The Five Most Important Things I Learned About Vegan Cooking

The Five Most Important Things I Learned About Vegan Cooking

Tofu is boring and dry! It can't taste like meat if you don't use meat! Vegan food tastes flat! I don't have time for complicated cooking! These could have easily been quotes from me 2-3 years ago. So here is a blog post summarising the five most important recipes and handling instructions, that I would have wanted to read when I started eating vegan. And above all: "Eat what makes you happy"

I was asked for some advice and decided I might just put it up on my blog for everyone to read. Since this blog is bilingual (German and English) I will write all ingredients in both languages. For example cauliflower (Blumenkohl). So if you fancy learning some German / English ingredient names, this post is for you as well. For recipes I will use the metric system and throw the numbers into a converter for convenience. I can't guarantee the correctness of imperial units, though, because I have no clue about them. All mentioned ingredients will be listed with partner links, in case you want to support me. I compiled a full list in the order of appearance as well. I placed it at the very end of this post for your convenience :)

Amazon links throughout this blogpost are affiliate links for the German amazon website. If you buy through these links, it helps me cover server costs and host more free stuff. And it doesn't cost you anything extra.

Table Of Contents

  1. Six Ingredients You Need to Have
  2. Tofu / Smoked Tofu (incl. recipe for scrambled eggs or omelette)
  3. Mushroom Steaks (Pan-Frying trick)
  4. Cauliflower Steaks
  5. Tapioka Starch, Cashews, Almonds, Aqua Faba

1 - Six Ingredients You Absolutely Need to Have

Nutritional Yeast

Like baker's yeast or brewer's yeast, nutritional yeast (Würzhefe) is high in protein, fibre, and vitamins. However, because it is a separate strain it is less bitter than brewer's yeast and gives a cheese-like, nut-like flavour. Usually nutritional yeast is gluten-free and sold as flakes that have a thickening effect on liquids. Mix with plant-based milk to resemble soft cheese.

I usually buy Nutritional Yeast Flakes by Hoosier Hill Farm (B12-enhanced). Unfortunately it is only available as powder instead of flakes anymore. This works too, but it is more difficult to handle (at least in my experience). For now I buy the yeast powder and use about 1 spoon of powder instead of 3 spoons of flakes.
Nutritional Yeast Powder on Amazon

Liquid Smoke

Sometimes a tiny drop of liquid smoke (flüssiges Raucharoma) is enough to enhance the flavour of a meal by 10-fold. You get it as advertised. It is liquid and it tastes like concentrated smoke flavour. Be careful when using, it is very easy to overshoot. Liquid smoke goes very well with mushrooms, soups (tiny drop), and with any other non-sweet, non-citrus foods. In the end, it might even go well with these, but you need to do your own experiments: I once made an orange-rosemary gravy with liquid smoke that was delicious.

My favourite brand is Painmaker Liquid Smoke - Hickory

Side Note: If you'd rather use something powdery, you can instead replace salt with Danish Smoked Sea Salt (Dänisches Rauchsalz) or replace mild paprika with smoked paprika (Geräucherte Paprika) in your recipe.

Vegetable Stock

Unless you always have time to cook everything from scratch, vegetable stock (Gemüsebrühe / Gemüsebouillon) will always give you a nice basis for your dish. Vegetable stocks usually comes as a powder or as pre-portioned cubes.

I don't think there is much differences in brands, so I usually go for large units (500g - 1kg) to avoid additional packaging waste.
For example 500g Seitenbacher Gemüsebrühe

Plant-Based Milk / Cream

For sauces and casseroles you shouldn't miss plant-based cream and/or milk* (Pflanzendrink). There are several brands with multiple options regarding plant used, viscosity, taste. Flavour-neutral milk replacements are usually made from oat (Hafer) or soy (Soja). I personally prefer oat-based products, as I don't even like the very faint soy taste of the soy products. Almond (Mandel), cashew, and coconut (Kokosnuss) come with strong specific flavours. All milk replacements behave much more liquid in cooking than regular milk. So you will need to use some binding-agent like nutritional yeast or starch.

