For Those Who Don’t Know Where to Start

I poured the maple syrup into the mix and wondered if I needed a banana. “Nah, I thought. It’ll be fine.” Then I grabbed my whole wheat pastry flour from the top shelf and nearly dropped it. After my heart stopped threatening to beat out of my chest, I measured the flour out and added it to my mix.

When I was whisking the flax and water together, I made a mental note to add pumpkin puree to the recipe next time, and maybe some chocolate chips. For now, the cinnamon and nutmeg would be a nice touch.

As I popped the bread in the oven, I realized that I had just made a completely plant-strong breakfast bread without stopping to think about equivalents or despair over the lack of eggs. I just functioned out of what I knew and acted like a normal person (for a while, I felt like a complete weirdo making recipes because I was trying new things).  When I took the first bite of my zucchini bread, I thanked God for how far I’ve come in my knowledge of food on journey to better health.

I shared last week my fumbles in the kitchen when we were transitioning to a plant-based lifestyle, and I want to be clear that I still have fumbles. I’m always learning new things about food, but the best thing I’ve learned is this:

Know your food. Knowledge is power.

The key to experimenting with food and venturing our of your comfort zone (goodbye bean soup every week) is to get to know your food. It’s so important to know flavors (Mexican vs. Italian, for example), and what certain foods can do.

I thought I’d share some of the insight to food that we’ve gained over the past two years that might be helpful for those who don’t know where to start. This is not an exhaustive list of knowledge, but it is a place to start.

Bananas, Avocados, and Pumpkin Puree
Bananas act as butter and eggs for a lot of meals. One large banana mashed is about two eggs. For a butter equivalent, if the recipe calls for 1/4 c. butter, add that much mashed banana. It’s important to note that if a recipe calls for eggs and butter, don’t use bananas for both. You’ll get a weird, sticky consistency, and it may not work depending on what you’re making. For recipes that call for both, use a flax egg for the egg, and the banana for the butter (if it’s a sweet recipe).

Pumpkin puree makes things fluffier than bananas. It’s used the same way as bananas when measuring it into a recipe. The only downside to using puree is that it makes your dish taste like pumpkin. I personally never see this as a downside; however, I realize that not everyone wants pumpkin everything. I don’t know who you people are, but I’m praying for you.

Avocados share this same butter quality, but they give a cake consistency to breads (which is not a bad thing!). Avocados work well for things you don’t mind turning green (like cornbread) and for saltier foods. I once made avocado cornbread for a small group potluck, and I had people grabbing pieces of cornbread out of my pan as I was trying to leave that night because it was so good. Perhaps I’ll share that recipe soon!

Obviously, bananas and pumpkin work better with breads and dessert foods.

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Nutritional yeast
I’m still learning everything I can do with this food. I use it mostly to thicken my sauces and to give a cheesy flavor to dishes like pesto and nut cheeses.

Nutritional yeast does have a flavor, so you will want to try it out on pasta sauces and pestos before throwing it into everything. I also add it mashed avocado with a little lemon juice to make a hearty sandwich spread.

You can get this in the bulk section of nearly every healthy food store.

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Soy milk
If you’re making a baked good that requires milk (pancakes, cookies, etc.), I’ve found that soy milk works the best because it has the thickest, milkiest quality.

Almond milk tends to be watery, so I try to avoid using it. It’s fine for things like pancake; but other bread recipes will not hold up as well if almond milk is used.

Coconut milk works well, but it has an oily quality that might affect food. It’s really hard to find pure coconut milk without added ingredients (such as carrageenan). Whole Foods sells some expensive coconut almond milks that don’t have added ingredients. But it’s much cheaper to make your own!

For any milk, we buy the unsweetened kind because we don’t want added sugar.

Tofu
I’m dedicating an entire post to this because there is so much to tofu. Be looking for it next week!

Flour
I have certainly not tried every flour out there, so I’m going to make that clear before I proceed.  I want to share the flours I use most often.

Whole wheat flour (for gluten-friendly friends) is great for many things if it’s used in combination with another, lighter type of flour. It makes things really dense when used as the only flour, so I have found it’s best to pair it up with another kind of flour.  Too many dense pizza crusts made me realize the error of my ways.

My favorite flour of all time is whole wheat pastry flour. It’s lighter and gives breads a great consistency. This is sold at Whole Foods and most healthy food stores.

Oat flour is so easy to make (just grind oats), but you can also buy it. This is a great alternative to whole wheat pastry flour in most recipes.

I’ve tried other flours such as spelt, almond, and barley, but I haven’t used them enough to form a solid opinion on them.

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(oat flour)

Flaxseed Meal
You can find this at almost any store. Bob’s Red Mill brand is sold at Walmart, so flaxseed meal is sold pretty much everywhere.

Flaxseed has fiber and protein, and it’s a great addition to cereals, breads, bars, burgers, etc. for added nutrition. It’s better to use ground flaxseed (or flaxseed meal) rather than whole flax seeds because ground flaxseed is easier for your body to digest. Also, whole flax seeds may pass through your system undigested, which means you don’t get any of the nutrients. See this article for more information.

You can make a flax egg by mixing 1 tbs. flax with 3 tbs. water. Let it sit for a few minutes so that it can bind together. Then use it as an egg in your baked goods!

I also add a few tablespoons to flax to any bread recipe (muffins, pancakes, etc.) because it gives the bread more fluff. And who doesn’t like fluffy bread?

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I’ll be adding to this list as time goes on, but these tricks have saved me so much time in the kitchen!

What are you tricks in the kitchen?

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2 thoughts on “For Those Who Don’t Know Where to Start

  1. Ashley, this is SO helpful! I love that you are so willing to share what you’ve learned in the kitchen and save some of us newbies a lot of time and heart ache!!!!! 🙂

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