If you’re a new vegan or just vegan-curious, you might be worried that a plant-based diet will offer nothing but tasteless piles of spinach and Swiss chard, which, despite it’s delicious sounding name, is not cheese.
We get it. When we became vegan 5 years ago, it was not for health reasons. It was all about the animals. I mean, sure, we know how life-saving it is to eat leafy greens, we’re just far less motivated to save our own asses than we are to save the ass of an animal.
But we also knew that if we were going to make it as vegans, we were going to have to keep our diets as delicious as possible. And so, after years of trial and error, we’ve painstakingly selected our favorite vegan essentials to help you reduce animal suffering without increasing your own.
LUBE IT UP
One of the biggest concerns you may face as a new vegan is how to keep things smooth and creamy without the luxury of dairy products. But fear not. We’ve been down that road. Here are the essential smoothers, binders and creamifiers that we rely on to hold our plant-based world together.
1. Dairy-free milk
Let’s be real, being vegan is challenging enough without having to drink black coffee. And, with all the dairy-alternatives available these days, there is no excuse to go without. There’s soy milk, cashew milk, hemp milk, oat milk, bamboo shoot milk. Okay, I’m not sure about that last one. Lacie and I prefer almond milk because it basically doesn’t taste like anything, which is exactly what we need it to do. It also comes in handy for creaming up mashed cauliflower and swigging down with Oreos or Nutter Butters. (That’s right, they’re vegan!) You’ll use it for cereal, shakes, baking recipes and anywhere else dairy milk might be used without disturbing a single cow!
2. Vegan Buttery Spread
If you’re going to give up dairy products, you’re going to want to have plenty of this stuff on hand. Having tried a few of the brands out there, we highly recommend Earth Balance for your buttery spread needs. It tastes every bit as good as any margarine on the market and is much less fattening than butter. (Not that we ate butter before. What are we, the Rockefellers?) Pro-tip: Don’t waste your money on the regular, child-size container. You’re gonna want to invest in the extra large econo-tub they sell at Whole Foods or Amazon Fresh. [Try AmazonFresh Free Trial] It’s great for baking, buttering your toast and even putting on vegetables. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with vegetables as long as you can slather them in plenty of fake butter, am I right?
3. Vegan Mayonnaise
Nowadays, practically everybody and their corporate predecessor is making eggless mayo. Follow Your Heart Vegenaise, Hampton Creek and, the granddaddy of mayonnaise, Best Foods (Hellman’s if you’re on the East Coast), all make vegan mayo that’s every bit as good as the real deal. (Seriously, we can’t tell the difference.) Even Trader Joe’s has come out with their version, which is our favorite right now. Spike it up with a little chipotle powder for dipping and this will make even the roughest “chick-un” tenders go down nice and smooth. Plus, vegan mayo gives us a sense of normalcy in our otherwise radical, hippie, vegan lifestyle.
KEEP IT CHEESY
If you ask somebody what’s keeping them from going vegan, they will, inevitably, bend at the knee, clutch their hands to their heart and say, “It’s cheese! I can’t live without cheese!” No shit! Cheese is freaking awesome. It fulfills a need no other food can. And although science is lagging behind on formulating the perfect vegan cheese alternative, here are some essentials to help you achieve the cheesiness you need to keep your commitment to the cows.
4. Raw Cashews
I know what you’re thinking: cashews? Cheese? But you’d be surprised how cheese-like a cashew can be under the right circumstances. All right, it’s not going to take the place of a nice hard Asiago, but it will stem the tide of a potential cheese panic. Keep these babies on hand, and when you start questioning your life choices, throw them in the Nutribullet with a little lemon juice, garlic and nutritional yeast (link to recipe) and your cheese-needy nerves will be instantly calmed. Which brings us to our next item:
5. Nutritional Yeast
Although we’re still not exactly sure what it is, we know this: it makes things cheesier. And that’s all we need to know. Nutritional yeast can be used to make a satisfying vegan Parmesan with walnuts (recipe link), a comforting cashew cheese spread (as mentioned above) and, our newest favorite: vegan nacho cheese, which is ridiculously easy and delicious! The cheapest place I’ve found to get it is on Amazon where you can buy a pound for under 12 bucks and, believe me, you’ll want to keep plenty on hand.
FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT
Let’s be honest with ourselves, as good for you as Brussels sprouts and asparagus may be, there are times when veggies alone just ain’t gonna cut it. That’s when you need to bring in the big guns.
6. Fake meat
Up until recently if you wanted a vegan burger your options were pretty sad. They were either a ball of beans, a haystack on a bun, or a veggie burger that was actually made of veggies! And let’s not even talk about the portabella burger. You just slapped a giant shroom on a bun and want me to pretend that’s meat? Fuck no!
Thank God for modern Science, who has found time in its busy schedule of trying to prove that it’s real, to make some very convincing pseudo-meat. Having tried most of the products out there, we’ve made Beyond Meat our go-to source for plant-based meat items. We make a seriously meaty pasta sauce with their Beef-Free, Beefy Crumbles and a curry chicken salad with their Chicken-Free Strips that we can actually bring to parties without getting booed! But their Beyond Burger is a freaking breakthrough! It’s so authentic in texture and taste that moans have been known to occur. Nowadays, there are so many satisfying meat alternatives out there (Gardein Meat Loaf and Turk’y Cutlets are two of our other faves), we could write an entire blog post on fake meats alone (and I’m sure we will). For now, here’s a $1.00 off coupon for Beyond Meat. You’re welcome.
PREPARE FOR THE WORST
Even with the best intentions, if you don’t eat your vegetables in a timely manner, they will go bad. That’s when you need a backup plan.
One of the first things people ask when we tell them that we’re vegan, (right after screaming, “Why? Why? Oh, dear God, why?”) is “Where do you get your protein?” And, although it has been a point of debate as to how much protein a person actually needs (read The China Study for more on this), we like to keep plenty of beans on hand. Not only can you whip up a hearty batch of vegan chili in a pinch, but beans are a valuable addition to your earthquake kit or apocalypse bunker. For some reason, having stacks of canned goods crammed onto our kitchen rack comforts me. Even though I hardly ever get excited about the idea of a kidney bean, it’s reassuring to know they’re there if the need should arise. And, unlike some fly-by-night vegetable, beans aren’t going to go bad on me just because I’ve been neglecting them. They’re going to be there for the long haul.
Regardless of how committed you are to your veganism, there are going to be those days where you question everything you believe in. And for those days, you need to be ready. Which leads me to . . .
All I can say is thank God, alcohol isn’t made from distilled goats or Lacie and I would both be in big trouble. Why is booze a vegan essential? Because no matter how challenging things get, no matter how deprived you might feel, no matter how much that Chili’s baby back rib commercial is starting to weaken your resolve, booze makes it all suddenly okay!
Listen, being vegan isn’t always easy but, all joking aside, it’s one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. For us, nothing tastes as good as being able to look a pig in the eye feels. And, if you keep yourself stocked up on the right items, you can actually even enjoy being vegan. Plus, once you get your vegan basics taken care of, you can eat those leafy greens without feeling like your life is nothing but an endless series of salads!
What about you? Do you eat a plant-based diet? What are your must-have vegan items? Please leave them in the comments below. We love to hear from you!
[BTW: We use Amazon affiliate links which means if you purchase something on Amazon using one of our links, they throw a little money our way. So, thank you for that!]