(CNN) – Have you ever felt a powerful sense of relaxation when taking a bite of a freshly baked cookie or biscuits & gravy from your mom?
If you adopted a vegan diet, you may miss those comforting food experiences.
You might think that it is difficult to make the “veganized” versions of traditional foods taste the same as those foods that are now only distant memories.
But the evolution of the vegan food industry, the growing acceptance of this diet, and the proliferation of talented vegan food bloggers in recent years make vegan comfort food an achievable feat.
Comfort food is typically high in calories, coming from sugar and / or carbohydrates, according to a 2017 review in the International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science.
These dishes remind us of childhood, homemade food, loved ones or vacations. The food is soft and warm. It is sweet, salty or umami. It targets senses such as smell, taste and touch, or what we feel in the mouth.
Comfort food, the one that makes you feel warm, can also be vegan
“I think for most people, comfort food is nostalgic,” he says. Dee Pernell, naturopathic physician and founder and CEO of First Batch Artisan Foods, an Atlanta ice cream parlor. “It’s heavy; it’s warm; it’s comforting and it feels like a big hug.”
“It can activate pleasure sensors when we eat certain foods, and especially when we taste foods from times when we had no bills, no responsibilities, and no COVID-19,” he adds.
All meals should be comforting “so that the experience of eating is something joyful and not some kind of necessity,” says Lauren Toyota, author of the cookbook “Hot for Food Vegan Comfort Classics: 101 Recipes to Feed Your Face“, and content creator of a vegan food blog and from YouTube channel Hot for Food.
“Comfort food touches all the senses at once, and I think that’s what pleasurable experiences do,” he adds.
To prepare a delicious vegan comfort food, it’s important to understand the elements that make traditional common comfort food so delicious, and to keep the vegan versions as close to the original as possible, says Toyota.
When you need to satisfy those cravings, this is what both professionals say you should know and have on hand. Below we’ve also included some recipes that will make you salivate when you start.
Requirements for baking good vegan cookies and brownies
For vegan cookies and brownies to be as soft, moist, and chewy as non-vegans, the brown sugar and white sugar have to be in the right proportions, Pernell says.
Brown sugar “creates that kind of chewy texture in a cookie, whereas (white) sugar, when melted, gives the cookie more moisture,” he says. “The two together, added to the (vegan) butter and the right amount of flour, make the perfect cookie.”
Any store-bought vegan butter can substitute for dairy butter or box mixes that require oil, Toyota says. Ground flaxseed and water, or aquafaba (chickpea brine) can substitute for eggs. Two tablespoons of ground flaxseed and a third of a cup of water simulate the texture of an egg. Three tablespoons of aquafaba double as an egg, and it’s also good for meringue, Toyota explains.
And don’t skimp on the quality of the ingredients in any of these foods, advises Pernell.
High-quality ingredients, such as high-fat chocolate or cocoa, contribute greatly to the taste and richness of the final product, he says. On the back of the chocolate package, look for at least 20% to 24% fat; the higher the better.
What you need to make delicious vegan tart and cinnamon rolls
For the cinnamon rolls, copy any non-vegan recipe. Plant milk can replace dairy. Aquafaba for eggs may be a better substitute as it will not darken the color. Use vegan butter instead of regular butter. Vegan cream cheese can be used for the frosting.
The star of the peach pie is the crust, and you can still mimic a traditional recipe. Use cold vegan butter, cut into pieces of bars, to incorporate it into the dough and give the final product that familiar, chewy and crunchy bite. For the peaches, mix in your traditional spices first, then adjust if necessary. Next, add the vegan butter.
The basics of cooking vegan soul food
Soul food, a cuisine associated with the black people of the American South, includes black-eyed beans, kale or mustard greens, cornbread, and macaroni and cheese, to name a few. All of them can be easily made vegan, with the exception, perhaps, of smoked meat in vegetables.
“For soul food, I use literally all the exact spices that (my grandmother, my mother, and my aunts) used to season their food,” says Pernell.
