Cooking with 100% vegetable ingredients means passing from a cuisine based mostly on meat, cheese and eggs to a much more varied and versatile way of cooking, allowing you to make many different dishes, some based on traditional Mediterranean ingredients (but unfortunately more and more unused, as time passes!) and others using ingredients originating from Eastern tradition, and now wide-spread in Europe.
We can adapt our usual recipes with a vegan key, and we can add many more, resulting in a greater variety than before. Let us also remember that with a vegan diet, you will save on the weekly shopping bill. On average, about 25% compared to an omnivorous diet, which is no small saving!
Eating vegan doesn't mean replacing every single omnivorous ingredient with a plant-based equivalent, but rather, learning to value and use differently traditional vegetable ingredients. Vegetables, pasta, rice and other grains, legumes, etc. can be used in the kitchen in a completely new way, to give rise to attractive and tasty dishes.
To get the most experience, the best way is to choose every day a new 100% vegetable recipe. There is an infinite number of websites and many books of recipes, so you can find plenty of places to start!
Usually, the only grains used in the kitchen are pasta and rice, but the variety of grains is much greater and hundreds of interesting dishes can be prepared with this ingredient as protagonist (in the grains food group what they are and what foods are grains is explained).
We all know what risotto and rice salad are: the same dishes can be prepared with all the other cereal grains, too, thus adding a lot of possible variations. One can thus prepare an endless variety of risotto-like dishes with vegetables and legumes, maybe garnished with nuts or crispy chips of tofu, tempeh or seitan (see section Come to know new foods). Or in vegetable pies, stuffed and fried rice balls (like the famous "arancini di riso"), as stuffing for vegetable rolls, casseroles baked in the oven, cold salad (rice or other grain salad, e.g., couscous, tabbouleh). Each of these preparations can use a different vegetable, depending on the season.
Legumes are considered a "poor" food and too often remain unused in the kitchen, relegated maybe some soup or salad. Instead, they are "poor" only because they are inexpensive (which is rather an advantage!) even though very rich in flavor, nutrients and culinary possibilities (in the food group of protein-rich foods is explained what they are and what foods are included).
Legumes can be prepared in many different ways: apart from the classic soups and cooked legumes in salads, they also lend themselves well to various sauces for pasta and other grain-based dishes; they are excellent stewed with vegetables, or puréed. They can be used for baked or fried vegan meatballs; as a filling in crepes or vegetable pies and puff pastry; in paté to spread on tartine or toast for great appetizers; in hot or cold casseroles. The flour of various legumes can be used for omelettes, crepes, gnocchi (mixed with grain flour), fresh pasta dough (especially lentils, always mixed with grain flour) to make scallops to be fried in a frying pan or vegan meatballs.
Even vegetables (namely orchard vegetables) will pose problems similar to grains and legumes: too infrequently used, often only as simple and bland "side dish" to a "main dish". On the contrary, with vegetables, second courses or single courses can be prepared that are very tasty, simple and sought after. In addition to being featured in grain-based dishes, orchard vegetables are suitable for preparing vegetable meatballs, stuffed vegetable meatballs and patties, cooked in the oven or fried in the skillet; in skewers (perhaps along with tofu and seitan); stuffed with grains, legumes and other vegetables; au gratin in the oven, maybe with a legume sauce; in a casserole, even with the addition of bechamel sauce; in savory puddings (to be served cold, too); as a filling of savory pies; in omelets made with grain or legume flours; pureed; in vegetable rolls filled with grains, tofu or other vegetables; in muffins and savory plum cake; in stew with mushrooms or seitan; fried with spices or flavorings.
Of common use in the Oriental tradition: soy milk, tofu, tempeh and seitan. They may appear unusual to us, but the vegetable protein foods traditionally used in the East for centuries, are now more and more popular in the West, including Italy. They are now also in many wide-distribution supermarkets. These are ingredients that make an additional tasty option to the 100% plant-based cuisine. Here is a brief introduction to their use.
Milk, yogurt, butter, cream from soy
Soy milk is an excellent alternative to cow's milk, totally devoid of cholesterol and lactose, having been produced by pressing yellow soy beans. It is available natural (to be used for savory recipes, like bechamel, savory crêpes, etc.) sweetened (great for puddings or other sweet preparations) or flavored variants (vanilla, chocolate, fruits, etc.). The flavor varies greatly between one brand and another. With soy milk, yogurt is made in the same way as with cow’s milk, cow’s milk cream, whipped cream, and soy butter
Today soy milk can be found in almost all supermarkets, and many, sell soy derivative, even though certainly a larger variety can be found in organic food stores and online In the kitchen, they are used exactly like their cow’s milk analogues.
In addition to that of soy milk, there are other plant milks, made from various grains: rice, oats, spelt, and various others. These, too, can be used in sweet or salty recipes, but soy milk is more versatile, since it can curdle (for the production of soy ricotta of for tofu) or to be whipped (for mayonnaise, and in the preparation of cappuccinos). Some brands of soy milk are unable to whipped or curdled, but these are really very few. For these purposes, it is better to choose a soy milk with a fat content higher than 6%.
