By Erik Marcus
Vegan cooking is remarkably easy to learn, and delivers all sorts of unexpected payoffs. While most hobbies drain your bank account, learning to cook will save you piles of cash. Home-cooked dishes are so much cheaper than restaurant meals or frozen foods. When you do your own cooking, you’ll enjoy fresher and tastier meals made with higher-quality ingredients.
As your cooking skills develop, you may also grow to love the calming, meditative time spent in the kitchen. Simple tasks like starting rice or chopping vegetables offer relaxing moments after a busy day.
You can easily master the basics of vegan cooking. Unfortunately, many novice cooks don’t know where to begin. So that’s where this guide comes in. I will take you through all the essentials, and show you how easy it is to cook delicious vegan meals.
Doing your own cooking gives you absolute control over what goes into your food. Great meals begin with great ingredients. So stepping up your grocery shopping skills is a big part of learning how to cook vegan.
Savvy chefs take their shopping as seriously as their cooking. They know the best places to buy a hundred different things, from olive oil to salad greens.
For detailed advice on buying vegan groceries, please read the grocery shopping section of my How to Go Vegan guide. It explains how to select the best possible food from supermarkets, natural food stores, farmers’ markets, and online.
Vegetables, Squash, & Tomatoes
Eating a lot of vegetables requires cooking a lot of vegetables, which in turn means buying a lot of vegetables. With that in mind, I created a simple rule for myself that has improved my diet immeasurably: every time I am ready to wheel my shopping cart to the checkout aisle I take a last look inside. Did I purchase a nice assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables? If I’ve come up short, I head straight back to the produce department to pick up a few more items.
As your vegan cooking skills progress, you’ll get familiar with every conceivable sort of vegetable. But since you must start somewhere, let’s run through the most popular choices:
Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cauliflower & Cabbage
All of these are in the cruciferous family, and they are ideal for roasting or stir-fries. Numerous studies indicate that consumption of cruciferous vegetables may reduce cancer risk. Be sure to peel the stalks and stems of your broccoli before cooking. Cabbage is the main ingredient in coleslaw. Broccoli and cauliflower florets are delicious when served alongside hummus.
Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes
Baked potatoes or sweet potatoes are the perfect food for a cold day. Just scrub, stab a few times with a fork (to allow steam to vent), and throw in 350° F oven. Baking requires 40 to 70 minutes depending on size. Alternately, diced potatoes or sweet potatoes are terrific in stir-fries.
Sweet potatoes are more nutritious than regular potatoes, and they have a lower glycemic index as well. Many supermarkets sell oven-baked sweet potato fries in the frozen foods section, which make for a convenient and healthy snack or side-dish.
These are among the most nutrient-dense of all foods, so it’s wise to eat some every day. Go for dark, rich colors since that signals more nutrients. For calcium’s sake, consider kale and bok choy instead of spinach or collards. You’ll thereby minimize oxalates, which can inhibit calcium absorption and may also cause kidney stones.
If you want to substantially boost your greens consumption, stir-fry them. They’ll thereby cook down to a tenth of their previous volume, which makes it easy to eat substantial amounts. Cooking also improves digestibility.
A mainstay of many cuisines, especially Mexican, Indian, and Italian cooking. Most onions are pungent, so they’re generally diced and cooked. Buying onions in every available color will liven up your meals. Red, yellow, and white onions are widely available. One popular variety, the Vidalia, is less pungent than other onions and sweet enough to eat raw—slice thinly for sandwiches, or dice them for salads
Botanically a fruit, but for cooking’s sake squash are more sensibly treated as a vegetable.
There are two types of squash: summer and winter. Summer squash are harvested in mid-or-late summer, and will keep a week or two if refrigerated. The most common summer squash is zucchini, and you’ll also find bright yellow crooknecks plus another yellow variety that resembles a flying saucer. Chopped summer squash is excellent in stir-fries. Texture and flavor are practically identical no matter which varieties you choose.
Although harvested in autumn, winter squash get their name because they will keep until spring if stored in a cool dark place. They are the world’s most imperishable vegetable. They’re also the hardest vegetable to cut. So be careful slicing open winter squash, and always use a sharp knife, as its hardness makes it easy for your knife to slip while cutting. Many supermarkets therefore sell winter squash pre-cut.
