Let’s talk about five plant-based swaps you can make from scratch in your kitchen!
Plant-based cooking can seem complicated and confusing, what with all the foods that are suddenly “off limits” and the unfamiliar foods you’ve never used before.
Plus, we’ve all heard the stereotype that plant-based eating is expensive. The reality is that if you buy lots of prepackaged plant-based alternatives to animal products, it can get pricey!
But the good news is that it doesn’t have to be!
There are certain foods that, in my humble opinion, are 100% worth buying (like soymilk!) but there are lots of others that you can easily make from scratch in your kitchen, no special tools, loads of time, or skills required!
Lucky for you, I’m here today to break down five easy plant-based swaps you can substitute for animal products in your kitchen. These are all mini recipes made out of real whole foods that are great to have on hand. I promise they’ll make your plant-based cooking adventures so much easier, less overwhelming, and more delicious!
Five Plant-Based Swaps
Sour Cream => Cashew Sour Cream
This is without a doubt my most used plant-based swap! Cashew cream is so amazingly versatile, not only can you make a killer sour cream with it, but you can also use cashew cream as a sub for heavy cream in soups and bisques, as a base for DELISH creamy desserts, ranch and caesar dressings, queso dip, cheese sauce, legit cream cheese, as a cheesy topping on pizza, and SO MUCH MORE.
The other great thing about cashew cream is that it’s one of those plant-based swaps that generally go unnoticed by meat eaters and plant-eaters alike. Cashews have such a mild flavor that you can make a badass cashew sour cream and nobody who tastes it will think “oh, this is a plant-based substitute for the dairy I usually eat.” Oh no! The only thought going through their head when they eat it will be, “damn, this is delicious!”
For Basic Cashew Cream:
- 1 cup raw cashews (soaked overnight if your blender is less than 600 watts)
- 1 cup filtered water
Combine equal parts cashews and filtered water in a high speed blender and blend until completely smooth (30-60 seconds).
For Cashew Sour Cream:
- 1 recipe basic cashew cream or 1 cup raw cashews + 1 cup filtered water
- Juice of ½ lemon
- ½ tsp apple cider vinegar
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 Tbsp nutritional yeast
To the basic cashew cream base, add the rest of the ingredients. Blend again to combine. (If you’re making this from scratch without premade cashew cream base, simply add everything to the blender at once and blend.) Taste and adjust seasonings.
Store cashew cream in a glass jar in the fridge for up to five days.
Parmesan Cheese => Pine Nut Parmesan
I know this is one of those plant-based swaps that doesn’t sound like it will hold up to the animal product version. Trust me though, once you try it, you’ll change your mind!
Pine nut parmesan is such a useful and delicious topping! It goes well on so many more dishes than just pasta (although pasta is the place I use it most!). It’s nutty, sharp, and cheesy, just like a great parmesan should be. I’ll be the first to say that it doesn’t taste exactly like the dairy version, but it works in every place that dairy parm would generally be used! This parmesan can, and should, be sprinkled liberally on top of pizza, and works great in salads too! I also love combining it with dried oregano, thyme, and bread crumbs as a crispy topping for casseroles and pasta bakes.
The great thing about this parmesan is that you can make a batch in under 5 minutes. Even better, it can be stored in the fridge in a jar for up to a month. That means you can make it once and have parmesan to top all your favorite foods with super minimal effort!
So let’s get down to the juicy bit: how to make it!
For the Pine Nut Parmesan:
- ⅓ cup pine nuts
- 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ¼ tsp salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
Combine everything in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse several times until the pine nuts break down and the mixture comes together. Be careful not to over-mix. It should resemble crumbs and be slightly oily from the natural oil released by the pine nuts.
Store the pine nut parm in a jar in the fridge. It will keep for up to a month. Use it generously on pasta, pizza, salads, casseroles, and even to top grain bowls!
Eggs (as a binder) => Ground Flax Seeds + Water
This is a classic swap in the plant-based kitchen and for good reason! Ground flax seeds plus water (or a “flax egg,” as it’s known) works amazingly well in place of eggs. This is particularly true in dishes that use eggs as a binder (think meatballs, burgers, muffins, pancakes, etc.). The flax seeds create a gel once water is added to them, creating the perfect plant-based, super easy, and seriously healthy egg-substitute!