To get the same flavor as meat, smoke hickory pieces in water on the stove and then use that pot to cook the peas and vegetables, Pernell suggests. You can also add some liquid smoke, which is sold in the condiment section of many stores.
For the mac and cheese, reserve some of the pasta water. To get the creamy, cheesy texture and flavor of a 1-pound box of pasta, Pernell recommends using 1 cup of pasta water; 2 cups unsweetened soy or almond milk; 1 cup of non-dairy cheese; and the same seasonings (such as granulated salt, pepper, garlic and onion, and paprika).
For a melt-in-your-mouth cornbread, use a traditional recipe with a few twists: flaxseed mix or aquafaba for eggs; soy, almond or oat milk for milk; and vegan butter for regular butter.
Crucial elements of creamy vegan ice cream
Good vegan ice cream involves the “perfect combination of fat and sugar that creates a specific mouthfeel and is reminiscent of what people are used to drinking,” says Pernell.
The dairy substitute should have a higher proportion of fat and sugar, so that the ice cream does not feel dry and cold in the mouth. Pernell recommends using coconut cream. Oatmeal and cashew milk are also good substitutes.
How to Make Vegan “Chicken” Noodle Soup
You might think that the flavor of chicken is essential to chicken noodle soup, but “most of the time the flavor comes from plant-based ingredients like spices and garlic,” says Toyota.
Although you cannot get the fatty element that meat would provide, you can use vegan butter or oil to achieve the silky texture of the soup. The Mirepoix, the combination of onions, celery and carrots sautéed in fat, forms the base. Bottled poultry seasoning, with sage, thyme and other herbs, does its part. You can use vegetable broth, or chicken flavored bouillon cubes, to get closer to an authentic flavor.
If you want, use vegan chicken alternatives.
The essentials for irresistible vegan pasta and lasagna
It is possible to make vegan pasta or lasagna with rich sauces, cheeses and meat flavor. You can add balsamic vinegar to a traditional tomato sauce recipe for umami flavor, Toyota says.
Use a mushroom mince or a meat alternative to replace the minced meat. You can also find vegan cheese at the grocery store.
Vegan nachos ingredients
One recipe Toyota is famous for is their vegan nacho cheese dip.
“It is very reminiscent of the nostalgic melted cheese that they put on you at the fair or in the cinema over the chips,” he says.
It is made with vegetables. Underneath the cheese and other toppings of your choice, you could use beans to replace the meat. You can also cook vegetable ground beef with taco seasonings, which you can find in the frozen food section of your grocery store.
For sour cream, mix raw walnuts with lemon juice or vinegar to add acidity and shine. Or use plain vegan unsweetened coconut yogurt, as it is tart.
What you need for a tasty gravy & biscuits vegan
The good thing about the sauce is the umami flavor, the savory taste of glutamates that we sometimes recognize as a meat or fish flavor. The word has Japanese origin, according to Toyota: umami means “delicious”, and the discovery comes from kombu seaweed.
“It’s so satisfying,” he adds. “It hits you all over your tongue and it’s what makes you say, ‘Oh, that tastes good.’ And you don’t even know why.”
The sauce gravy made from mushrooms and tamari or soy sauce have that flavor due to their own glutamates. In either case, you can use vegetable broth or bouillon cubes, miso paste, shallots and garlic sautéed in vegan oil or butter, and herbs such as rosemary or thyme.
Use cold and hard vegan butter on biscuits for flaky layers, Toyota recommends. For the buttermilk, use any non-dairy milk with apple cider vinegar or lemon juice for acidity and thickness. The acidity helps the leavening agents (baking powder or soda) react, and the final product is flaky.
Time to experiment
These tips are some of the fundamentals for making good vegan food, and they can be applied to many other recipes.
“Now that we have more time at home, it’s a great time to get into the kitchen and explore different things,” says Pernell. In addition, you have to investigate the ingredients that work well or fall short and “do not be disappointed if a recipe does not turn out well,” he adds.
“I’ve done tons and tons of things before it worked out for me.”