You’ve transitioned meat out from your cooking. You’re ramping up your veggie intake. But if you’ve been worried that eating vegan means giving up some of your favorite foods (oh, beloved Brie!) or spending your entire paycheck at the tiny organic market picking up ingredients you’ve never heard of (and can’t pronounce), prepare to have your mind blown by Dana Schultz.
As the blogger behind the mostly plant-based and gluten-free recipe site Minimalist Baker, she’s experienced firsthand just how easy it is to eat—and cook—vegan meals. Step one? Go with what you know. “Finding swaps for your favorite dishes is a great place to start, rather than going from steak to a block of tofu,” advises Shultz.
Whether you throw a veggie burger on the grill or replace the beef in your favorite chili with black beans, there’s a plant-based equivalent for just about every dish (even milkshakes!) In her new cookbook Minimalist Baker’s Everyday Cooking, Shultz focuses on simple plant-based recipes. “I choose ingredients that are approachable, try to keep my ingredients list to an absolute minimum, and keep time and equipment in mind,” she explains. And the ingredients? You probably have many of them at home already.
Nut milks are the perfect substitution for creamy sauces, while “flax eggs” (that would be 1 tablespoon of ground flax seeds mixed with 2.5 tablespoons of water) work their magic in your favorite baked goods. “My personal favorite is vegan parmesan cheese,” Shultz dishes. “It’s crazy close to the real thing and works wonders in Italian dishes.” Building a pantry of a few key ingredients makes plant-based cooking a breeze.
Shultz’s biggest word of advice for someone curious about changing her diet? “Don’t try to go for it all at once! Set a reasonable goal, like eating vegan or vegetarian twice a week, and increase the amount as it feels natural. It shouldn’t feel like drudgery, but rather something you’re excited about.”
Ready to go for it? These 3 popular dishes (hello, nachos!) get the vegan treatment—keep reading for the Minimalist Baker’s tips and recipes.
Hearty Cocoa Black Bean Burgers
This may just be my favorite veggie burger yet! I had long wondered if cocoa powder would work well in a smoky black bean burger, and I was seriously right in my suspicions. This burger is easy to make, loaded with healthy fats, protein, and fiber, and packed with diverse flavors thanks to a sultry blend of spices. Serve this to vegans and meat-eaters alike to satisfy that all-American burger craving.
1 cup raw walnuts
2-3 Tbsp grapeseed oil or avocado oil, divided
1⁄2 medium white onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic (1 1/2 Tbsp), minced
Pinch each salt + pepper, plus more to taste
1 Tbsp chili powder (reduce amount for less heat)
1 Tbsp ground cumin
3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder*
1 Tbsp coconut sugar (optional)
1 15-ounce can black beans, well rinsed, drained, + patted dry*
1 cup cooked quinoa*
1. Preheat oven to 350º F. Arrange walnuts on a baking sheet. Toast for 10 minutes, or until fragrant and light golden brown.
2. In the meantime, heat skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add 1 Tbsp oil, onion, and garlic. Season with a bit of salt and pepper and sauté for 4-5 minutes, or until onion is fragrant and translucent. Remove from heat and set aside.
3. Let walnuts cool slightly, then add to food processor or blender. Add chili powder, cumin, cocoa powder, a pinch each salt and pepper, and coconut sugar (optional). Blend well. Set aside.
4. Add drained black beans to large mixing bowl. Mash well with a fork, leaving only a few beans whole.
5. Add quinoa, nut-spice mixture, garlic and onion, and mix to combine. Mixture should have a moldable dough texture. If dry, add extra 1-2 Tbsp oil or a bit of water. If wet, add more walnut meal (or breadcrumbs). Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
6. Divide into 4 even patties. To help form, line a 1⁄2 cup measuring cup with plastic wrap and scoop out 1⁄2 cup amounts. Press to pack, then lift out and slightly flatten with hands so they are not as tall.
7. Heat the same skillet used earlier over medium heat. Once hot, add enough grape seed oil to form a thin layer on the bottom of the hot skillet (~2 Tbsp).