Butternuts are the most common kind of winter squash, but their flavor can’t compare to a remarkably ugly squash variety named kabocha. Despite appearances, kabocha has my vote as the world’s tastiest vegetable. Any sort of winter squash is outstanding cubed and steamed, then served alongside chopped seared greens seasoned with your favorite spices.
Nothing compares to a locally grown vine-ripened summer tomato. Avoid buying tomatoes out of season grown in far-off places, since you’ll usually get poor texture and flavor.
Load up your pantry with imperishable foods and you’ll always have delicious things ready to eat. A natural food store’s bulk department is the perfect place to buy many of these items. You’ll get much better prices there than what you’d pay for packaged foods. Here are some staples commonly sold in bulk:
- Dried fruit
- Breakfast cereal and granolas
- Pasta and noodles
- Nut butters and tahini
- Whole coffee beans
You can reliably judge the quality of your natural foods store by the quality of its produce and bulk department. If you lack a good natural foods store nearby, Amazon.com can fill in the gaps. Our grocery page features the best products and deals on vegan staples available from Amazon.
Herbs, Spices, & Seasonings
Every skilled cook is familiar with a variety of herbs, spices, and other seasonings. These concentrated flavors are what turns wholesome foods into delectable meals. Before we explore this topic, let’s define terms.
Herbs are the leaves and sometimes stems of various fragrant plants. Italian cooking in particular features loads of herbs, especially oregano, marjoram, basil, and rosemary. Note that while most herbs are sold dried, fresh herbs are even more flavorful. Many serious cooks therefore grow their favorite varieties in a window sill herb garden. Just use scissors to snip off whichever herbs your recipe requires.
Spices typically carry stronger flavors than herbs. Most spices come from the seeds or seed pods of various plants. If Italian is the cuisine most heavily based on herbs, Indian is the cuisine most reliant on spices. The most common Indian spices are cumin, coriander seeds, turmeric, and mustard (all of these typically go into the region’s quintessential spice mix: curry powder). Cardamom, which is often used to flavor basmati rice, has my vote as the most appealing of all spices. It has an indescribably special flavor and aroma unlike any other spice.
Seasonings is a broad term that encompasses herbs, spices, and every other concentrated source of flavor. Common seasonings include salt, tamari, lemon juice, bullion cubes, vinegar, and pickled vegetables.
A few well-chosen seasonings can elevate you cooking from good to great. If you’re new to vegan cooking, start with a few herb and spice mixes. Popular spice mixes include Mexican, Indian, Caribbean jerk, and barbecue. The most useful herbal mix is Italian seasoning, which contains all the classic herbs of that cuisine.
Spice Buying Advice
Spice mixes are perfect for a casual or time-strapped cook. Gourmet chefs insist on freshly-grinding their spices for the same reason that coffee connoisseurs demand freshly-ground beans. Just like coffee, the essential oils in spices begin to volatilize upon grinding. While the smell of freshly ground coffee and spices is heavenly, that very smell means the finest flavors are escaping with each passing hour.
So, in order to make truly gourmet food, you need a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder. These tools let you grind your spices just prior to cooking, to maximize flavor intensity. This also explains why pepper mills are so popular, since pre-ground pepper quickly loses its most special flavors.
Pre-ground spices are fine when time is limited, whereas freshly-ground spices unleash magnificent flavors. If you’re short on time, by all means use a spice-mix.
Your natural food store’s bulk department offers one of the best places to buy herbs and spices. Buying spices in bulk can save you at least 50 percent over buying them prepackaged in small containers.
Fats and Cooking Oils
Although often demonized, there is no reason to fear fats and oils. In fact, many nutrition experts recommend that they provide at least 20 percent of daily calories. Fats are a vital source of energy, and foods that contain decent amounts of fat are great at staving off hunger. Plus, fats can help stabilize erratic blood sugar levels.
Fat also deepens the flavors of foods, in part because when oils coat the tongue your food’s flavors can linger. Since fats provide such a concentrated source of calories—which can make the difference between survival and starvation when food is scarce—our bodies doubtless evolved to take greater satisfaction from fattier meals.
Don’t Use Only One Variety of Oil
Many people keep only one kind of oil in their kitchen. Limiting yourself in this way is a huge missed opportunity. Here are four oils worth always having on hand:
High oleic safflower oil. Perfect for higher-temperature cooking since it’s resistant to scorching.
