10 Secret-Weapon Foods for Going Vegan

Going vegan? Cutting back on animal protein for health reasons? Maybe you’re just a moderate meat eater with a recently discovered dairy intolerance. Whatever your reasons for reducing meat and dairy and moving towards a plant-based diet, going vegan isn’t exactly easy.

In addition to breaking the craving cycle, there are entire systems of meal preparation to be addressed, as well as the logistical nightmare of finding dairy-free vegetarian menu items at most restaurants.

GOING VEGAN: OUR FAVORITE SECRET-WEAPON FOODS

Avocados

Loaded with flavor and healthy plant-based fats, avocados make a viable replacement for other “gotta have it” foods.  Slice them into regular green salads, mash them as a sandwich spread or try them in a simple guacamole salad. Another way I like to incorporate avocados is as a replacement for sour cream in Mexican-themed dinner menus. There are vegan sour cream options on the market, but I’m trying to develop a new system of eating for us that we’ll be able to pull off no matter where we are in the world.  I figure my odds are better with avocados than with Tofutti.

One way I make this easy is by purchasing the multipacks of frozen guacamole at the warehouse store. Each pack is about enough to get us through a meal (plus leftovers for lunch) of vegan tacos or burritos, and they thaw easily on the countertop. If you’re a purist however, here’s a simple recipe for guacamole on the fly.

Cashews

Full of party-in-your-mouth flavor, cashews were one of the first vegan secret weapons we embraced with gusto. While it’s not a good idea to sit down and eat them by the bowlful, they are a great way to break those meat and cheese cravings so prevalent in the beginning of a plant-based diet transition.  In addition to keeping them on hand to package up for road trips, one of the ways we enjoy them most frequently is in a cashew-pepper stir fry.

Simply use the bulk packs of mixed baby bell peppers from the warehouse store and slice them up with a little olive oil, minced garlic and grated ginger. Toss in a handful of cashews per person and you’ve got a quick support dinner for going vegan that’s cost effective and tasty over rice. The cashews really carmelize up in this dish as well, giving a nice full-flavored experience.  If using tofu appeals to you, use it along with veggie stock to modify this kung pao shrimp recipe into a vegan entrée.

Coconut Milk

As a life-long dairy lover, I find it challenging to forego the creaminess factor when incorporating more plant-based menus. Because of this, coconut milk has been a huge secret weapon for going vegan at our house. We use it for vegan white Russian cocktails, as a coffee creamer and in frozen tropical sorbets. It really satisfies creaminess cravings and is affordable and easy to buy in bulk. Two recipes to try out are this tropical Thai corn chowder and a simple three-ingredient curry to serve over rice.

Mushrooms

While mushrooms of nearly any type will help things taste meatier, for the meatiest taste around, my money’s on portabellas.  We buy the large caps to grill like burgers (in a bun or on the side), and the baby ones to slice on pizzas, cut into pasta sauce, use in toasted vegan sandwiches and stuff for appetizer night.  We also have a container of dried shitake’s on hand as well for when the need arises. Mushrooms are heavy on potassium and light on calories, making them one of our top choices in our secret weapon food arsenal for going vegan.

Bananas

Another great source of potassium, bananas are a dirt cheap way to round out a healthy diet while going vegan. While they’re relatively affordable anywhere, I routinely score them at my local Save a Lot for thirty-three cents per pound. Simple ways to enjoy them include slicing them up into rounds to freeze for a dairy-free summer treat, pairing with organic soy milk and peanut butter for a protein-packed breakfast smoothie, or in baked goods such as this simple vegan banana bread.  If soy milk isn’t your thing, try a breakfast smoothie of bananas, water and frozen blueberries for a nutritionally dense antioxidant boost. The wheat allergy crowd might also appreciate this recipe for a vegan, gluten-free banana bundt cake.

Flax Seeds

Available in bulk at Whole Foods or online at Amazon (affiliate link), flax seeds are a great ground addition to breakfast smoothies, oatmeal and homemade baked goods. Flax seeds are also loaded with omega-3 fatty acids and have numerous health benefits.

Sesame Seeds

Full of calcium and a great food accent, sesame seeds are a good thing to have on hand in bulk. Use them to make baked goods, sprinkle on salads and to elegantly finish a side dish. These are also available on Amazon and have significant nutritional benefits. This article has several helpful tips for including more sesame seeds in your regular diet.

Hummus

A well-done hummus is hard to beat flavor-wise, and comes with the health benefits of garbanzo beans and sesame paste.  A popular brand we enjoy in bulk from the warehouse store is Sabra. Frequently, we enjoy it on toasted bread rounds paired with a nice spinach salad. It’s a full-flavor meal that’s ready in minutes with minimal fuss.  Here’s an easy recipe for white bean hummus with sundried tomatoes.

Peanut Sauce

A great Asian peanut sauce is tough to beat when it comes to foods that replace our dairy-heavy favorites with an acceptable amount of wow factor. Here’s a simple, cheap recipe for spicy blender peanut sauce we use for veggie dip, a basting sauce for grilling, vegan lo mein and more.  It uses peanut butter, which is a great vegan transition food in its own right. Here are more ideas for using peanut butter in your menus.

Tahini

Tahini is the rich paste made from sesame seeds, and is guaranteed to create an on-demand party in your mouth. (OK, maybe I’m biased, but it’s pretty tasty nonetheless.)  There are numerous ways to eat tahini, and it has all the benefits listed above for sesame seeds. Available in bulk from Amazon, I hands-down recommend tahini as a pantry staple for going vegan.  Two simple recipes to try are this sesame sauce to use with noodles and this recipe for tahini cookies.  I’ve also got my eye on this recipe for tahini salad dressing to try tonight.

What I love about this top ten list? Many of the items are extremely affordable, which makes going vegan achievable for those who need to stick with cheap food choices due to financial constraints.

Recommended Reading: Writer and dog lover Shelley Seale is tackling the eating less meat issue. Here’s her introduction to meat reduction as chronicled on her blog.

Photo Credits: Suzette Suzette (French fries), Nathan Borror (avocados), McKay Savage (coconuts), Mauren Veras (bananas) and Albertas Agejevas (hummus)

Comments

  1. wpr4u says:

    Re: cashews — Trader Joes has ‘just a handful’ of small portion, individually packed, lightly salted cashews that prevent eating by the bowlful

  2. That’s great news, wpr4u. Thanks for the tip.

  3. CR says:

    Thanks–not “going vegan”, but we already only use meat for flavoring (except at holidays, I suppose). These are great tips—-and just what I need. I will try out that cashew stir-fry dish!

  4. htebazile says:

    i think the information in this article is spot on and extremely helpful. i have been vegan for almost 20 years (over half my life) and for most of these secret weapons, it took me years to realize their full potential. i would add to the coconut milk section that you can use it to make whipped cream (search on coconut whipped cream) and also you can make an awesome garlic sauce out of it by blending a can with 2 heads of roasted garlic – for white pizza or whatever.

  5. Thanks, Htebazile.

    Glad it was helpful for you. I agree, coconut milk is particularly flexible when it comes to plant-based eating.

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