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6 Things You Should Know Before Eating Vegan

Whether you’re interested in becoming a full-time vegan or just cooking the occasional vegan meal, these tips are a good place to start.
By Published Feb. 14, 2017

“Eating vegan” is no longer the polarizing concept it once was, and more and more people are interested in incorporating more vegan meals into their repertoire. But there are still a lot of misconceptions surrounding the vegan diet—that it’s limiting; that it’s expensive and requires its adherents to purchase a slew of specialty (and often processed) ingredients, like vegan cheese; that it’s all raw vegetables and bland tofu; the list goes on. Don’t let those myths deter you! If you’re interested in eating vegan (whether it’s full-time or part-time), here are some things you should know.

1. Eating Vegan Does Not Mean a Reliance on Processed Foods

Do you know how many store-bought vegan cheeses we used when developing our latest book, Vegan for Everybody? Exactly zero. Instead, we made our own vegan cheeses—Parmesan and ricotta—from nuts. You can get the robust flavor of cheese without spending a ton of money on some heavily-processed vegan cheese substitute at the supermarket.

To Make Cashew Ricotta:

1. Place 1 cup raw cashews in bowl and add water to cover by 1 inch. Soak cashews at room temperature for at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours. Drain and rinse well.

2. Process cashews, 1/4 cup water, 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in food processor until smooth, about 2 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Adjust consistency with additional water as needed. Season with salt, pepper, and extra lemon juice to taste. (Ricotta can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.)

2. You Will Learn to Love Nutritional Yeast

vegan cashew mac and cheese

Imagine if there was a magical dust you could sprinkle over your foods to give them savor? Stop imagining it, because it exists. Nutritional yeast—affectionately nicknamed “nooch”—is yeast grown on a mixture of beet molasses and sugarcane and heated to deactivate its leavening properties. It’s often used to mimic the flavor of cheese because it has a funky, nutty, almost salty depth that matches the complexity of certain cheeses.

3. Miso Is an Umami Bomb (and Your New Favorite Ingredient)

Miso paste is made by fermenting soybeans or grains with a mold called koji. (Want to learn more about the science of koji? Check out Cook’s Science’s deep dive into the tasty mold.) Miso is packed with glutamates, so it gives foods umami depth. When developing a recipe for vegan risotto, we couldn’t tell that it lacked butter and Parmesan—the miso mimicked the flavor and creaminess of both. Although countless variations of the salty, deep-flavored ingredient are available, we use sweeter white miso (shiromiso) and more pungent red miso (akamiso).

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4. You Won’t Miss Eggs Because You’ve Got Tofu

tofu scramble

Scrambled tofu breaks into curds, and squares of simmered tofu can take on the silky interior of poached eggs. Tofu can even blend into a homogenous mixture to create a firm but creamy vegan frittata.

5. Marinating Is Not Just for Meat

When left to bathe in an acidic elixir, tempeh—a firm, dense cake of fermented soybeans—softens, loses its bitter edge, and becomes intense in flavor. It should be your go-to protein when you want a lively vegan meal with bold flavors.

6. Cauliflower Is a Vegan Diet Powerhouse

cauliflower steaks

We’ve long been in love with cauliflower in the test kitchen, but we’ve recently discovered how big of an asset it can be in vegan cooking. Cauliflower has a nutty flavor that makes it great in soups, or even cut into steaks and served as a meal’s centerpiece. It’s also great for making creamy sauces without any of the cream—blending cooked cauliflower with nuts makes for a creamy sauce for indulgent vegan pasta dishes.

Vegan for Everybody

In this cookbook, America's Test Kitchen decodes and demystifies vegan cooking, so you can reap its many benefits and avoid the pitfalls of bland food, lack of variety, and overprocessed ingredients. You'll find approachable, fresh, vibrant recipes that you'll not only feel good about eating but also come to love, whether you're a first-timer or a committed vegan.  
Preorder the Book

What questions do you have about eating vegan or vegan ingredients? Let us know in the comments!