Olive oil. Great for lower-temperature cooking. Also a terrific main ingredient for homemade salad dressing. Always buy “extra virgin” olive oil since anything else is substandard. Unfiltered olive oil offers a strong, peppery flavor that, mixed with a dash of balsamic vinegar, makes a delicious dip for freshly-baked breads.
Sesame oil. An inexpensive way to jazz up any dish, especially stir-fried vegetables and Asian-style noodles. Sesame oil has a very low scorching point, so it’s best to add to your food right before serving. It has strong flavor, so just a squirt of oil goes a long way. Get the roasted variety for a delicious smoky taste.
Unrefined coconut oil. Perfect for dishes with delicate flavors. The nuanced flavors of coconut oil perfectly compliments the flavor any vegetable.
Vegan Butters and Margarines
These products have improved greatly over the past decade or so. All the Earth Balance buttery spreads and buttery sticks taste great (one of their spreads even comes in a Whipped Organic version ). And Miyoko’s Kitchen makes a Cultured Vegan Butter that is heavenly.
If you want to tackle an involved but rewarding vegan cooking project, try making Bryanna Clark Grogan’s palm oil free vegan butter at home.
How to Cook Vegan
Let’s begin with the most common mistake made by newbie cooks: they frequently choose exactly the wrong first cookbook. A high percentage of cookbooks feature elaborate recipes too time-consuming for everyday use. If you’ve got young children or a demanding schedule, you’ll want to spend minutes rather than hours in the kitchen.
Fortunately, you can access an abundance of fantastic and simple vegan recipes. Many vegan cookbooks are entirely devoted to quick and easy recipes. Here are four excellent recent choices:
- Fast Cheap Easy Vegan, by Sam Turnbull
- Plants Only Kitchen, by Gaz Oakley
- Easy Vegan Home Cooking, by Laura Theodore
- Super Easy Plant-Based Cookbook, by Kathy Davis
For more top picks, please see the list of Easy Everyday Cookbooks on our Vegan Cookbooks page. Any of these cookbooks will inspire you with all sorts of enticing meal ideas.
New Recipes Teach New Skills
Trying out new recipes will teach you new skills and give you new cooking ideas. For instance, an Indian-style chana masala recipe will require you to chop and sauté onions. You can later use your newfound onion prep skills to jazz up your next batch of refried beans or spaghetti sauce. As another example, making Chinese-style stir-fries will give you a keener sense of how to properly pan-fry a variety of vegetables.
Pilots measure their expertise by counting up the number of hours they’ve spent airborne. You’ll likewise find that your kitchen skills grow with every new recipe you try. It won’t be long before you become comfortable cooking just about anything.
Vegan Cooking Basics
Any vegan cookbook can help you step up your cooking game. But you can also learn how to cook sensational meals without ever using a recipe. Specifically, I regard five dishes as “core foods” that are ideal for beginning cooks:
Not only are these meals easy to make, they can all be prepared in countless ways. Today’s stir-fry might be sweet potatoes, purple cabbage, and tofu served over brown rice and topped with peanut sauce. Tomorrow’s might be bok-choy, tempeh, and peppers in a tamari-ginger sauce, served over quinoa.
In addition to the five core foods we’ve just reviewed, you should absolutely learn how to prepare rice and beans, so be sure to check out the preceding links. Rice and beans are the perfect match when served together, and rice is also excellent as a bed for stews, stir-fries, and roasted vegetables. Beans are nutritional powerhouses. They’re also remarkably cheap, delicious, and can be prepared in a multitude of ways.
Exploring World Cuisines
A substantial portion of the world’s population eats a mostly plant-based diet. Most of the world’s great cuisines include popular dishes that are either vegan or can easily be prepared that way.
That’s largely because, throughout history, few people could eat a diet heavily based on animal products. Refrigeration didn’t exist, so meat spoiled rapidly when transported or stored.
Here are some of the world’s most popular vegan-friendly foods:
- India: chickpea curries or dal with roti (flat bread)
- Mexico: rice, beans, salsa, and guacamole served with corn tortillas
- China: stir-fried vegetables and tofu served over rice
- Italy: spaghetti with marinara sauce
- Middle Eastern: falafel, hummus, or baba ghanouj served with vegetables in pita
If your first vegan cookbook should focus on quick and easy recipes, perhaps your second cookbook ought to explore your favorite regional cuisine. My vegan cookbooks guide features more than a dozen such cookbooks, each covering dishes from a different part of the world.