8. Carefully add burgers. Brown for 3-5 minutes on each side, flipping gently, and reducing heat if burger gets too brown.
9. Burgers can either be served as is, or they can be popped on a baking sheet and baked in a 375º F oven for an additional 10–20 minutes to dry/crisp them up a bit. But they are great as is! The longer they are baked, the drier/firmer they will become.
10. Cool for 2–3 minutes before serving (they will firm up as they cool).
11. Serve on toasted hamburger buns (gluten-free when necessary) with desired toppings. Leftovers keep in refrigerator for 2–3 days. See notes for freezing instructions.
*The cocoa is not an intense flavor, but can be reduced to play a smaller role in the burger. For a less prominent cocoa flavor, reduce cocoa powder by 1 Tbsp.
*If black beans are unsalted, add 1⁄4 tsp extra salt to burger mixture.
*For a simple burger sauce, mix 2 parts vegan mayonnaise and 1 part ketchup.
*To freeze, brown burgers on either side as instructed. Then cool completely and freeze on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 4–6 hours, or until firm. Transfer to a freezer-safe bag or container. Freeze for up to 1 month. Reheat in 375º Fahrenheit oven on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 20–30 minutes, or until warmed through.
Better-Than-Restaurant Vegan Nachos
I have created one version of vegan nachos on the blog, but wanted to upgrade it with my Best Ever 20-minute Vegan Queso, which does a stand-up job of mocking the flavor, texture, and mouthfeel of real cheese sauce! Toppings are versatile and plenty, and if you bake your own chips, this is actually a pretty healthy snack or meal.
20 yellow corn tortillas*, cut into small wedges
Nonstick cooking oil spray (for coating tortillas)
1⁄2 tsp sea salt
1 cup black beans (if unsalted, season with salt to taste)
1 batch Best Ever 20-Minute Vegan Queso (see below), warmed
1⁄4 cup black olives, diced (optional)
Pico De Gallo
1⁄4 cup cilantro, chopped
1⁄4 cup red onion, diced
1⁄2 cup tomato, diced
1 lime, juiced (2 Tbsp)
Pinch sea salt
1 ripe avocado
1 lime, juiced (2 Tbsp)
Pinch sea salt
1. Preheat oven to 375º Fahrenheit (skip step 1 if using store-bought chips*). Spray (or brush) tortillas with oil and season with salt. Toss to coat. Arrange on two baking sheets. Bake in batches for 10–12 minutes, flipping once halfway through to ensure even cooking. Set aside.
2. In the meantime, heat black beans in small saucepan over medium heat. Once simmering, reduce heat to low to keep warm, stirring occasionally.
3. Prepare pico de gallo by adding all ingredients to bowl. Toss to combine.
4. Add guacamole ingredients to small bowl. Mash to combine. Taste and adjust flavor.
5. To serve, add chips to large serving platter and top with queso, black beans, black olives (optional), pico de gallo, guacamole, and any other desired toppings, such as cilantro, salsa, or hot sauce.
*To save time, use 5–6 cups store-bought tortilla chips in place of the corn tortillas.
Best Ever 20-Minute Vegan Queso
3 Tbsp vegan butter (or sub grapeseed or avocado oil)
4 cloves garlic, minced (2 Tbsp)
1⁄4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour*
1 3⁄4-2 cups unsweetened plain almond or rice milk
1⁄2 cup nutritional yeast
1⁄2 tsp sea salt
1⁄4 tsp ground cumin
1⁄4 tsp chili powder
1 Tbsp maple syrup (or sub organic cane sugar)
1. Heat large skillet or saucepan over medium heat. Once hot, add butter and let melt and start to sizzle—about 1 minute.
2. Add minced garlic and stir to disperse. Cook for 1–2 minutes, stirring frequently, then turn down heat if garlic starts to brown too quickly.
3. Add flour 1 Tbsp at a time and whisk (see notes for gluten-free version). Cook for 1 minute, then whisk in almond milk 1⁄2 cup at a time until it no longer looks thick and lumpy—about 1 3⁄4 cups total.
