Vegetarian Journal's Foodservice Update

Vegetarian Journal's Foodservice Update
Healthy Tips and Recipes for Institutions
Volume X, Number 4     Autumn 2002

Making Non-Vegetarian Dishes Vegan-Friendly

By Nancy Berkoff, EdD, RD, CCE

A matter of this for that: So many dishes these days can be turned into vegetarian delights. Along with a good sense of creativity, sometimes all a chef needs is knowledge about and availability of reliable, tasty substitutes. Maybe the idea has struck you to “veganize” some of your non-vegetarian recipes and you’re wondering how to begin the conversion. You should first look closely at the ingredients of the recipe in question and consider how successful a switch could be.

Recipes that are easy to reproduce usually include the title, portions and yields, ingredients (described specifically), procedures, equipment settings, and suggestions for serving, safety, sanitation, and garnishing. Most customers will return to a food service establishment because they like the way the food looks and tastes. This consistency will only happen if recipes are clear and followed precisely.

The Value of Written Recipes

I once worked in a small hospital kitchen with a cook named Delores, who kept her job by refusing to share the menus’ recipes with others. The two weeks Delores took vacation time were a disaster. No one could make anything the way Delores did; this situation, of course, delighted her! If you haven’t worked with a Delores, surely you have a relative or friend who also declines to write down a favorite recipe you can’t figure out how to replicate. So, insist on recipes! Follow people around the kitchen with a measuring cup or scale; do what it takes to preserve a good dish.

This for That

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

Soymilk can be used instead of dairy milk, but soymilk does not like high or intense heat as much as dairy milk does. If you add soymilk to hot liquids, it will appear to curdle. Stirring vigorously will remedy this situation. Rice milk can be slightly sweet, so you can exchange it for dairy milk in desserts and other sweet preparations. Use soymilk, 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. For example, a soy “ground round” may not hold together well enough to make a burger or loaf. You’ll have to experiment with different brands to obtain the product you want. You may have to play with binders, such as mashed potatoes, mashed beans, or puréed tofu, or you may elect to find another product. Offer a soyrizo fresh corn tamale or a soyrizo and tofu quiche, flavored with veggie ground round or fake sausage crumbles. Soyrizo is distributed by both Frieda’s Inc. and Melissa’s.

Tofurky and Field Roast are two fake meat products that very closely resemble their meat counterparts. They can be sliced, sauced, grilled, or roasted, and served hot or cold.

Tofu is sometimes interchangeable with animal products and sometimes it isn’t. A successful exchange depends on the recipe. For example, you can use the same amount of silken tofu for mayonnaise in a salad dressing. But if you are trading tofu for eggs as a binder in a baking recipe, then you’ll have to do a little experimenting. Okara, which is a byproduct of tofu production, can be used in place of cottage cheese for sweet recipes, but will not work well for savory recipes. (Okara has a short shelf-life and may be difficult to locate, but the upside is that it has a great texture and is a versatile vegan ingredient. To find information on okara visit Many Asian markets sell fresh okara.)

Baking recipes are always sensitive, since 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.

Here are some vegan ingredients that you might try to exchange in baking recipes:

  1. for refined sugar or honey: Succanat (a dry vegan sweetener), turbinado sugar, maple syrup, orange or apple juice concentrate, fruit purées, applesauce
  2. for eggs: tofu, applesauce, puréed or mashed bananas, Egg Replacer (a dry product made by Ener-G Foods.
  3. for milk: soy, rice or grain milks, puréed tofu, fruit juices
  4. for butter or lard: vegan margarine, vegetable oil, fruit purées, applesauce, puréed tofu, nut butters

(Remember, these ingredients are not meant to be exchanged without testing.)

There will be times you should make the decision not to convert a recipe, but suggest an alternative food. For example, a walnut paté can be substituted fairly successfully for a meat paté, especially served with appropriate condiments. However, trying to create a vegan Eggs Benedict might present a challenge. The English muffin is fine and 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 with margarine and egg replacer, but a better idea is a different dish. Instead try 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 when a majority of ingredients must be 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 these products in different flavors, so you can offer different types of fillings. Mushrooms can also be substituted for meat chunks. Portobellos especially have a particularly “meaty” texture and can be marinated and grilled or roasted, just like meat.