Many popular international dishes take almost no time to master. Mexican, Italian, and Chinese food feature some of the easiest yet most delicious recipes on the planet.
Outfitting Your Kitchen
If you eat nothing but sandwiches, you’ll need little more than a knife and a cutting board. But for any real cooking, a few inexpensive pieces of kitchenware will take you a long way. So let’s take a look at the most useful items.
You can get years of good use from an inexpensive toaster, coffee maker, or blender. But no matter how limited your budget, invest in good quality knives. A home cook really only needs three:
- Chef’s Knife: By far, the most important tool in your kitchen.
- Paring Knife: Suitable for peeling produce.
- Bread Knife: Not only for bread, these knives are the best way to cut tomatoes without smooshing them.
I recommend an eight inch Victorinox chef’s knife with a Fibrox handle. I’ve spoken to numerous chefs who favorably compare this model to high-end professional knives costing triple the price. After you get accustomed to a quality chef’s knife, the next time you find yourself using a dull and mediocre knife you’ll be aghast at the unpleasantness.
To complete your knife collection, pick up a set of good utility knives plus a bread knife.
If you cook regularly, get your chef’s and paring knives sharpened once or twice a year. Many flea markets and farmers’ markets feature a bearded heavy-set guy wearing overalls who sharpens knives out of the back of his van. Or you may have a knife or cutlery store in town that can do the job.
You can also use a cheap honing steel between sharpenings to keep your knife cutting well. In contrast to knife sharpening, which requires practice, you can hone a blade in a couple minutes and it’s a skill anyone can quickly learn.
If there’s ever a time to choose quality over quantity it’s when purchasing knives. Don’t succumb to the temptation of buying one of those cheap seven-knife sets. You’ll be much happier if you spend the extra money to buy quality versions of the three knives recommended above.
I recommend purchasing a BPA-free polypropylene cutting board. These boards can withstand vigorous scrubbing and are dishwasher-safe, so they are easy to clean and disinfect. And unlike wooden cutting boards, polypropylene doesn’t absorb onion and garlic odors. Go with a larger-sized model since it’s ikrsome to chop vegetables on a cramped surface.
Pots and Pans
At all costs, avoid cheap inexpensive sets of nonstick pots and pans. Instead, get a large pot for boiling pasta or making soups, and a smaller saucepan. You’ll also need a skillet for all sorts of things, including sautéing vegetables.
Avoid Teflon pans, as emit nasty gases if overheated and by far the least durable cookware you can buy. The nonstick coating inevitably flakes off into your food. Just look at an old Teflon pan and you’ll see what I mean. And never buy Teflon if you have a bird, as Teflon fumes are famously lethal to birds.
I think of Teflon as a 1960s miracle surface that has been left behind by newer, far superior materials. Today’s ceramic polymer pots and pans are a much better choice. They’re almost as slick as Teflon cookware, but vastly more durable they won’t release poisonous vapors if overheated. To avoid scratching, never use metal utensils in ceramic cookware—opt for melamine or silicone instead.
Stainless steel pots and pans are another great choice. They’re much more durable than ceramic cookware, and easy to keep gleaming and gorgeous. Their downfall is that stainless steel conducts heat poorly, so skillets heat slowly and unevenly. The poor conductivity of stainless steel is not problem when it comes to stock pots and kettles since the soup or water will distribute the heat. I consider a nice mid-sized stainless kettle ideal for cooking spaghetti and other pasta.
Copper-bottomed stainless steel cookware is beautiful and unrivaled when it comes to heating food evenly, but I’m still not a fan. This cookware must be scrubbed with copper polish after each use and that’s not how I want to spend my time. The best stainless steel cookware has an copper core sealed inside its base, which strikes me as the best of all worlds. The copper core give you excellent conductivity without demanding constant polishing.
Here are my picks for high quality mid-priced stock pots, skillets, and woks:
- Cook N Home 5 Quart Stock Pot
- Cuisinart Saucepan
- Ozeri Stone Earth Frying Pan
- Cuisinart 14″ Stainless Wok
No kitchen item sounds as frivolous as a salad spinner, so why do I recommend them as a “must have” item? What gives? What gives is that eating plenty of vegetables one of the best things you can do for your health. Salads offer the easiest way to boost your vegetable intake.