4. Cook in skillet for 2 minutes, then transfer to high-speed blender. Add nutritional yeast, salt, cumin, chili powder, maple syrup, and hot sauce (optional). Blend on high until creamy and smooth.
5. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed, adding more nutritional yeast for extra cheesiness, salt for savoriness, sweetener for flavor balance, or dry spices for depth of flavor.
6. Transfer back to skillet or saucepan and simmer on low for 5 minutes, stirring often, to thicken.
7. Turn off heat and use a slotted spoon to add chunky salsa or diced tomatoes and chilies. Stir to combine.
8. Serve hot with chips, on burrito bowls, nachos, or enchiladas. Best when fresh, but will keep in refrigerator for up to 3-4 days. Reheat in microwave or in small saucepan until hot and bubbly.
*To keep this queso gluten-free, simply sub cornstarch or arrowroot starch for flour and proceed through recipe as instructed. It will look more clumpy initially, but when blended it works the same.
Deep Dish Pizza with Tofu Ricotta
Before going dairy-free, I made a deep dish pizza for the blog that has since become one of our most popular recipes. I wanted to make a vegan version for the cookbook, which is possible with vegan parmesan cheese and tofu ricotta. The crust gets golden and crispy in a cast iron skillet, tomato sauce adds a rich, sweet flavor, and the combination of vegan cheeses sends this dish over the top. Pizza night just got an upgrade.
1 store-bought vegan pizza dough
3⁄4 cup pizza sauce*
6 ounces extra firm tofu, drained and pressed for 10 minutes in a clean towel
1 1⁄2 lemons, juiced (~3 Tbsp)
2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
1 1⁄2 Tbsp olive oil
1⁄2 cup loosely packed fresh basil, chopped (or sub 1 Tbsp)
1 1⁄2 tsp dried oregano
Scant 1⁄2 tsp each sea salt and black pepper
6 Tbsp vegan parmesan cheese, divided
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly coat 12-inch cast iron skillet with enough olive oil to just coat the bottom. Run a garlic clove around the sides and bottom for extra seasoning (optional).
2. Measure out pizza sauce (or prepare, if making from scratch*), and set out pizza dough to soften.
3. To prepare tofu ricotta, add pressed tofu, lemon, nutritional yeast, olive oil, basil, oregano, salt and pepper, and vegan parmesan cheese (starting with 2 Tbsp) to food processor or blender.
4. Pulse to combine, scraping down sides as needed. The mixture should be semi-puréed, with bits of basil still intact. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed, adding more salt and pepper for flavor, nutritional yeast for cheesiness, and lemon juice for brightness. Set in the refrigerator to chill while preparing remaining ingredients.
5. Press pizza dough down into the prepared pan. Push it up around the sides about 1 1⁄2 inches and sprinkle in 2 Tbsp vegan parmesan cheese.
6. Add pizza sauce, then dot on tofu ricotta in 1 Tbsp amounts. There will likely be leftover ricotta filling, which can be used for future pizzas or other Italian dishes. Leftovers keep for 7-10 days in the refrigerator.
7. Top with remaining 2 Tbsp vegan parmesan cheese and bake on center rack for 25-30 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and the sauce is bubbly.
8. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving. Leftovers will keep covered in the refrigerator for 1-2 days, though best when fresh. Reheat leftovers on a bare baking sheet in a 350 degrees Fahrenheit oven until hot—about 10-15 minutes.
*Pizza sauce recipe: 3⁄4 cup tomato sauce + 1 tsp each dried basil, dried oregano, garlic powder, and organic cane sugar or maple syrup. Add sea salt to taste and whisk. You can also substitute one 6-ounce can tomato paste and 1 cup water for the tomato sauce.
Don’t forget dessert: These 3 low-sugar recipes feature 5-ingredients or less! Or for a post-dinner alternative, may we introduce you to the avocado margarita? (Yes, it’s a thing—and it’s delicious.)