bad rap for tasting bland and flavorless!
Remember that having an arsenal of marinades and spice rubs will bring out the best in any ingredient, vegan or not. Learn the different spice blends to make your food taste Italian, Indian, Spanish, Asian or Thai. Press the water out of the tofu and let a zesty marinade seep into it. You’ll be amazed how much flavor you will experience.
3. Variety is the spice of life.
There are so many vegan foods available today. The sky's the limit when it comes to ideas. I've been keeping track: I haven’t made the same meal twice in over 5 weeks now. There’s no way to get bored with vegan food if you consider the large variety of ingredients and possibilities available.
You can certainly eat your favorites, but each week, go wild and buy a couple of vegetables or fruits you have never tried before. How about dandelion or mustard greens instead of kale? Escarole instead of romaine? Kiwi instead of peaches? Jackfruit instead of seitan? Also, use those spice blends you've been learning about to make your recipes more exotic. One block of tofu can easily become General Tso’s Tofu, Arroz con Tofu Guisado, Tofu Pad Thai, or Tofu Tacos. Change it up!
4. Learn from the masters -- all of them.
No one expects you to just go into the kitchen and create masterpieces out of your head. Read recipes in magazines and cookbooks. Watch cooking shows on TV. You don’t have to just read vegan recipes or watch vegan cooking shows.
Learn from all the culinary pros who have cooked before you. They all have lessons to learn from. Don’t just follow recipes blindly; learn the "whys" of cooking. When you understand why you add an ingredient to a recipe, it will be easier to develop your own.
5. Think Positive.
A positive attitude is everything! Don’t think of vegan cooking as somehow "less than" non-vegan cooking. Avoid terms like meatless, faux, fake, or alternative. These terms all have a negative connotation that says the food is missing something or isn’t real.
Vegan food is definitely real food. Embrace the vegginess of it! Be confident that your vegan creations will be delicious, satisfying and will wow your friends and family. And, always remember, the best thing you can serve with your meals is a smile!
Author and chef Rhea Parsons writes The "V" Word, one of the most popular vegan blogs today. Her goal is to promote veganism, help save animals, and fill bellies with lots of delicious cruelty-free foods. Her specialty is making vegan versions of favorite, familiar dishes and sharing those recipes online with fellow vegans around the world.
Posted: 2014-04-29 @ 9:11am PT
Delicious vegan food is one reason why the number of vegans has doubled in less than 3 years. Here's a video to help everyone understand why so many people are making this life affirming choice: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKr4HZ7ukSE
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