Cooking for a Vegan: It's easier than you think

Show Them Some Love

If you’re reading this article, you might have a vegan friend, colleague or family member coming over. Maybe you’ve known the person was vegan for a while. Maybe you just found out. In either case, I applaud you for doing research that will help you cook for your vegan guest. That says you care and that means a lot. Pat yourself on the back, because whether you realize it or not, many people don’t even try to find out what to cook for a vegan family member or friend. The person just shows up and there is nothing they can eat except carrot and celery sticks....maybe a salad.

You've taken a great first step. The next thing you should do is ask your guest a few questions:

  1. Is there anything in particular that you enjoy eating at these types of events? You could even ask them to give you a recipe.
  2. Do you eat soy?
  3. Do you eat gluten?
  4. Do you eat honey?
  5. Do you have any food allergies? (this is a good question in general)

Those five questions will let your guest know that you care as well and believe me...that’s a big deal. Here’s something to keep in mind as you try to fight frustration and irritation while facing this challenge: Many vegans did not stop eating animal products because they didn’t like the way they tasted. They didn’t stop eating animal products because they wanted to be difficult guests. Many vegans stopped eating animal products because they learned something so horrific, so earth shattering, that they knew that there was no way they could ever eat animal products again with a clear conscious. We are considered ethical vegans. It violates our personal code of ethics to consume animal products. For us it’s an issue of wrong and right. This stance makes our lives difficult, particularly in social situations. So, we sincerely and immensely appreciate any concern and steps taken by others to consider our needs.

Okay, enough of that. I just wanted to make sure you had an idea about where your vegan guest might be coming from and encourage you to continue being thoughtful as you select something to purchase or cook for him or her.

What Vegan Really Means

That word carries a whole lot of stigma. I’m not exactly sure why, but it does. Because of this, people have different ideas about what it means, when it comes to what vegans eat and don’t eat. I’m going to stick to the food-related definition.

Someone who follows a vegan or plant-based diet does not eat any animal products. Animal products include

  • Beef
  • Poultry (chicken, duck, etc.)
  • Lamb
  • Venison (and whatever else people hunt)
  • Fish (including shellfish)
  • Animal secretions (eggs, milk, honey [this is controversial for many])

Vegetarians are different than vegans because vegetarians eat animal secretions. I suspect that they generally have an easier time in social situations because of this seemingly small difference in diet.

As a progression of that list, vegans don’t eat foods that are made with animal products. These include foods like:

  • Cheese
  • Chicken and Beef Broth
  • Yogurt
  • Butter
  • Gelatin
  • Many products labeled vegetarian (interesting, huh?)

Okay, so we’ve covered the items and categories of food that vegans don’t eat and you’re probably wondering....What’s left?

What Vegans Eat

These are all items that you could cook for a vegan.

  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Beans (includes products made with the soy bean)
  • Grains (includes rice)
  • Seeds
  • Nuts

Also, most dried pasta does not contain animal products. Keep in mind that the key to awesome cooking is usually in the preparation, which usually (hopefully) includes amazing seasoning.

There are no limits in the seasoning/spices aisle. The condiments aisle is usually pretty safe as well, since most of these items contain very few ingredients and they usually don’t include animal products. I’m talking about things like ketchup, mustard and vinegar. You’ll have to check the label for salad dressings, even those that are labeled as vinaigrettes. The truth is that it’s not a bad practice to read labels anyway. I won’t jump on that soapbox. I’ll stay focused.

I realize that that list looks really short, but let’s take a look at traditional dishes that are actually already vegan.

Foods That Are Already Vegan

Remember that vegan doesn’t mean the food has some kind of special ingredients or properties. It just means that it doesn’t contain animal products.

Check out this list of foods that you could cook or provide for a vegan:

  • Pasta with marinara sauce and veggies
  • Pasta with lemon, garlic and tomatoes
  • Noodles with peanut sauce and veggies
  • Hummus/bean dip
  • Falafel (without tzatziki sauce)
  • Salsa and chips
  • Salad with a vinaigrette
  • Sweet potato or russet potato fries
  • Bagels
  • Rice
  • Roasted potatoes
  • Baked potatoes
  • Steamed vegetables
  • Corn/bean/vegetable relish
  • Sorbet
  • Oatmeal (made with water)
  • Many snacks - Fritos, Pretzels, Potato Chips, Oreos

Easy Vegan Substitutes

What you may not know is that this is a great time to be a vegan. There are a ton of substitutes in many common supermarkets for animal based products. In addition to the items listed, specialty stories like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s will have a nice variety of quality meat substitutes as well. Morningstar makes a pretty good vegan veggie burger that would be perfect for a cookout. And So Delicious ice cream is a favorite among many vegans!

If you purchase one of the products listed above, you should consider using what’s left in the container for your family instead of sending the partially used container home with your guest. You can cook a few meals that are a little healthier and taste the same. It’s true!

Veganize It!

Since you’re now armed with the knowledge that cooking for a vegan can be a lot easier than you realized, let’s look at a few more dishes that can be easily made without animal products. Some are linked to recipes.

Show off Your Culinary Skills

If you’re cooking for a vegan and you have pretty good skills in the kitchen, you might want to try some of these recipes. Your guest will be really impressed and you might just discover a way to make Meatless Mondays interesting. Note: Some of these recipes may include special ingredients that you may not find at a local supermarket.

Pat Yourself on the Back Again...

...if you read this entire article. I know it was long, but I wanted to give you enough information and resources to inspire and encourage you to cook a dish for your vegan guest that would not only please them but be easy for you. Share any ah ha moments you had while you read this article in the comments below.