The trouble is that sliced raw unseasoned vegetables aren’t enticing when it comes to flavor, so a good salad needs a flavorful dressing. If your salad greens are still wet after being rinsed, that dressing will run right off your greens into an unappealing pool at the bottom of your salad bowl. To prevent this from happening, a salad spinner is by far the best way to dry your vegetables. The first time you use your salad spinner you’ll be amazed by how much water a few seconds of spinning will throw off.
Skip the whiny electrics unless you suffer from arthritis. A quality hand-cranked model is the way to go, and they’re much easier to keep clean.
Spatulas & Grill Turners
Choose a few sizes and styles made from metal, silicone, or melamine. Again, never use a metal spatula in a ceramic or Teflon pan (and don’t buy Teflon pans in the first place). Also don’t buy any nylon or plastic spatulas, as you’ll inevitably leave it in the pan too long and it’ll melt.
Measuring Cups & Spoons
You’ll need a set to follow most cookbook recipes.
Other Popular Items for Vegan Cooking
Probably the biggest kitchen innovation since the food processor, and frankly a lot more useful. Instant Pots reduce cooking time for most meals to 20 minutes or less. They’ll replace several appliances (including a pressure cooker, slow cooker, and rice cooker.) In the process, these devices can free up a great deal of counter space.
If you’re only going to splurge on one kitchenware item, make it an Instant Pot—nothing else has so many uses. Buy the 3 quart model if you usually cook for one to three people, and the 6 quart for larger families. You can get the most out of this appliance by purchasing Nisha Vora’s terrific, The Vegan Instant Pot Cookbook.
Good for smoothies made from soy milk and frozen fruit. An inexpensive model will do most jobs fine, but if you can afford one, consider getting a Blendtec or Vitamix. These appliances are like a blender on steroids, and they’ve almost as powerful as a lawn mower. They can prepare all sorts of supremely healthful items that are beyond the capacities of a regular blender.
If you enjoy making soup, an immersion stick blender is practically a must-have. You can blend soups directly in the pot so there’s no extra cleanup. They can also be used to make smoothies, mixed drinks, and hummus.
Perfect for reheating food, and vastly more energy-efficient than a conventional oven. Also the best way to heat up frozen burritos. Here’s my favorite little-known use: microwave a papadum for 30 seconds or until its texture turns bubbly. This is a sensational cheap and spicy protein-rich snack. A 900 watt microwave equipped with a built-in turntable will cover most people’s needs perfectly.
Slot toasters are faster and make much better toast than toaster ovens. As far as I’m concerned, toast beats plain bread for most types of sandwiches.
Among the cheapest appliances you can purchase. Once you’ve owned an electric kettle, there’s no going back to a stove-top kettle—they boil water in one-third the time!
While they’re marketed to the hamburger crowd, they also offer an easy and delicious way to grill vegetables. But get a big one since small models is only really good for burgers. This model features removable plates, which make cleaning much easier.
The crunch and texture of fried food without all the fat. Air fryers are great for vegan favorites like French fries, tempura, and falafel. There are even vegan cookbooks devoted entirely to air fryers.
Chopping vegetables is a huge part of vegan cooking, and nothing handles that task as quickly as a food processor. The more people you’re feeding, the more sense a food processor makes. When prepping small batches of food, the time saved with a food processor isn’t worth the added cleanup time. When it comes to small jobs, there’s nothing a food processor does that you can’t quickly accomplish with a knife or a grater.
But for large batches, a food processor can save you an enormous amount of time spent laboriously chopping, slicing, or grating. If a full-sized food processor is too much horse for you, consider picking up a mini food chopper. They’re perfect for small chopping needs, and cleanup is super quick.
A Burr Grinder and an Aeropress
Great coffee depends on two factors. First, you must grind your beans uniformly. And second, don’t allow the water to make prolonged contact with the coffee grinds. An inexpensive burr grinder (manual or electric) plus an Aeropress accomplishes both requirements. The coffee you’ll attain from using both devices will be vastly superior to drip coffee sold at any coffeehouse.
A bread maker might be the most satisfying appliance you could own. It takes just two minutes to start a loaf of bread, and clean-up time is practically nothing. Plus, your whole house will smell wonderful!