Many ingredients 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 juices, fresh, canned, frozen, or dried beans, eggless pasta, rice, grains, etc.. You won’t need to modify recipes using these ingredients.

The major rules of the recipe conversion game are:

  1. Always start with small batches and work your way up to the final large batch. (You don’t want to waste food trying a recipe for twenty. It’s also easier to make corrections with small amounts.)
  2. 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 vegan pumpkin custard pie recipe.)

Recipe Math 101

We have been asked many times how to change the number of portions or the total yield of a recipe. The following information could be invaluable in terms of saving time, money, and frustration.

Let’s say you have a soup recipe with a yield of 3 gallons and you need to make 10 gallons. You could “eyeball” the recipe, triple it, and add a little more. It might work, since soup recipes may not be that sensitive. If the soup comes out too thin, you can thicken it. If it comes out too thick, you can thin it. Of course, you’ll then have to adjust the seasonings and some of the ingredients. You might wind up with too much or too little.

“Eyeballing” a recipe or guessing how much to change recipes rarely works well. Sensitive recipes, such as baking recipes or recipes that require a balance of spices, don’t translate well when you add an additional pinch here or an extra can there.

A note of caution about using conversions with baking recipes: The converted amounts don’t always work. You’ll have to do the mathematical conversion and then work with the recipe to make it an exact fit. Remember that baking recipes are akin to chemical formulas and rely on fairly exact interactions between ingredients. If you convert a baking formula, do a test run before putting it on the menu.

The following is a conversion formula that will allow you to increase or decrease recipe yields without the guesswork:
1. Divide the yield you want (the new yield) by the recipe’s given yield (the original yield). It makes no difference if you are increasing or decreasing the new amount. You use the same procedure.
2. The number you have just arrived at is called the “conversion factor.” Simply multiply every ingredient by the conversion factor to get the new amount of each ingredient. For example, if the original recipe has 10 portions, but you need 15, just divide 15 by 10 (original into new) to get the conversion factor, which is 1.5. So, if the original recipe called for 3 pounds of tomatoes, the new amount would be 4 pounds 8 ounces (3 pounds tomatoes x 1.5 = 72 ounces or 4 pounds 8 ounces).

What if only portion numbers are listed on a recipe you would like to change? You need to take two steps to find the yield of the recipe and then proceed as explained above. You find the yield (so you can get the conversion factor) by multiplying original portions times the portion size (25 4-ounce portions becomes 100 ounces or a 6 pound 4 ounce yield). Do the same for the new amount you desire (for example, 30 5-ounce portions becomes 150 ounces or 9 pounds 6 ounces for the new yield). Then proceed as above. This might sound like a lot of numbers, but once you’ve done this several times, it will be easy.

Sample Recipe Conversion -- Going Up!

You have your aunt’s wonderful marinara sauce recipe, which has a yield of 1 quart (32 ounces). You would like to make 5 gallons (128 ounces x 5 or 640 ounces). To get the conversion factor, divide 640 ounces by 32 ounces. The answer is 20. This is your conversion factor and you will multiply every ingredient by 20 to get the new amount.

Original Recipe Amount x Conversion Factor = New Recipe Amount
(1 quart total)   (5 gallons total)
8 ounces tomato purée x 20 160 ounces (or 1 gallon 1 quart)
4 ounces tomato paste x 20 80 ounces (or 1/2 gallon 1 pint)
10 ounces vegetable stock x 20 200 ounces (or 1-1/2 gallons 1 cup)
4 ounces minced onions x 20 80 ounces (or 5 pounds)

Sample Recipe Conversion -- Going Down!

Your uncle has a wonderful hash brown potato recipe he learned in the army. His recipe makes about 75 pounds. You only need 10 pounds. So, divide 75 into 10. The answer is 0.13 (rounding the answer). This is your conversion factor for all the ingredients.

