Cooking and Baking

Help Me Help My Vegan Friends

The son of a friend of my family was recently badly injured in a car accident. To help our friends through this horrible time, my family has committed to cook for them, so that they can focus on his recovery. We're a family of Southern cooks, so comforting people with food is what we do. Except there's one problem: They are vegans.

I am decidedly not a vegan. The problem that I'm running into is that 95% of the time when I cook I'm not following a recipe. I'm usually very good at imagining a dish and making it happen. But I'm finding that too many of my go-to flavor tricks involve animal products; stock, bacon, butter, cheese.

So, when I come up with a good vegan recipe idea, e.g. quinoa roasted vegetable "lasagna" I soon realize that I don't know how to replace the salty-umami of Parmesan or the qualities that a little butter adds to tomato sauce. So the dish ends up flat. Like it's missing something. Which it is. Obviously there are vegan "versions", like vegan cheese, but they aren't great.

I feel like there are probably better complementary ingredients I could be using that aren't pretending to be something they are not.

Kevin Liu's recent series on replacing the core qualities alcohol in "mocktails", got me thinking: Are there some vegan friendly ingredients that can serve as "flavor bombs" to enhance and fine-tune vegan dishes? To add; saltiness, creaminess, smokiness, umami, and so on, when it's what a dish needs.

Any vegans out there with helpful thoughts?

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