Lecture 8: Recipe Construction

Required: Vegan in Volume: pages 28-29, page 43, Appendix A
Recommended: Review some of your favorite recipes in both books, looking at the different construction of consumer (Simply Vegan) and quantity (Vegan in Volume) recipes

***********Working on those projects??***********

By the end of this lecture, the student should be able to:
1. Differentiate between consumer and quantity recipes
2. Suggest vegetarian ingredient substitutions for animal product ingredients

Small and Large
Recipes are the guide books of the kitchen. Without them food usually can't be produced and it certainly can't be reproduced. I once worked in a small hospital kitchen with a cook names Delores. Delores was mean, secretive and had been there forever. She protected her job by keeping all the recipes for the menus in her head. She never wrote down anything—not even the food orders! The two weeks that Delores took for vacation every year were a disaster. No one could make anything the way Delores could. Delores, was, of course, delighted with this situation.

If you haven't worked with a Delores, then we're sure you have a favorite relative or friend who prepares a favorite food. He or she won't write down the recipe and you just can't figure out how to make the dish as well. Unfortunately, if they move away, you'll never have that dish, prepared that way, again.

So, insist on recipes! Follow people around the kitchen with a measuring cup or scale and weigh everything as they cook. Do what it takes, it will pay off in the end.

Consumer recipes differ from quantity recipes. Consumer recipes usually are meant for 2-6 servings, where quantity recipes could begin at 20 and end with 1000! Consumer recipes usually have the following information: title of recipe, number of portions or yield, ingredients and procedures. More detailed consumer recipes may include a list of equipment and serving suggestions.

Quantity recipes usually include: title of recipes, portions and yields (sometimes they have columns for two or three different yields, such as portions for 20 and 50), ingredients (described very specifically), procedures, equipment settings, serving suggestions, safety and sanitation suggestions and garnishing suggestions. Quantity recipes are meant to be reproduced. Most customers will return to a food service establishment because they like the way the food looks and tastes. This can only happen if recipes are well written and followed.

By the way, if you need to change the number of portions or the yield for a recipe, we've included that information in Vegan in Volume (pg 28-29). This is invaluable info, and we've supplied it to many a caterer. Now you have the industry secret. You can also use it to expand consumer recipes, for example, if you have a recipe that serves four and you want to serve 15 at your next holiday dinner.

This for That
If you have non-vegetarian recipes that you'd like to make vegetarian, we suggest that you review page 43, which has a list of soy substitutions. You'll also want to make a note to read the article on Vegan Baking on page 233-234. In Lecture 15, we've included a list of vegan options for traditional holiday foods. You'll find this useful as well.

Many vegan ingredients can be "swapped" easily. For example, cooked beans can be added in place of poultry pieces in soups. Sliced fake meats can be substituted in equal amounts as meat. Sliced soy cheese can be exchanged for sliced dairy cheese and soy yogurt and soy cream cheese function the same as their dairy counterparts.

Soy milk can be used in place of dairy milk. Except, soy milk does not like high or intense heat as much as dairy milk does. If you add soy milk to hot liquids, it will appear to curdle. You simply have to stir vigorously to remedy this situation. Just don't get discouraged and discard your soup or dessert- just stir hard! Rice milk can be slightly sweet, so you can exchange it for dairy milk in desserts and other sweet preparations. Use soy milk, when possible, for savory or spicy dishes.

Soy or fake meats that are meant to resemble sausage, ground beef or bacon do not necessarily function like their animal counterparts. You'll have to experiment with different brands to obtain the product you want. For example, a soy "ground round" may not hold together well enough to make a burger or loaf. You may have to play with binders, such as mashed potatoes, mashed beans or pureed tofu, or you may elect to find another product.

Tofu can sometimes be exchanged equally for animal products and sometimes it can't. This depends on the recipe. For example, you can use the same amount of silken tofu for the mayonnaise in a salad dressing. But if you are trading tofu for eggs in a baking recipe, then you'll have to do a little experimenting. Okara, which is a byproduct of tofu production (see Vegan in Volume for more info), can be used in place of cottage cheese for sweet recipes, but will not work all that well for savory recipes. Okara has a short shelf life and may be difficult to locate. The up side is that it has a great texture and is a great vegan ingredient.