Original Recipe Amount x Conversion Factor = New Recipe Amount
(75 pounds)   (10 pounds)
60 pounds peeled potatoes x 0.13 = 7.8 pounds (or 7 pounds 14 ounces)
3 pounds minced onions x 0.13 = 0.40 pounds (or 7 ounces)
1 pound flour x 0.13 = 0.13 pounds (or 1-1/2 ounces)
1 quart vegetable oil (32 ounces) x 0.13 = 3-1/2 ounces

Measurement Refresher

A. Liquids
1 cup = 8 ounces
1 pint = 2 cups or 16 ounces
1 quart = 4 cups or 32 ounces or 2 pints
1/2 gallon = 8 cups or 64 ounces or 2 quarts or 4 pints
1 gallon = 128 ounces or 16 cups or 4 quarts or 8 pints
1 Tablespoon = 3 teaspoons
2 Tablespoons = 1 ounce

B. Solids
1 pound = 16 ounces
#8 scoop = 4 ounces
#10 scoop = 3-1/2 ounces
#12 scoop = 2-1/2 ounces
#16 scoop = 2 ounces
#32 scoop = 1 ounce

Less Salt, Please!

Many of your customers may express a need to cut back on salt. Salt is a fast way to add “zing” to foods. This “zing” can be achieved also with citrus (such as lemon or lime juice), interesting spice blends, or marinades. If you season grilled tofu with black and white pepper, garlic, onions, and basil, the salt will not be missed. Purchase spice blends or prepare your own to be used with tofu, tempeh, fake meats, and vegetables.

Canned foods are often high in sodium. You can purchase sodium-free frozen or fresh products to reduce the amount of salt. You can also make your own sodium-free stocks. Vegetable stock is a blend of mushrooms, carrots, onions, celery, black pepper, parsley, and thyme. Once or twice a week, make a large pot of stock. Strain, cool, and freeze it until you are ready to use it.

To create a fast, low-sodium and lowfat soup, prepare very thin (not chunky) mashed potatoes with fresh potatoes, vegan margarine, and lowfat soymilk. Sauté fresh mushrooms in a small amount of low-sodium stock and then add them to the potatoes. Add chopped green onions, white pepper, and a small amount of sherry and you have a low-sodium, lowfat “cream” of mushroom and potato soup. For variation, you can add thawed, drained frozen chopped spinach instead of the mushrooms, seasoned with nutmeg and ginger, or sauté celery or broccoli for a “cream” of celery or broccoli soup.

Low-Sodium This for That

Instead of Try
Canned Veggies Fresh, frozen, or dried veggies
Soy Sauce or Braggs Aminos Low-sodium soy sauce, vinegar, or wine
Bacon (for flavoring) Smoke flavor
Soup and Stock Bases Homemade low-salt stocks, puréed vegetables, or low-salt vegetable juices
Pickles (as garnish) Sliced, fresh crunchy veggies
Potato Chips/Snack Chips Sliced fresh potatoes, carrots, or beets roasted in an oven for homemade chips

A Note About Taking Out the Fat

Fat adds moisture, flavor, and texture to foods. Lowfat recipes do not need to be dry, tasteless, or boring. Remember to replace the fat you’ve taken out of recipes with other sources of flavor and texture. For example, a recipe for traditional meat sauce may include 60/40 ground beef (60% lean, 40% fat), Italian sausage, and oil. If you use soy crumbles or chopped Tofurky, you’ll reduce the fat, but also reduce the moisture and change the flavor. Sliced mushrooms, onions, and peppers, diced tomatoes, tomato purée, minced garlic, red wine, fresh or dried oregano and basil, and even diced fresh eggplant or zucchini add flavor and moisture without adding any fat.

Low Fat This for That

Instead of Try
Sour cream Lowfat plain soy yogurt or silken tofu
Butter (for sauces) Lowfat stock or vegetable purée
Butter (for baking) Apple sauce or apple juice concentrate
Butter (as a topping for potatoes) Salsa, minced vegetables, or soy yogurt
Oil (for sautéeing) Vegetable oil spray or vegetable stock
Oil (for salad dressings) Vegetable juice, puréed fruit, or vegetables (such as carrots or tomatoes)
Oil (as a cooking ingredient) Wine, stock, or puréed vegetables
Whipped cream (as a topping) Whipped tofu, sweetened with orange juice concentrate and vanilla or almond extract

Excerpts from the Autumn 2002 Issue:
Making Non-Vegetarian Dishes Vegan-Friendly
Food Service Hotline
Many Shades of Tofu
Vegetarian Quantity Recipes
Miso Tofu Brochettes with Pineapple
Three-Berry Frozen Tofu Custard
Tofu Sour Cream

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Last Updated
Aug. 11, 2004

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