Vegan substitutes that will rock your world
It’s not often you find a vegan restaurant that pleases everyone. Among the outliers is Double Zero, a plant-based Italian joint that opened two years ago in the heart of New York City’s East Village. In the dimly lit dining room, patrons sit at communal high-tops lined by glass cases of wine. The outdoor patio faces a boisterous avenue of cars and passers-by. On busy nights, seating can get tight. But the magic that happens at the back of the restaurant in the wood fired oven is well worth the limited elbow room.
The first time I found myself here it was for an early Sunday evening meal with my family. None of us are vegan. My father’s middle name may as well be cheddar. My sister finds it hard to resist a plate of cured meats however sustainably conscious she may be. Even my lactose-intolerant mother will sacrifice her gut for a good chunk of brie. What we do boast is a love for food that’s fresh, creative and beautifully plated. Food that surprises and satiates our palates.
Our trip to Double Zero did not disappoint. Here plant-based goes beyond tofu and tempeh to become a work of art. Garlic macadamia ricotta? On the first go-around, we had no idea what that would mean. Shiitake bacon? We didn’t believe a mushroom of any sort could taste close to the real thing. Still, we dove in willingly. Each individually sized vegan pizza pie had us ooh-ing and aah-ing, out loud. That’s not to mention the Brussels sprouts. Doused in a chili vinaigrette and crumbled macadamia parmesan, I am desperate to recreate these every other meal of the week.
The future of food
The mastermind behind all of this is Matthew Kenney, author of several cookbooks including the recently released PLANTLAB: Crafting the Future of Food. Kenney told Nil Zacharias on #EatforthePlanet that he’s working toward “a full-on paradigm shift in the global food world.” One in which plant-centric consumption invigorates all of our senses, gives back to our bodies, and reverses the threats of climate change.
“It’s about getting as close as possible to the product that comes out of the ground or off the tree,” Kenney told Vogue just before Double Zero’s opening. That means getting very creative with plants. The menu at his newest restaurant Bar Verde showcases butternut squash nacho cheese, cremas made from soaked cashews and citrus, and ceviche featuring fresh hearts of palm. His chefs make this seem incredibly easy and sometimes even intuitive.
So I made a point to try some of my own variations at home. In fact, I experimented with a whole lot of plant substitutes - some I had even previously distrusted.
Here’s what I learned
Fresh, quality ingredients are key. As Matthew Kenney says, “A good chef can be a magician of sorts, but no amount of magic can make up for subpar ingredients.” When making recipe variations, like some of the ones I share below, it’s critical to avoid processed goods. Preparing additions of your own helps reduce the number of variables you’re up against.
Get to know the defining powers of salt, fat, acid and heat. Samin Nosrat, author of the cookbook SALT, FAT, ACID, HEAT, teaches us that our ingredients respond to one another based on four different elements: salt enhances flavor, fat delivers that flavor and generates texture, acid balances flavor, and heat ultimately determines the texture of food. It’s helpful to keep this in mind when you’re working with new ingredients.
Be willing to experiment. It’s best to begin with recipes that are well-tested, and then tweak them to suit your own palate. As you become more comfortable making minor substitutions on your own, like swapping avocado puree for butter or mashed banana for egg, the rest will fall into place.
To help you get started, we've compiled a number of vegan substitutes you can try at home. So dive in, and let us know if we missed anything!
Lydia Chodosh, the Marketing and Editorial Associate for Stone Pier Press, works at the intersection of food and the creative arts.