Do You Really Need a Recipe?


It’s fun to find a new recipe and add it to your regular favorites. Most of the time, though, you’re too busy to cook with a recipe. You whip up dishes that are familiar and easy to prepare. What can you make that doesn’t require any reading or measuring, but is tasty and nutritious?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Veggie burgers or dogs, mashed or baked potatoes, and steamed veggies
  • Pasta with prepared sauce, salad, and bread
  • Canned beans, rice, steamed veggies, and salad
  • Burritos with canned refried beans, shredded soy cheese, chopped tomatoes, and lettuce
  • Canned soup, salad, and whole grain bread or rolls

We use the “meat, potatoes, & vegetable” approach to a meal, and sauce it up! Simply pick one or more of each:

Protein source: beans, tempeh, tofu, seitan, TVP, vegan meat

Carbohydrate source: bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, tortillas, more “exotic” grains (quinoa, amaranth, millet, etc.)

Veggies: Countless options

Sauce: Nearly all supermarkets carry a wide array of canned and bottled sauces, dressings, glazes, marinades, salsas, etc. – ranging from the mundane (basic tomato or barbecue sauce, for example) to the exotic (such as spicy Thai chili or peanut satay sauce).


You can marinate and cook (bake or fry) your protein in sauce, or cover your carbohydrate source and veggies (including salad) in sauce. Many sauces can be made even more nutritious with the addition of nuts, seeds, and/or oils – especially flaxseed oil, which works best in cold sauces or dressings with an already strong flavor.

With the variety of sauces available (and that you can make yourself; see The Saucy Vegetarian for examples) and the number of food combinations possible, you can easily try innumerable new “recipes” without ever cracking open a cookbook!


Substitution Tips

Recipes are often presented as fixed and final. It might seem that if you don’t have tempeh, or green shallots, or vegetable broth, for example, you’re out of luck. But very rarely is something so vital to a recipe that you can’t substitute for it – or even ignore it (such as the eggs called for in boxed pancake mixes). Don’t be afraid to experiment – try TVP instead of seitan, onions instead of scallions, peas instead of carrots, tomato sauce or even ketchup instead of tomato purée, soy sauce instead of tamari, pasta instead of rice, etc.

Indeed, most traditional recipes can be made vegan with some imagination. The more you experiment, the better you’ll be able to revitalize old favorites and create new ones! Read on for some ideas to get you started.

Baking without Eggs

If a recipe calls for only one egg, it can usually be omitted – just add a little extra liquid to the batter. Other baked goods can be made by substituting each egg with one of the following:
Vegan cupcake

  • 1 1⁄2 tsp Ener-G Egg Replacer + 2 T water
  • 1 T vinegar + 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1⁄4 C unsweetened applesauce, mashed banana, soy yogurt, or blended silken tofu
  • 2 T cornstarch + 2 T water
  • 1 T ground flaxseeds + 3 T warm water

Watch our video: 5 Vegan Egg Replacers for Baking!

See also: The Joy of Vegan Baking by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau; The Post Punk Kitchen’s guide; and PETA’s tips.

Tofu as a Meat Replacer

Select firm or extra-firm regular tofu.


When used in place of meat, tofu should first be pressed: cut the block lengthwise and squeeze out the excess water. The more liquid removed, the firmer and more flavor absorbent the tofu becomes.


For a chewier texture, use frozen and thawed tofu. Frozen tofu not only lasts longer but, once thawed and pressed, more readily soaks up sauces and marinades. Be sure to use regular tofu and, for best results, freeze for a minimum of 48 hours.

Let the tofu thaw in the refrigerator for about 24 hours. Once fully defrosted, press thoroughly; then slice or tear into bite-size pieces, as desired.

Vegan Tacos and Chili

Any number of meals can be centered around Lightlife Gimme Lean (available in beef and sausage styles) – a product loved by vegetarians and nonvegetarians alike. For vegan taco meat, fry up one tube of Gimme Lean in canola oil and then add a package of Ortega taco seasoning and Campbell’s V8 juice (the spicy version if you like more heat).

Of course, there are many alternatives to this. Several meat substitutes will work: TVP, tofu or tempeh (crumbled or cubed), other brands of faux ground meat, or other styles of faux meat – even crumbled veggie burgers will do. You can skip the V8 juice and just use water. Use another brand of seasoning mix, or try salsa or your own combination of spices (cumin, chili powder, garlic, etc.) instead.

Faux meats
Short on time? Chorizo-style ground Tofurky, Lightlife Smart Ground Mexican-style crumbles, and Yves Meatless Taco Stuffers come already spiced. From a base of fried and seasoned Gimme Lean or other faux meat, you can do just about anything: add a can of drained black beans and/or corn; stir in a can of diced tomatoes, with or without spicy jalapeños or green chilies.

Gardein Beefless Soft Tacos

Above are some of the many faux meat products that can be used to prepare vegan tacos and chili. At right are Gardein beefless soft tacos made with Gardein beefless tips, avocado, corn, and green salsa.

Taco meat or chili can be served in just about any fashion: in flour or corn tortillas or taco shells, over baked potatoes or rice, with chips or hot bread, etc. Shredded vegan cheese and tofu-based sour cream are good complements. You can also eat chili Cincinnati style – that is, over spaghetti with chopped raw onions and oyster crackers.

Chili seems to be a significant staple for many vegetarians. Just about every veg-related site has a recipe for it – including ours – and there’s even an entire cookbook about it!

On-the-Fly Stir-Fries

You can make a stir-fry to meet any taste, using whatever you have on hand: tofu or tempeh, onions, garlic, mushrooms, carrots, peas, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, etc. Cut up whatever you want to use beforehand.


For an easy tofu dish, heat a tablespoon each of sesame oil and canola oil in a nonstick frying pan or wok. Once the oil is medium hot, drop in bite-size pieces of tofu (one 16-ounce package, frozen and thawed).

After a few minutes, start to add the vegetables, generally in the order of those that need to cook the longest (carrots) or will impart the most flavor to the tofu (onions and/or garlic).

Once the tofu has browned enough (sometimes, more oil must be added), pour in a bottle of Iron Chef General Tso’s sauce or another sauce from the Asian food section of your grocery store – or any other type of sauce that sounds good! Add a bit of water to the empty bottle, shake, and add to the pan. Stir thoroughly, cover, and let simmer for 10 to 20 minutes. Serve over rice or pasta.

Creamy Nondairy DipsHummus dip

Creamy dips can be based on any variety of beans, such as chickpeas for hummus (shown at right), or prepared with vegan sour cream (yogurt, etc.) or silken tofu.

Starting with 12 ounces of Mori-Nu extra-firm silken tofu in a food processor, add 1⁄2 cup of rice milk and 1⁄8–1⁄4 cup of canola oil. Of course, you can use soymilk, a different oil (or none), soy sauce (to taste), water, etc. If you use soft silken tofu instead of extra firm, you won’t need as much liquid, if any.

Next, add a package of vegan onion soup mix; then blend at a high speed for 3 to 5 minutes, stopping once or twice to scrape down the sides. For new dips, stir in a package of frozen spinach (thawed and drained), substitute the soup mix with whatever seasonings you’re in the mood for, or replace the liquid ingredients with your favorite salad dressing.

Meat-Free Cooking Stocks

There are many vegan broths on the market, including chicken and beef styles. Available in liquid form as well as powdered mixes and bouillon cubes, they’re great to have on hand for making soups, stews, gravies, or any recipe that calls for meat stock.

Below are some of the vegan broth products sold at supermarkets, health food stores, and online stores such as Pangea and Vegan Essentials.

Veg stocks