When Kenji introduced the Vegan Experience, one of his goals was to prove that there's more to veganism than vegetable-protein substitutes that attempt, usually without much success, to mimic the flavors and textures of meat and dairy. Our focus in developing vegan recipes has instead been to highlight the strengths of vegetables, showing that plant-based foods can be delicious when you don't try to make them something they're not.
It's true that many faux meat and dairy products can be poor stand-ins for the real things, but when they're done well, vegan versions of animal-based ingredients or dishes can be plenty satisfying. The important thing is to not get caught up in trying to create exact reproductions—instead, we use familiar foods as a loose guide for versions that share some qualities with the originals, but ultimately taste great in their own right. That means vegan burgers packed with veggies and grains, smoky mushroom "bacon," an ingenious vegan cheese sauce made with potatoes and cashews, and more. Check out 15 of our very best vegan substitute recipes below.
Homemade Vegan Burgers That Don't Suck
A far cry from the sad veggie burgers you'll find in the freezer aisle, these patties are made with, well, a little of everything. Roasted mushrooms and eggplant sautéed with leeks, celery, and garlic give them lots of flavor, while barley, chickpeas, cashews, and panko provide bulk and texture.
Crispy Kung Pao Tofu
Instead of chicken, we use extra-firm tofu to soak up all the rich, spicy sauce in this beloved Sichuan classic. The key to getting the tofu cubes really crispy is using a batter made with both cornstarch and flour and bound with vodka, plus drying the cubes thoroughly before frying. In addition to the traditional peanuts and leeks, this recipe gets some extra vegetables in the form of crunchy celery and hot long green peppers.
The Best Vegan Nacho Cheese Sauce
It's hard to believe that vegan nacho cheese sauce can be as good as the real thing, but we'd put this recipe up against our dairy-based nacho cheese any day of the week. It gets its zesty flavor from jalapeño and chipotle peppers, cumin, garlic powder, and paprika; the rich, gooey texture comes from potatoes, cashews, almond milk, and plenty of vegetable shortening. Vegan doesn't have to mean healthy!
Vegan Chorizo for Omnivores
Chorizo is a perfect candidate for vegan-ification—with all of the chilies and other spices, you don't really taste the pork. The tricky part is nailing the texture. We use frozen tofu, tempeh, dehydrated lentils, and shortening to make a "chorizo" that, like our vegan burgers, cooks up just like its meat-based cousin.
Fully Loaded Vegan Queso Dip
Once you have vegan nacho cheese and vegan chorizo, the logical, and delicious, next step is to combine them into a vegan queso dip. We brown the chorizo in a pan before mixing it with the creamy cheese base, black beans, avocado, tomatoes, scallion, and cilantro. Honestly, if you don't tell your guests, no one will imagine that it's completely meat- and dairy-free.
The Ultimate Fully Loaded Vegan Nachos
Feeling like a whole plate of vegan nachos instead of just queso? We've got you covered. Nachos are the king of all customizable recipes—we like to top freshly fried tortilla chips with Vegetarian Bean Chili, chipotle-spiked Vegan Refried Beans, and a mess of bright and crunchy fresh vegetables.
Vegan Stovetop-Style Mac and Cheese
The same basic technique we use for our vegan nacho cheese sauce works for mac and cheese, too. We start with potatoes, cashews, almond milk, and shortening to make a rich, creamy sauce, but spice up the mix with powdered garlic, mustard, paprika, and tomato paste. The surprise secret ingredient is miso paste—a couple of teaspoons gives the sauce a nice savoriness.
Vegan Carbonara Pasta
Given that this Roman dish is defined by eggs, cheese, and bits of pork, carbonara is even harder to veganize than mac and cheese. We made it work by swapping the pork for king oyster mushrooms and the egg-based sauce for one made with tofu, miso paste, and nutritional yeast. Bringing in the flavor of the Pecorino Romano required getting creative—we used sauerkraut brine to mimic the cheese's lactic tang.
Dried Olive and Miso Shake (The Best Vegan Parmesan Substitute)
Just about every bowl of pasta is made better with a little Parmesan, right? In search of a dairy-free topping with the same slightly tangy, umami-rich kick, we came up with this intense mixture of olives, rosemary, miso, and lemon zest. Since the ingredients are all dehydrated, this condiment will last for a few months in the pantry.
Vegan Migas (Mexican-Style Fried Tortillas With Tofu)
We've never understood why so many vegan scramble recipes call for firm tofu, which ends up rubbery once you cook it (not exactly how we like our eggs, or our tofu). Soft or medium silken tofu will give you that custard-like consistency, and it's what we use in these "vigas," or vegan migas—scrambled eggs with tomatoes, onions, peppers, and freshly fried tortilla chips.
Turkish-Style Vegan Tofu Scramble (Vegan Menemen)
This vegan scramble is inspired by menemen, a Turkish dish made by slow-cooking onions and peppers with Urfa chilies, mixing in tomatoes and eggs, and topping it all with fresh parsley. With all those powerful flavors at work, replacing the eggs with tofu is an easy solution. To get the flavor right, you'll need those smoky Urfa chilies—they're probably not stocked at your local supermarket, but they're easy to buy online.
Crispy Vegan Smoked-Mushroom "Bacon"
More than just a meat replacement, this mushroom "bacon" has a life all its own. We make it with king oyster mushrooms—conveniently, they're just about the size of half strips of bacon—which we cook slowly in the oven until they're super crisp. To achieve the smoky notes of bacon, we finish these in a homemade smoker, cobbled together from tools you probably have in your kitchen.
Easy Vegan Mayonnaise (With Aquafaba)
This vegan mayonnaise recipe starts with an ingredient you might not expect: a can of chickpeas. The liquid in the can, known nowadays as "aquafaba," contains proteins and starches that make it a great egg replacement in some contexts. To make vegan mayo, just replace the egg in our standard mayo recipe with aquafaba and add a few chickpeas to help emulsify it. Armed with vegan mayo and bacon, you'll be ready to make an amazing vegan BLT as soon as tomato season hits.
Fully Loaded Vegan Baked Potato Soup
Here, we use the magically creamy base from our vegan nacho cheese to make a rich baked potato soup. Adding roasted cauliflower gives the soup a nutty flavor and creamy consistency. We like to top the hearty soup with broccoli florets, scallions, and our vegan mushroom "bacon" to give it lots of texture.
Vegan Cream of Mushroom Soup With Crispy Shiitake Chips
To make our vegan cream of mushroom soup as rich as the original, we use a trick that'll be familiar to anyone who's made gazpacho: We blend bread into the soup to act as an emulsifier. Cutting the cream and butter out of the recipe doesn't just make it vegan—without the dairy, the flavors are brighter and more pronounced.