A no-fuss way to prepare satisfying soups and stews, slow-cookers are surprisingly cheap. If you don’t own an Instant Pot and live in a place with cold winters, they’re practically a must-have. Several vegan cookbooks are devoted entirely to slow-cookers, including Robin Robertson’s excellent Fresh from the Vegan Slow Cooker.
It’s easy enough to cook rice in a pot with a lid. But if you make rice several times a week you may want to invest in a rice cooker. Not only will your rice will come out perfectly every time, you’ll have one less thing to keep track of when you’re cooking the rest of your meal. Even though an Instant Pot can also cook rice, a dedicated rice cooker does a better job. Owning one will also free up your Instant Pot to cook your entrée, while enabling you to simultaneously prepare your meal’s rice.
Vegan Cooking Basics: Essential Information
Since we’re approaching the end of this guide, I’m now going to throw some essential cooking habits your way. This information will help become more efficient in the kitchen, and it might even prevent a wrecked a meal or two.
Anyone who cooks regularly will pick up dozens of random tips and tricks over their lifetime. For the sake of getting started, here are eight of the most valuable things to know:
- When bringing water to a boil, always cover the pot. You’ll save time and dramatically cut energy use. Better yet, use an electric kettle to heat the water, and then pour it into your pot.
- Take an inventory of your refrigerator weekly and your pantry and freezer monthly, making a point to use foods before they pass their peak.
- When you buy food in glass jars, soak off the labels in warm water and re-use these jars for storing everything from beans to rice to leftovers. Plastic storage containers can leach chemicals into your food, so reused glass jars are the way to go.
- Whenever possible, don’t put your most perishable foods in the refrigerator—prepare them as soon as you bring them home.
- Onions, garlic, and ginger are three classic seasonings of Asia and India, and they’re wonderful in soups and stir-fries. If you enjoy these flavors, always keep some onions and fresh ginger in your refrigerator, and a couple bulbs of garlic on your counter.
- Does your home have a sunny window? If so, consider planting a windowsill herb garden. Or if you have a yard and live in a warmer climate, plant a lemon tree so you’ll always have fresh lemons on hand to season your hummus and salads.
- Speaking of seasonings, a few extra jars of dried herbs, Indian jarred pickles, hot sauce, and so forth can make all the difference in jazzing up your meals.
- Never put dirty pans in the sink to clean later without first filling them with warm soapy water.
With those tips out of the way, let’s move onto general information about major kitchen appliances.
The usual baking temperature for most food is between 350° and 425° Fahrenheit (that’s about 175° Celsius and 220° Celsius.)
If you’re reheating last night’s pizza or casserole, the best temperature is just 200° or 225° F. Low temperatures work best for leftovers because your food has already been properly cooked, and now only needs to be warmed up. Often the best way to reheat vegetable-based meals is to use a casserole dish with a glass top, and maybe toss in a few teaspoons of water. Microwave ovens can reheat leftovers much more quickly than a conventional oven, and they won’t cause your food to dry out. But you will need to cover dishes that contain soups or sauces to avoid spattering. A vented microwave lid is therefore a useful purchase if you own a microwave.
Many ovens feature a broiler compartment beneath the oven. You’ll turn the dial to Broil to activate this feature. Broiling temperatures are usually between 500° and 550° F, which means you’ve got to watch your food like a hawk. In the space of two minutes your food can go from under-cooked to burnt.
Gas stoves are standard in restaurant kitchens since they allow instantaneous heat adjustment. Unfortunately, recent evidence definitively links gas stoves with increased indoor pollutant levels. Children who live in homes equipped with gas stoves suffer from higher rates of asthma.
Plainly, for health reasons, electric stoves are the way to go.
Conductive vs. Induction Stoves
Stoves that heat with electric conductive elements heat up and cool down slowly. If your pot starts boiling over you can’t just spin the dial to instantly lower the heat. So if you can, avoid conventional electric coil or smooth top conductive ranges. They’re just terrible for cooking. Plus they’re a hazard for cats who don’t respect wishes about staying off kitchen counters.
Recently, a more advanced electric stove technology has emerged based on induction (as opposed to hot electric coils that impart heat through conduction). Induction stoves are vastly superior to conventional electric stoves, and I even prefer them to gas stoves. When it comes to quickly being able to change temperatures, induction stoves are nearly as responsive as gas. Plus they’re far safer, and they’re much easier to keep clean.
