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Easy Vegan Substitutions

On Log On & Eat with Eden Grinshpan, Eden travels the country to meet the most outrageous and original food bloggers and social media stars who invite her to devour their favorite dishes. We connected with them to pick their brains and score some exclusive advice and tips.

Every non-vegan in the world seems to be asking: “What are a bunch of easy substitutions I can use to make vegan versions of the dishes I love and have them taste exactly the same?”

I have some good news and some bad news for you: Sometimes it works perfectly, and sometimes a substitution can be great but just different than the taste of the meat or dairy it’s trying to emulate.

First, substitutions that taste great but not necessarily exactly the same:

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Meatless Monday: Sesame Eggplant With Tofu

eggplant with tofu

Meatless Monday is a global movement, a way of life. It’s not a campaign to turn everyone in the world vegetarian or vegan; in fact, many involved are meat-lovers. Eating less meat has been proven to reduce the risk of disease, curb obesity and has important environmental impacts, too. Will you join us in giving up meat, just for one day a week?

Some people assume that vegetarians eat nothing but tofu. Tofu and plain lettuce. Maybe some vegetarians chow down on bean curd all day long, but for me, it’s one meatless protein that I do eat along with beans and nuts and dairy and all of that good stuff. But contrary to the belief of many, I did not stop eating meat so I could subsist on tofu alone.

That said, I do like tofu if it’s prepared properly. Tofu isn’t difficult to cook, but on its own it doesn’t taste great (it doesn’t taste like anything, actually), but it does absorb the flavors of spices, sauces or marinades quite well. You can add it to a stir-fry and it will take on the flavors of soy sauce, garlic and ginger. Add it to a Thai or Indian curry and it will soak up the richly-flavored sauce. You can fry it to a crisp, French-fry-style, or slather it with barbecue sauce. Add tofu to soup and it will absorb the flavors of the broth and add interesting texture to your bowl.

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Meatless Monday: Spicy Thai Sweet Potato-Ginger Soup

sweet potato soup

Isn’t soup the best? It warms you up when it’s freezing outside, it’s easy to make, it’s a great way to clean out the fridge (you really can throw any old vegetables sitting in the crisper into your current soup of the day) and you can make a big batch at the beginning of the week and eat it for lunch or dinner (or breakfast if you’re into that) for days. Some soups — those spiced with cumin or ginger especially — taste even better after a few days. Bobby Deen’s Thai Sweet Potato Soup is one such soup. Make a pot tonight and enjoy a steaming bowl when it’s done, then pack some for lunch tomorrow. After the flavors of the curry paste, ginger and garlic have a chance to meld overnight, your soup will taste even more amazing tomorrow — so much so that you might want it for dinner again.

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Meatless Monday: Red Lentil Salad

lentil salad

Meatless Monday is a global movement, a way of life. It’s not a campaign to turn everyone in the world vegetarian or vegan; in fact, many involved are meat-lovers. Eating less meat has been proven to reduce the risk of disease, curb obesity and has important environmental impacts, too. Will you join us in giving up meat, just for one day a week?

Dried beans can take a long time to cook (dried black beans, chick peas, kidney, etc.), but lentils are a surprisingly quick-cooking legume. They’re also a great, healthy addition to a vegetarian’s pantry; lentils provide protein and complex carbohydrates, and they’re full of fiber to keep you satisfied longer. Plus they’re super inexpensive, so you get major bang for your buck (less than a buck in most cases.)

A cheap, healthy, filling, vegetarian protein source? Sounds like a dream come true, right? But how do they taste? Lentils taste bean-like, but are pretty mild and take on the flavor of the sauce or spices they’re cooked in. Their texture is pretty bean-y but they hold their disc-like shape well (unless they’re cooked for a long time, like in lentil soup). They’re a staple in Indian and Mediterranean cooking and work well in stews, soups, curries and salads made with grains, vegetables or just lentils.

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Meatless Monday: Stuffed Peppers

Bal Arneson's potato-and-rice stuffed peppers.

American stuffed peppers are usually packed with ground meat and rice or breadcrumbs, sometimes covered in tomato sauce, and baked till they’re tender. But the American way isn’t the only way; stuffed peppers are common across the globe — in Mexico, Chiles Rellenos are poblano peppers stuffed with cheese, then battered and fried. The Spanish stuff their peppers too, often the piquillo variety, filling them with rice, manchego cheese, cod or beef, and in India, peppers are stuffed with mashed potatoes, onions and spices. Spice Goddess Bal Arneson adds brown rice to mashed potatoes in her Indian-spiced stuffed peppers, making them a filling meal and a great way to use up leftover rice or mashed potatoes.

The recipe calls for pomegranate powder — you can find that in Indian markets, health and specialty foods stores or online. If you can’t find pomegranate powder, use a squeeze of lime juice instead, but if you do buy it, also try it in Bal’s Vegetarian Burgers, or add a teaspoon to a fruit smoothie.

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The Veg Edge Makes an Encore

Julie Hasson and Native Bowl food truck in Portland.

Cooking Channel special The Veg Edge shows vegetarians and vegans — food truck owners, chefs and restaurateurs — as adventurous, flavor-loving food people rather then the rabbit food-gnawing, red paint-on-fur-throwing, protein-deficient activists some people consider them to be.

When we first announced the show on our Facebook page, a pretty healthy debate was sparked about the merits of a meat-free lifestyle (and a cooking show dedicated to it). Here are some highlights:

Jesse Lynne: I seriously can’t wait, I’m going on 3 years of being a veg-head and i was wishing for a cooking show just for vegetarians! THANK YOU!!!!!

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Resolution-Friendly Restaurants

Does this squash soup look like diet food? At Rouge Tomate in New York, there's a nutritionist on staff to ensure that each dish is balanced and healthy.

The simple act of going out for dinner can be a total resolution-buster. Even if you think you’re ordering wisely, that virtuous-sounding fish entrée might be bathed in butter and loaded with more calories than you should consume in an entire day. So where can you go to be sure they’re not finishing every dish with a generous dose of cream or butter back there in the kitchen?

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On Tonight: The Veg Edge

Husband-and-wife team Mike and Danielle Wood run the Vegan Yacht in Austin, TX.

The spunky chefs, restaurateurs and food truck owners featured on The Veg Edge prove that vegetarian and vegan food offers way more than tofu and wheatgrass. In Austin, Texas, this adorable couple runs the Vegan Yacht, where people line up for the mock chicken sammie even though the truck next door sells cheesesteaks and hot dogs.

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Pix Potluck — Sweet Vegan Cupcakes

Vegan Cupcake from Happy Little Vegans

Vegan Cupcake from Happy Little Vegans

With a long holiday weekend on the horizon and the launch of Cooking Channel in ONE WEEK, we wanted to start Monday on a sweet note…

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