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The best dairy alternatives for a vegan diet

The best dairy alternatives for a vegan diet

by David and Charlotte Bailey 20 April 2016

Ditching the dairy doesn't have to mean going without any creamy richness in your cooking. David and Charlotte Bailey take us through the staple alternative ingredients for a vegan diet filled with flavour.

David and Charlotte Bailey are best known for being the award-winning vegan street food pioneers behind Wholefood Heaven. Their cookbook, The Fresh Vegan Kitchen, contains over 100 recipes from all over the world geared towards vegan, raw and gluten-free diets.

It’s an all too familiar scenario: you order the vegan option of something and it arrives basically stripped of all the yummy cheesy, creamy goodness of the original. And what a shame, because there are so many straightforward ways of replacing those kinds of dairy with delicious plant-based alternatives. We’re so keen in all our cooking to make sure that there’s no sense of missing out just because it happens to be vegan – here are some of our favourite ways of achieving that.

The mighty nut

You can do it all with a handful of nuts! Cashews, brazils, almonds, hazelnuts, macadamias (if budget allows!); any of these on their own or in a combination can easily help you create the most delicious ‘milks’, sweet or sour, or even ice ‘creams’, ‘custards’, ‘butters’ and ‘cheeses’. These days there are so many options available in the shops but it’s definitely viable to make your own fresh ones (especially if you have a high powered blender).

A really good base nut milk recipe is to simply soak a couple of handfuls of your choice of nuts until they’re well softened. This usually takes a good few hours at a minimum, so you do need to think ahead a bit.

If you’re after a milk, all you need to do is transfer the nuts along with a litre of cold water to your high powered blender and blend away until smooth. You then just strain the mixture through a muslin cloth until you’re left with a milk on one side and a nice portion of nut meal (great for gluten free and raw baking!) on the other.

If you’re looking for more of a custard, cream or cheese, you just blend the nuts along with the amount of water needed to get the desired consistency (so more for a cream, middle for a custard and less for a cheese). Once you’ve got the right consistency, adjusting the flavour is simple. If it’s something sweet you’re after you can just add some vanilla and a little agave and you’re ready to go. Or, if it’s savoury, a tiny bit of apple cider vinegar, olive oil, onion powder, a squeeze of lemon and a little salt and pepper will do the trick – although, if you’re really going for a cheese-like thing, then you’re going to want to use probiotics and ferment it.

Always keep in mind the trusty nut butters, too. They are so easy to either buy or make and are many a vegan’s best friend.

Coconut

Is a coconut considered a nut? We're not entirely sure, but we think it deserves its own paragraph in any case. Yoghurt, creams and ice creams can all be made with this amazing ingredient but we probably use the milk the most; in smoothies and to give our vegan curries their creaminess. There are some really great products in the shops but you can make your own yoghurt at home by adding probiotics to the milk and leaving to ferment, and it’s easy to make into icy treats by just adding your choice of flavours and freezing in lolly moulds. And don’t forget coconut oil, too, which from baking to beauty, can really do it all!

(PS – couldn’t resist looking it up on Google and it turns out that the coconut is not a nut but a drupe, whatever that may be!)

Avocado

Oh dear, here we go again – is it technically a nut? But once again, I think the humble avocado definitely deserves its own category (after more research, it turns out it’s also a drupe!). Amazing in raw cakes, smoothies and the beloved avo on toast so popular on Instagram, avocado can be used whenever you need a rich, creamy finish and a big nutrient boost.

 
 

Soya

It takes a while to get your head around all the different incarnations of soya. Tofu has so many different forms it warrants its own article! Of course, soya milk is one of our core ingredients and it can be so delicious – I love ordering a chilled bottle of beer in Vietnamese restaurants and just enjoying it in its own right. But, aside from that, we use a lot of fresh tofu – our favourite being Clean Bean, which is handmade in London using traditional techniques and high quality organic ingredients – battered to make ‘tofu n’ chips’, baked or crumbled into a scramble. Firm silken tofu is also a handy ingredient to know about and is a good way of getting creaminess into salad dressings or to create luscious vegan mousse pots.

Vegan mayonnaise

This is a bit tricky to make at home, so we generally just use the ones available in the shops. Vegenaise is our favourite, but the imaginatively named Egg Free Mayonnaise is also really good. These do come in different flavours but we generally just go for the basic one and pimp it up ourselves, making a delicious aioli by adding confit garlic or going for old classics like tartare sauce by adding capers, shallot, gherkin, a little fresh dill and a squeeze of lemon.

Plant-based spreads and oils

These ones are pretty self explanatory but we find they’re super helpful in life in general and they certainly make vegan baking a lot easier. We’re also big fans of good old olive oil and love to swirl some into our veggies as you might do butter.

Egg replacement powder

This is such a useful ingredient and is usually just some kind of mix of tapioca flour and potato starch. There are lots of brands available and we’ve found them all to be pretty good. Just by following the instructions on the packet, they’re such an easy way to make great vegan cakes, biscuits and brunch favourites such as eggy bread.

Engevita (aka nutritional yeast, available in all health food stores)

Buy a tub of this! We use it all the time to add an instant cheesy dimension to risottos, pastas, kale crisps and all our nut cheeses. It’s also amazing sprinkled over popcorn (especially if you also drizzle over a little bit of truffle oil and some salt and pepper). Essentially it’s just a deactivated yeast which, admittedly, doesn’t sound all that appealing and some people do find it a bit odd at first, but actually it’s such an amazing and versatile ingredient that you will find yourself craving it before long. It also often comes fortified with B12, which is a great plus for those choosing a vegan diet.

 
 
 

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