The absolute killer brand when it comes to oat-based alternatives is the Finnish company Oatly. They have milk, cream, crème fraîche (i.e a light sour cream).

  • Oatly - Oat Drink barista edition
  • Oatly - Creamy Oat (Haver Cuisine) & Creamy Oat fraîche (needs to stay cooled, check your local grocery store)

* Producers are not allowed to call these milk or milk replacements, because it might confuse people. However, I am writing this from a consumer perspective, so I can do whatever I want. Take this EU regulations**.
** My lawyer advises me to clarify - those products are not milk, they are plant-based liquids that just coincidentally look like milk. They are much better in every respect, though. So no reason to even think about calling these plant drinks milk.

Soy Sauce

Soy sauce (Sojasauce) is very versatile, it can be used for enhancing the flavour of sauces and soups. It adds a salty and slightly sour flavour (it is kind of hard to describe, but you probably know what soy sauce tastes like)

I recommend Kikkoman as a brand, it is by far the best, I've ever tasted.

Garlic Powder

This has become a bit of a cliché. Vegan recipes always include garlic (Knoblauch) either fresh or as powder. However, it often is enough to add half a teaspoon to a 4-person meal.

Fresh is probably a tad more tasty than dried, besides that I don't have brand recommendations.

Those are the six ingredients I have so far found in each and every vegan kitchen, because they will give you the flexibility to create very tasty dishes from nearly anything. So go ahead and buy these right away!

Now off to the elephant in the room: What possibilities do we have in replacing meat? Here are three chapters worth of alternatives.

2 - Tofu

First of all, tofu comes in many textures and flavours. You can roughly identify four categories

Let me break down the utmost important facts about tofu:

  • If it comes in liquid, reduce its water content prior to processing by putting it between two (paper) towels and placing something heavy (e.g. a pan) on top. If you happen to do that often, you might want to consider a tofu press.
  • If you're aiming for marinade, don't use oil
  • If you fry/roast it, make sure the oil is really hot before adding the tofu. Sesame oil (Sesamöl) is recommended for its heat stability.

Regular tofu goes best cut in 0.5 - 1 cm cubes, roasted and added to some kind of sauce (Teriyaki is my personal favourite). A great alternative is to cut it in 1cm thick slices, and dip it in some herbs and bread crumbs before roasting to make tasty schnitzels.

Silken tofu is quite an adventure and in my experience you will have to experiment a bit until it works out well. That said, it's possible to use it as a base for desserts (similar to panna cotta or mascarpone) like tiramisu or moccha cream with fruit. Then again it's also a great main ingredient for vegan scrambled egg. Just add a bit of starch, nutritional yeast, oat milk, and some soy sauce. The desired consistency is a matter of trial and error.

Smoked tofu is a great replacement for bacon or ham in recipes. If you cut 1 mm cubes and roast it with onions it smells just like bacon <3 Goes well with potatoes or pasta in a casserole with some cheese-like sauce.

Seasoned Tofu exist. I've never tried it though. So please send me feedback if you did.

3 - Meatlike Steaks

Three key aspects to vegan steaks are texture, caramelisation, and taste. I found this can be well replicated with oyster mushrooms (Austernpilze) and seitan.

Oyster Mushrooms for steak or spare-ribs:
If you manage to get oyster mushrooms still in a cluster leave them like that. If not, you can still use loose mushrooms, but you will get something more like spare-ribs than steak. After gently cleaning the mushrooms with some water, prepare a frying pan with a little bit of oil and put the mushrooms in once heated. When the mushrooms start losing water, press them together with a second pan or a high-weight burger press. When the water is gone and the mushrooms turn golden-brown, flip them, add some sea salt and pepper, and press them again. It should not take more than 15 minutes to get tasty crisp on the outside, juicy on the inside oyster mushroom steaks. Dip them in BBQ sauce or any other seasoning you fancy and bake them until the sauce has the desired consistency.