This “recipe” is barely a recipe, having just two ingredients and taking only 5 minutes. That’s the great thing about it!
Flax eggs are so quick to make; just keep ground flax seeds in your fridge and whip up a flax egg or two every time you need one!
Then continue making your dish, adding in the same number of flax eggs where the recipe indicates the chicken eggs should be.
For 1 flax egg:
- 1 Tbsp ground flax seeds
- 3 Tbsp luke warm filtered water
Combine the flax seeds and water in a small bowl and whisk well. Set the bowl aside and let the flax mixture gel for five minutes. Voila, your flax egg is ready to go!
Ground Beef or Pork => Ground Lentil Walnut Meat
This might seem like an unusual swap to include in this list but hear me out on this one! Having an easy, go-to, healthy plant-based swap for ground meat comes in handy way more often than you might think!
In addition to super tasty plant-based meatballs and meatloaf, ground lentil walnut meat works so well in place of ground beef in tacos, stuffed into pitas in place of shawarma, and as the filling of shepherd’s pie.
This plant-based ground meat is super hearty and, just like animal meat, can take on the flavor of whatever seasonings and spices you throw in with it. Want ground meat for tacos? Add the lentil walnut meat to sauteed onions, lots of garlic, plus taco seasoning and lime juice! Looking for a hearty Middle Eastern shawarma sub? Combine the lentil walnut meat with sauteed onions and garlic, juicy tomatoes, za’atar spice mix, and cumin! I’ve even used this in place of Korean-style beef to make bulgogi, and while definitely not traditional, it turned out freaking delicious!
For plain lentil walnut meat:
- 1 cup green or brown lentils
- 2 cups veggie broth
- 1 cup walnuts
Bring the lentils and broth to a boil in a pot. Turn down the heat to simmer, and let them cook until the lentils are soft but still hold their shape. This will take around 20 minutes for dry lentils or 10 minutes for soaked lentils. (It does depend on the specific type of lentil you use, so be sure to check five minutes before you think they’ll be done and then every few minutes afterward until done.) Drain any remaining broth out of the lentils (you can reserve this for seasoning the lentil walnut meat in your main recipe) and let them cool.
While the lentils cook, toast the walnuts in a pan on low heat until slightly golden and fragrant.
Once the lentils and walnuts are cool, add them to your food processor and pulse a few times until the mixture breaks down and resembles ground meat. Make sure not to blend too much or you’ll get a paste.
This lentil-walnut meat is now ready to be used in any recipe that calls for ground beef, pork, or lamb! Just like plain ground meat, this plant-based meat needs to be seasoned! Try adding finely chopped onions and garlic, spices, and fresh herbs. Eating it as-is will not be a tasty experience!
Scrambled egg => Tofu scramble
Now I know you might be thinking this is a weirdly specific swap, hear me out on this one anyway!
Scrambled eggs come in handy in more dishes than just breakfast scrambles, and this tofu scramble delivers every time!
- Fried rice, anyone?
- What about huevos rancheros?
- You can even use this tofu scramble as the base for egg salad!
- And then, of course, there are the many many versions of scrambled eggs and eggs on toast!
All of these options work wonderfully with this tofu scramble, and we’ve only scratched the surface!
There’s a secret ingredient in this scramble that adds a seriously eggy flavor. That ingredient is kala namak i.e. Indian black salt! (Don’t be fooled by the name like I was, the salt color is actually not black!) You can find kala namak in any Indian grocery store or online. It sounds like one of those pricey, hard to find, specialty ingredients but it’s actually widely available and inexpensive. This salt takes tofu scramble way over the top, but if you don’t have it, don’t sweat it! This scramble is super delicious without the kala namak and works nearly as well!
For the tofu scramble:
- 1 block firm tofu
- 2 Tbsp unsweetened soy milk⠀
- 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
- 2 tsp Tamari or soy sauce
- 1 tsp dijon mustard
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp chili flakes
- 1/4 tsp turmeric powder⠀
- 1/2 tsp kala namak
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
To make the scramble as a base for another recipe, crumble the tofu with your hands into a bowl, then add all the other ingredients. Mix well to combine. That’s it!
Now that you have five easy homemade plant-based swaps for animal products in your kitchen, get cooking some tasty meals!