On top of all that, once you remove your cookware from an induction stove, the stove-top powers off and cools down immediately. Yet induction stoves can nevertheless heat up a pan or skillet almost as quickly as gas. The technology of induction stoves limits you to using ferrous-metal cookware—all-copper and all-aluminum pans will not work (instead use cast iron, stainless steel, and most cookware coated with nonstick ceramic polymers). I’ve spent months cooking my meals in a ceramic-lined nonstick skillet on an induction stove, and I consider this the ideal combination for home use.
If your stove’s heat goes from 1 to 10, you’ll usually cook food between 2 and 6 (dial settings vary from one stove to the next, and some stoves get sufficiently hot for most uses at 3 to 4). Higher temperatures are for boiling water or rapid browning. The lowest setting is used primarily to keep the food warm prior to serving.
Gaining competence with a chef’s knife is fundamental to almost everything you do in the kitchen. It’s a skill that takes time and practice. Becoming truly skilled with a chef’s knife requires about as much practice as getting halfway decent at hitting a golf or tennis ball. If you’ve been cooking for a while and then watch a professional chef go to work doing something as basic as chopping an onion, you’ll no doubt be amazed by the level of skill on display.
Luckily, you’ve got an asset that yesterday’s aspiring chefs didn’t: YouTube videos. YouTube features tons of kitchen tutorials and a great place to start is this one that showcases basic knife skills.
Baking, especially where breads, pies, and cakes are concerned, is an entirely different animal from general stove-top cooking and most other food preparation. Oftentimes, people who are only mediocre cooks have a real knack for baking, whereas some great cooks can’t bake to save their lives.
Baking is a much fussier task than most other forms of cooking. With stove-top cooking, improvisation is the name of the game. You can toss in an extra chopped onion or experiment with new spices with no worries. Your stew or stir-fry will turn out great. But futzing with the proportions laid out in a cake recipe invites disaster. In fact, baking recipes are so sensitive that recipes that turn out perfect at sea-level must be rejiggered for use at high altitude.
Start with Cookies
If you want to try your hand at vegan baking, perhaps start by making vegan cookies, since cookies are the simplest of all baked items. Once you can reliably churn out a batch of delicious vegan cookies, you’re ready to branch out to other baked items. At that point, consider purchasing a good vegan baking cookbook. You can choose from many excellent titles, all of which are featured on our vegan baking guide.
Don’t despair if you weren’t born with a gift for baking. If all your cakes and breads seem cursed, consider buying a bread machine. That way, you can at least eat sensational freshly-baked bread anytime you want.
A Recap of Essential Vegan Cooking Info
I hope I’ve convinced you to give vegan cooking a try. Spending just a little time cultivating your cooking abilities will yield an enormous payback.
To summarize the advice I’ve offered in this cooking guide:
- It doesn’t cost much to outfit your kitchen with basic equipment. If you’re on a budget, you can go cheap on almost everything except a chef’s knife.
- If your cooking time is limited, consider purchasing an Instant Pot and a vegan Instant Pot cookbook.
- The easiest way to eat plenty of fresh vegetables is to step up your grocery shopping game. Patronize food markets with excellent produce sections, and don’t buy the same items every time. Instead, wander around and purchase a colorful diversity of produce based on what’s on sale and in season.
- Keep your pantry well-stocked with imperishable items like pasta, rice, nuts, spices, and some flavorful oils. A half-empty pantry means far fewer cooking options.
- More than learning recipes, the most valuable cooking skills to master involve learning to make stir-fries, roasted vegetables, soups, salads, and sandwiches. All of these foods can be improvised in innumerable ways.
- Make sure that your very first cookbook is geared to simple, easy recipes. You can find the best of these titles listed in “Easy Everyday Cookbooks” section of our Vegan Cookbooks page.
- Seek your vegan cooking inspiration from different cuisines from around the world. Mexican food is the easiest vegan-friendly cuisine to explore, so start with that.
Above all, have confidence and always be open to trying new ideas. Just a little practice can enable you to reliably prepare delicious vegan meals on the cheap. And it’s great to know that, when you do your own cooking, you’ll never have to worry if some milk or chicken stock found its way into your food.
Cooking might be the easiest life-changing skill you’ll ever learn. With just a little practice and exploration, you’ll be on your way to becoming an accomplished vegan cook.