Baking recipes are always sensitive, as baking relies on the interaction of the ingredients with each other. If you are attempting to make a dairy recipe vegan, be sure to change only one ingredient at a time. That's the only sure way to know what worked and what didn't. Here are some vegan ingredients that you might try to exchange in baking recipes:

  1. for refined sugar or honey: Sucanat (a dry vegan sweetener), palm or turbinado sugar, maple syrup, orange or apple juice concentrate, fruit purees, applesauce
  2. for eggs: tofu, applesauce, pureed or mashed bananas, egg replacer (a dry product made by Ener-g Foods-
  3. for milk: soy, rice or grain milks, pureed tofu, fruit juices
  4. for butter or lard: vegetarian margarine, vegetable oil, fruit purees, apple sauce, pureed tofu, nut butters.

Remember, these ingredients are not just easily exchanged. You will have to work with them to obtain good baking results.

There will be times, of course, when you will have to make a decision about not converting a recipe at all, but rather, to make a suggestion for an alternative food. For example, a walnut pate can be substituted fairly acceptably for a meat pate, especially served with the appropriate condiments. However, trying to create a vegan eggs benedict might present a bit of a challenge. The English muffin is fine. You could probably grill tofu to replace the poached egg, use a breakfast-flavored fake meat to replace the Canadian bacon and you could create a sort-of Hollandaise sauce with margarine and egg replacer, but I really wouldn't want to try it. I think I would offer a tofu florentine, which could be a piece of grilled tofu on a bed of freshly steamed spinach with a creamy lemon-tofu sauce. You'll have to make the call if a recipe will maintain its integrity if a lot of the ingredients are replaced.

Seitan and tempeh can be used in place of grilled meats in some recipes. You can create fajitas or fillings for burritos or enchiladas with seitan or tempeh. You may even be able to find them in different flavors, so you can offer different types of fillings. Mushrooms can also be used in place of meat pieces, especially portobello mushrooms. Portobellos have a particularly "meaty" texture and can be marinated and grilled or roasted, just like meat.

We haven't addressed ingredients that function in both the vegetarian and non-vegetarian worlds, such as fresh or dried herbs and spices, fresh, frozen, canned or dried fruit and vegetables, fruit and vegetable juice, fresh, canned, frozen or dried beans, egg-less pasta, rice, grains, etc. You won't need to modify recipes for these ingredients. Of course, you always want to read the label to be sure you are using vegetarian ingredients. For example, be sure that fruit juices are not sweetened with sugar or that artificial colors are vegetarian (you have info on this in both books).

The major rule of the recipe game is this:
1a. Always start with small batches and work your way up to the final large batch and
1b. Always try a recipe THREE times before you rely on it for a special event. Thanksgiving morning is not the time to try out a new pumpkin custard pie recipe.

1a is self-explanatory. You don't want to waste the food trying a recipe for twenty. It's also easier to make corrections with small amounts of ingredients.
On the other hand, you might think that if you purchase a reliable recipe book, that the recipes have been tested. This could be true. Or it might not (there are no cookbook police). In addition, you might be using different equipment than that used to test the recipes, you might be using measuring cups rather than a scale (liquid versus solid measure makes a big difference) or you just might not care for the results. NEVER use a recipe for an important event before you've tested it!!!

This has been a short introduction to the use of recipes and how to make them vegetarian. You have a great number of wonderful vegetarian recipes in your two books. If you would like to see how the "pros" modify recipes to make them vegetarian, pick up a copy of Vegetarian Times magazine. There is a column called "Recipe Redux" where omnivorous recipes are changed to vegetarian recipes (not always vegan); the recipes are usually lower in fat as well.

Now you understand recipes - on to the menu!

VRG Home | About VRG | Vegetarian Journal | Books | Vegetarian Nutrition
F.A.Q. | Subscribe to Journal | Game | Vegetarian Family | Nutshell | VRG-News
Recipes | Travel | What's New | Bulletin Board | Veg Kids | Search | Links

  The Vegetarian Resource Group Logo 1996- The Vegetarian Resource Group
PO Box 1463, Baltimore, MD 21203
(410) 366-8343 Email:


Last Updated
January 23, 2001

Graphic design by Leeking Ink

The contents of this web site, as with all The Vegetarian Resource Group publications, is not intended to provide personal medical advice. Medical advice should be obtained from a qualified health professional.

All contents of these lectures are copyright Chef Nancy Berkoff and The Vegetarian Resource Group.

Web site questions or comments? Please email