various food questions

I am not vegan or vegetarian. I’m hoping to become a contestant on the Masterchef TV program and I need to learn a variety of cuisines and I think that should include vegan cuisine. I have some questions:

  • I use lard and butter (4 to 1 ratio) in my pie crusts to achieve a light flaky crust. What would you recommend as suitable substitutes?
  • I also use lard for frying. What oils would you recommend that have as high of a smoke point (400+ degrees)?
  • A favorite vegetable dish of ours is baked stuffed carrots. What vegan options are there to substitute for mayo?
  • I’ve never had tofu. How do you describe the flavor, texture, etc.

Thank you,


Coconut oil. It’s a saturated fat, and should be solid at room temperature. You can also use palm oil.

You can try Vegenaise®, made by the company ‘Follow your heart’.

You can also make your own, if you need a large quantity, or need it frequently. You can find recipes online for “home made vegenaise” or “vegan mayo”. You’ll have to experiment a little to get the methodology right.

If you buy silken tofu from a large chain: Like Jello, but softer so it smashes more easily. There are some kinds of very soft cheese that have a similar firmness, but silken tofu is more slippery.

That kind of tofu is generally regarded as inedible unless it has been deep fried, or blended up into a puree for use in recipes or desserts.

If you want good tofu, you will have to go to an Asian market. There they have dried and frozen tofu, which varies from spongy like moist bread, to rubbery like a cottage cheese, to rich and chewy like a firm loaf, to tender and flaky like Phyllo dough, or crispy like a fried egg-roll skin.

Occasionally, health food stores will have what they might call “high protein tofu” which is very dense and firm. You get the feeling that if you dropped it, it wouldn’t splatter everywhere, but might bounce more like meat. This kind of tofu is edible; it has a great springy texture with reasonable yield, particularly if stir-fried. Cooked properly, and with other ingredients such as in a fajita, one could easily mistake the texture for processed meat.

I would recommend, beyond those things, that you keep an eye out for TVP, also called TSP, which stands for Textured Vegetable Protein and Textured Soy Protein respectively. It’s die extruded soy protein which is left over from oil extraction (pretty much fat free, almost pure protein). It comes dried, and looks a bit like kibble or cereal. Rehydrated, it looks like couscous if it’s not coloured with anything.

Make a good stock with plenty of tomato paste, chilli, caramelized onion, molasses, and other spices, and use that to rehydrate the TVP- great filling for tacos, etc. If you’re talented with spices, it becomes practically impossible for an untrained palate to distinguish from ground beef.

Even if you’re not interested in being vegetarian or vegan, I’d recommend substituting in all (or at least part) of ground beef in any recipe with TVP to improve the nutritional qualities of the food (more protein, less fat, less cholesterol, etc.) without noticeable affect upon the outcome. Many of my omnivore friends are big fans of TVP (in part, because it’s easier to cook and clean up after than ground beef, and in part the lower caloric and saturated fat content- oh, and it’s also a cheaper by a bit and because it’s dried, it “never” goes bad).

One note with regards to coconut oil:
I advise not using it, because it is still saturated fat (it’s a little healthier than animal fats in some respects, but not by much).
Aim for healthier fats like Olive oil, and bake things instead of frying them where possible (brushing them with olive oil to brown them right before they’re finished baking- you don’t want to let the olive oil get too hot, but of course I’m sure you know that).

Regarding pie crusts: It’s hard to make a flaky crust without coconut or palm oil- and that is to say, it’s hard to make a flaky crust that’s healthy at all. My advice is to not worry too much about the crust; pies are about the filling, after all. Bready or more crumbly cookie-like crusts tend to go over just fine in my experience (and are much healthier, because you can nix the majority of the fat content).

While vegan cooking is technically only about the ethics of animal products (and there are plenty of fatty and unhealthy vegan foods out there), there’s also a large overlap with healthier cooking because of the natural tendency of vegan food to be healthier if we don’t go out of our ways to find things (like coconut oil) to make them less healthy by adding more saturated fats or frying at higher temperatures.

You can make vegan food every bit as fatty as any other food- but direct substitution isn’t really any kind of challenge. For me, the challenge in cooking is to make the healthiest food I can while still making it taste amazing (and that’s what takes real ingenuity).

EDIT: Hah, I just noticed that this site automatically parses links to forum sections from key words like “being vegetarian”. That’s interesting.