Don't try to make this in a kitchen also used by people who are allergic to gluten.
To get the texture of seitan right, you need to create a dough of gluten, a bit of white wheat flour (weißes Weizenmehl) and some corn/potato starch (Mais-/Kartoffelstärke). Mix 1 part of this dry mix with 1 part vegetable stock or water and add lots and lots of herbs and spices. I usually go with salt and pepper (Salz und Pfeffer), garlic (Knoblauch), thyme (Thymian), smoked paprika (mild) (milde geräucherte Paprika), and a bit of allspice (Piment) or cumin seeds (Kreuzkümmel).
Knead the dough for at least 15 minutes. It is extremely important to knead it properly so the gluten gets a chance to bind or the texture will become very boring. After kneading it, you can either roast it, bake it, or form a lump and pack it tightly in one layer of non-stick parchment and a few layers of clingwrap. As soon as it is water-proof you can cook it in simmering water for 4 hours (flip after 2 hours). Depending on the seasoning seitan can replace several meat dishes.

4 - Plant Steaks

If you like the steak form, its caramel crust and a great taste, try cauliflower. It won't taste like meat, nor have its fibrous structure, but it'll be a great-tasting steak anyway. Cut up to four 1 - 1.5 cm thick slices from a cauliflower head (from the center, at the edges it will fall apart) and roast it in some oil for 4 - 6 minutes from each of the two sides (until caramelised and golden brown). Caution: The water content will violently react if the oil is too hot. Serve with pesto or citrus-based gravy.

5 - Replacement ingredients

  • If for binding, half a table spoon of tapioka starch and three table spoons of water will replace one egg (ein halber EL Tapioka, 3 EL Wasser)
  • Cashews are a great base for creamy sauces. Soak cashews in hot water for about 2 hours. Blend until you get a smooth paste. Mix with flavours and vegetable stock until you reach the desired thickness. (Using broken cashews is a great way to save money and prevent waste, hence the link)
  • Aqua Faba, i.e. the water you boiled chickpeas in, can be whipped to resemble beaten egg whites for desserts like tiramisu. Side note, since it carries a hint of chickpea flavour you might need to add more sugar than usual. If you buy canned chickpeas (those are pre-boiled) you can use the liquid from the can right away.
    NEVER use water you just soaked the chickpeas in. You might poison yourself. It needs to be boiled first (canned food usually comes pre-boiled as stated).
  • If your sauce may have a slightly sweet component, white almond purée (Mandelmus) is a great way to achieve that. My favourite recipe is vegan spaghetti carbonara
Carbonara recipe as a contribution from my mom <3
1 chopped Onion (gehackte Zwiebel)
2-3  chopped cloves of garlic (gehackter Knoblauch)
1 pack of vegan bacon, or 200g / ~7 oz smoked tofu (Räuchertofu)
a bit of lemon juice (Zitronensaft)
500 ml / 1¾ cups vegetable stock, usually prepared with 1 cube or 2 teaspoons (Gemüsebrühe)
80 g / 1 oz 13 dr Almond purée (Mandelmus)
450 g / 1 lb Spaghetti
some olive oil and water

Start by setting up water with a bit of salt for the spaghetti. Add them as soon as the water starts to boil.
When using smoked tofu cut it into strips first. Sear the bacon/tofu in a sauté-pan using a table spoon (max.) of olive oil. Add chopped onion and garlic. When the onions turn yellowish-brown add stock and almond purée. Stir until smooth. Heat up and let simmer until it has the desired thickness.

Mix spaghetti and sauce and add a tiny amount of lemon juice.
Serves 2 - 4 people (depending on side dishes)

Note: I love adding some vegan parmesan or nutritional yeast on top, but this is heavily debated, so if you cook for someone else, it is highly recommended to make it optional.

What's next

First of all, thanks for joining me in this exploration of the vegan cuisine. It's been a pleasure to write down my most pressing insights about tasty vegan food. If you have any questions, remarks, or tips of your own, do not hesitate contacting me on Twitter or by email to info@

If you were rather looking for specific recipes I can highly recommend checking out Gaz Oakley's page or the YouTube channel. My second most favourite Youtube Channel is The Easy Vegan for they have some very nice and tasty tofu recipes.

All left to say is: I wish you happy cooking and happy experimenting. It's a huge playground of awesome flavours to discover and play around with :D