This has been a Chinese tradition for more than 1000 years. It is made by curdling soy milk (with lemon, vinegar or nigari, practically magnesium chloride) and is available in many preparations. The natural, white form is compact, is the most widespread, inexpensive and found in many supermarkets. The other varieties, instead, for now are only found in organic food stores or ethnic Chinese stores or by ordering online; there is a "silken tofu", of creamy consistency, suitable for preparing desserts; smoked tofu, is very tasty, great for sandwiches, can be chopped for dressing pasta (or grated in flakes, in the case of the smoked type, that lends itself to such use) and in other savory recipes. There are also countless varieties flavored with herbs, olives, etc., but our advice is to give preference to the simple white tofu, and then flavor it yourself, adding other ingredients: it is less expensive.
Avoid serving white tofu as is: it's practically tasteless and it's certainly not pleasing to the palate, but is very versatile for use in sweet and savory recipes. It can be used for stuffing, crumbled for use instead of ricotta, in savory pies, in vegetable rolls, in stuffed vegetables.
This is a very tasty product, obtained from fermented yellow soybeans. Usually it is sold packed in slices, and can be prepared in various ways, taking inspiration from the various recipe books. An interesting way is to cut it in cubes, made crunchy heating them for a few minutes in oil and some spices in a frying pan and then used to garnish some pasta, cereal grains, a salad, a main course with vegetables, etc. Only found in natural food stores or online.
Seitan is made from gluten, the protein part of wheat. After cooking in vegetable broth, you obtain a product that can be used to prepare various recipes. The main variations are natural seitan and grilled seitan: the latter is much tastier. Different from tofu, it is also very good, even eaten by itself, but its normal use is still as an ingredient in various recipes, cooked exactly as in basic recipes for meat: stew, meatballs, veal, meat sauce, breaded, etc.
Seitan is easily found in supermarkets, and there are dozens of brands and varieties in the natural food and online grocery stores. We also note, that it is a pre-cooked product, so it does not need any further cooking time: a seitan dish can be prepared on time in 10 minutes (for example, scallops in various sauces: pizza sauce, white wine, vegetable cream and mushrooms, vegetable sauce, etc.) or, in the case of longer preparations such as vegetable meatballs, sauerkraut, etc., it can be prepared in advance and stored for several days in the refrigerator or freezer.
Tofu is called "soy cheese", but in reality it has nothing to do with the cheeses we're used to seeing. However, there are certain types of "vegan cheese" that taste very similar to what we call cheese. Some are solid, others spreadable or that melt, great for pizza or for grilled cheese sandwiches, with different flavors. They are sold mostly online and some in natural food stores. They are all products to be kept in the fridge, but often have a very long expiration date.
They are not very healthy foods, so use them only occasionally.
Restructured soy protein (TVP or textured vegetable protein)
This is a high-protein product made from soy, dried and sold as granules or in the form of vegetable meatballs or chunks. After having rehydrated it in vegetable broth, it can be used for making ragù, stews, meatballs, i.e., in all those dishes which are usually prepared with meat.
Since this is a scrap of the oil processing industry, it is a nutritionally very poor food, if not for its protein content (more than 85 grams 100 grams contains product on), and its use must therefore be only occasional.
Vegan hamburgers and meatballs
Hamburgers (called vegburgers) and vegetable meatballs are products with various ingredients such as restructured soy protein, seitan, rice, other grains and vegetables, tofu, etc. There are some brands that may contain eggs and cheese, so you must pay attention to the label (even finding "vegetable" is not enough, however, the ingredients should be checked , because only with the words "100% vegetable" will we be certain that this is a vegan product). They are found in many supermarkets and in all natural food stores, in the refrigerator and frozen sectors.
Cold cuts and sausages
There are hundreds of different vegan cold cuts, sausages and the like: some are also found in traditional supermarkets, others only in natural food stores or online. The cold cuts can be used in sandwiches, toasted sandwiches, pizza, in the filling of savory pies, and wherever animal cold cuts are used. The same is true for sausages: those vegetables are available with different flavors: great for hotdogs, sandwiches, cut into small cubes for a rice salad or pasta, etc.
Algae contain iodine in varying amounts, which can be very high and therefore can pose safety problems. Natural algae are of little use in supplying important nutrients to the diet like iron, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids, because the amount of algae compatible with safe use (in relation to the content of iodine) are able to furnish only small quantities of these nutrients. There are also not, contrary to what many still believe, a reliable source of vitamin B12.
The consumption of algae must be minimal, precisely because of the iodine content, which is a double-edged sword, since its excess in the diet can cause damage to the thyroid function and to the whole organism. Thus, algae are to be used like spices, i.e., in small quantities, in the spirit of taste more so than the nutritional properties.
The different varieties of natural dried algae are all purchased in health food stores (arame, dulse, kombu, hijiki, wakame, nori). They have different flavors and can be used in small pieces in soups, or powder on all types of dishes, always in small quantities. Only occasionally should they be eaten boiled and seasoned with olive oil and lemon (algae salad).
Sauces, dressings, garnishments
Among the various ready-to-eat sauces and condiments available in natural food stores or health food stores, we find: