The most essential tips on how to become a vegan

Learn to cook. (You may be surprised by how much you love it!)

This point serves two purposes. Obviously, you need to feed yourself, and developing or expanding your culinary skills is necessary for this. Additionally, delicious food is (in my opinion), one of the best forms of activism. Decadent, hearty, satisfying meals are likely to silence those who may be acting less than supportive of you going vegan; you never know who might be swayed by your masterpiece! If you’re not super excited about this, I understand. I never used to cook- unless you consider following the directions on a box of Kraft mac ‘n cheese “cooking”. I considered it a chore, but I was forced into it as a hungry new vegan. As the years went by, I fell more and more in love with my time in the kitchen. Now, I honestly get annoyed when I’m too busy to make a big, gourmet dinner! You may want to invest in a few new kitchen tools/appliances, I list some of my most commonly used items in my Amazon shop.

For some of these recipes, you’ll have to source new ingredients, practice new methods, and even learn new words. You’ll also have some disasters, unless you’re some kind of alien vegan prodigy. That’s okay though, as long as you don’t give up and you learn from your disasters, you’re on the right track! Feel free to tag me on Instagram so I can see your early successes and failures! PS: If you don’t have a lot of time or energy for meal planning, check out Purple Carrot, a recipe and ingredient delivery service with great vegan options. They’ll bring all the necessary ingredients and instructions right to your door, all you have to do is prepare the meal!

Resources exist that will make going vegan much easier.

I honestly have NO idea how the vegans of 20 or 30 years ago figured things out without the magic of social media, blogs, or apps. Kudos to them! Fortunately for the newbie vegans of today, infinite assistance is right at your fingertips. These are some of the top resources I use (aside from the last one, which I’m still figuring out):

  • Happy Cow (website and app): Location based directory of all vegan, vegetarian, and vegan friendly restaurants in your area. Many descriptions and reviews for the vegan friendly restaurants will mention specific dishes, which is really helpful!
  • Barnivore (website): Searchable directory of wines, beers, and liquors that are either confirmed vegan or confirmed not vegan. (if you’re confused and panicked about the thought of non-vegan alcohol, you’re not alone; learn more in my vegan wine guide!)
  • Logical Harmony (website): While this blog post is primarily about food, if you’re fully committing to a cruelty-free lifestyle, you’re going to need to know about cosmetics. Are they tested on animals? Do they contain animal products? The Logical Harmony blog is thoroughly researched and constantly updated with this information.
  • Is It Vegan + // Vegan Pocket – Is It Vegan (apps): These confusingly similarly named apps both claim to have pretty much the same function- that is, you can scan items and it will verify whether or not the item contains animal products. I’ve tested both out and found some aspects to be glitchy, but other people I know recommend them highly. I get the feeling they’re both in early stages of growth, so the more users they acquire, the more comprehensive the info will be. So, try them out, but don’t expect perfection.

You’re about to realize how many things contain animal products. It will likely shock you.

This isn’t advice so much as it is a warning. You’re going to be annoyed. Things you assumed were “safe” will not be. As I mentioned above, many winemakers and breweries use animal products (like egg whites, fish bladders, and gelatin) to clarify/filter their liquids. Bloody Mary mix often contains anchovies. I’ve seen salted peanuts that for some reason contained milk powder. “Lactose-free” almond cheeses sometimes contain casein, a cow milk protein.

And then there are the mysteries you can’t even solve with an ingredient label. Sometimes sugar is bleached with animal bone char. Vitamin D3 (a common food additive) is made with a substance derived from sheep’s wool. The list goes on and on. You’re going to have to decide how strict you are, and this decision will likely fluctuate over time. Just remember, 100% animal-product-free life is nearly impossible, but 99% is a lot better than not even trying.

Stock up on satisfying snacks and junk food.

In my early “transitioning to vegan” days, my slip ups happened as a result of cravings and impatience. If I’d had a bag of Earth Balance Cheddar Squares, a frozen box of Chao mac ‘n cheese, or some Louisville Maple Bacon jerky stashed away in the cupboard, I bet many of those slip ups could’ve been avoided. Technically none of those products existed when I was a newbie, but they do exist for you! You’re probably thinking a lot about health and nutrition during this time of change, but keep in mind that sometimes you’re just going to need something to hit the spot, whether it be creamy, salty, or even just crunchy. If you’ve planned ahead, you can still satisfy that urge with something free of animal products! You’ll have to experiment to find your favorite treat, but you can check my list of vegan snacks & quick meals for ideas! PS: If you don’t live near a store that stocks products like these, consider placing an order with Thrive Market!

You won’t like every vegan product, and that’s okay.

There’s a certain vegan cheese that’s widely distributed and used by many restaurants, and I hate it. I actually find myself resenting people who eat it, that’s how much I hate it. But I try to keep that opinion to myself, because I don’t want to scare people away from trying it in case they happen to love it! The same goes for vegan meats; one of the plant-based burgers that’s all the rage right now is beloved by my husband, my friends, and my family, and I can’t even be in the room when it’s cooking.

Just because we’re all vegan doesn’t mean we all automatically have the same taste in foods. Some people love plant-based meats and cheeses, some prefer to just stick with whole plant foods (veggies, fruits, nuts, etc). Some people start out feeling one way and end up feeling another. All of these opinions are valid, and just because your impression of a certain product doesn’t match that of someone who raves about it doesn’t mean you’re destined to hate vegan food. All too often I see someone sample a product that a vegan friend has raved about, and when they don’t like it, they conclude that “vegan food just isn’t for me”. Spoiler alert: No matter what, you’re already eating a lot of vegan food. It’s all the stuff you eat that isn’t meat, dairy, and eggs. Plants are for everyone!

STIR FRIED AND SAUTÉED ONION

This method is more “hands off”. The pieces of onion should be small (but not finely chopped) and the heat needs to be high. You’ve succeeded if the finished onion is hot, aromatic and steaming and still retains its springiness. Since ccoking time is short, a mild onion is recommended.

ROASTED ONION

Roasted onion adds flavor that you can use for more purposes than sprinkling on top of hot dogs. Make sure it’s fresh (don’t use that jar you’ve had open since the children’s party three years ago) and use it as garnish on a range of dishes. Try it in the dishes you know well, replacing the onions with roasted ones.

SLICES OF ONION FOR HAMBURGERS

This recipe works with several different sizes of onion: Cut an onion lengthwise into slices about one centimeter thick. Fry each side strongly so that you get a highly flavored outside and a juicy, crispier inside. Place the slices in a hamburger, with or without meat. Tasty!

HOW TO BLANCH ONIONS

Lots of types of onion have a strong taste and need cooking to make them soft and good to eat, but milder, crisper sorts can be blanched. The finer sections of leeks and spring onions are a prime example. This method gives you a quickly cooked vegetable which has retained its flavor, crispiness, color and nutrients. Here’s how:

  • Slice the onion into smaller “fork-sized pieces”.
  • Dip them into already boiling lightly salted water.
  • Leave to cook for about 2 minutes. Spring onions might need even less time.
  • Pick them out – use a draining spoon – and dip immediately in cold water.
  • Drain and serve.

BRAISING ONIONS

Brown in butter and/or oil. This draws out the onion’s flavor and sweetness. Add a little liquid – for example water, stock, wine, beer – and reduce until the onion is done. It should retain its texture and chewiness.

PICKLED SHREDDED ONIONS

You can pickle onion (and many other vegetables) in exactly the same way as cucumbers: Shred it and put in an acidic solution. The result – after a few hours – will be a crispy, highly flavored garnish that goes with most things.

RAW ONION

Choose your onion with care if you’re serving it raw. Spring onions, red onion, silverskin onions and the whitest part of leeks are a few suggestions.

COOKING GARLIC

The flavor of garlic becomes milder and more rounded when cooked. Cooked garlic “melts” quite quickly in a stew and it isn’t as important what form it is in when you add it.

Fried garlic should be sweated and take on a little color, but the flavor can be unpleasant if it burns. In many fried dishes all you need to do is add a whole clove to the frying pan and take it out before it burns.

In a wok or a sauté pan, garlic should be chopped so that it quickly heats up and takes on its good, big, cooked flavor – but without burning.

RAW GARLIC

Good quality garlic is good raw but you can easily have too much of a good thing. Excessive amounts of raw garlic in food can produce a “metallic” not very fresh flavor. And that tends to develop in the wrong direction as the night goes on…

Garlic that you’re serving raw should be as finely chopped as possible, ideally crushed. No-one’s pleased to find a large piece of raw garlic in their dinner.