Tonight I’m attending a fundraiser for Sumatran Wildlife Sanctuary, an organization that works to protect and conserve more than 50 hectares of rainforest land in Sumatra. This land, and the wildlife that calls it home, are all endangered due in large part to the palm oil industry.

Palm oil. It’s the problem vegans don’t like to talk about, because palm-based margarine and oils make or lives so much more “normal,” and avoiding them is a challenge. (It’s also prevalent in non-vegan foods – start reading labels and you’ll see it everywhere.)  Lots of products now claim to use “sustainably sourced” palm oil, but many vegans are choosing to opt out altogether.

I’ve noticed this problematic ingredient most often in vegan pantry staples such as cheese and margarine so I thought I’d dedicate today’s Friday Five to some ways you can make those items at home.

1. Vegan Cheese

Honestly just buy it. Trust me.

Making your own cheese sounds terrifying, I know. But with the right recipes and a few simple ingredients it really is possible. Rather than re-writing a bunch of things that have already been written, I’m going to link you to some excellent resources. The first of which is Artisan Vegan Cheese by Miyoko Schinner of Miyoko’s Creamery fame. If you’re lucky, you can buy her cheese and vegan butters in a Whole Foods Market near you, but do yourself a favor and get this book. The recipes are easy (I promise) and none of the ingredients are difficult to sources thanks to the Internet.

Now here are some vegan cheese recipes anyone can make:

  • Vegan Nacho Cheese Sauce – nutritional yeast, cashews, and a handful of other ingredients come together to spice up your nachos and tacos. Refrigerate and use it as a cheesy spread on sandwiches, or as a base for your cheeseless pizza.
  • Cheddar Sauce – Another nooch-based cheese that is liquid when hot and spreadable when cold. Makes awesome mac n ‘cheese and tastes awesome on veggie burgers.
  • Vegan Mozzarella – This is similar to a buffalo mozz, meaning it’s not going to melt or stretch, and in my opinion, it’s best served cold. This recipe was adapted from one of Miyoko’s, and in her book you can also find recipes for cheese that will, in fact, melt and stretch.

That’s just a handful to get started – but cheese lovers take note: you can recreate literally every cheese. I’ve even seen creepy, moldy, vegan versions of blue cheese. The sky’s the limit.

Food Hack: In a pinch, I’ve replaced cheese with other fats like avocados. I know that sounds hella vegan of me, but it’s true. Try avocado, basil and tomato on crusty bread, drizzle it with balsamic and tell me it isn’t just as good as traditional caprese.

2. Non-Dairy Butter

Eventually every vegan adds one entire bucket of coconut oil to his or her Amazon cart.

This is the biggest struggle for a lot of vegans – what can you use besides store-bought margarine that is typically made with palm oil and loads of other oils that are probably not so great to eat? Listen, I’m not going to tell you that I don’t still buy Earth Balance, but there are some other options I’ve tried that I can recommend:

  • Artisan vegan butter – Yeah, it’s Miyoko again. What can I say? She knows her stuff. This recipe calls for refined coconut oil, which doesn’t taste very much like coconut at all, whipped together with a few other ingredients you can easily find in health food stores. In addition to spreading it on toast, you can actually bake with it!

I’m filing frosting under “butter” because it’s the question I get most often when I start lamenting the evils of palm oil. But how can I make vegan buttercream? The answer is, it’s never going to be the same, but if you’re willing to adapt to a new flavor and texture, there are a few solutions I’ve tried and liked.

  • Tofu frosting – It’s better than it sounds? This recipe is easy to mess with to make it exactly the way you like it. And tofu doesn’t taste like anything, it just provides texture.
  • Coconut oil – Again, use refined so it doesn’t taste (as much) like coconut. Note that this frosting will melt SO FAST if it gets warm so keep it chilled!
  • Cashew icing – Not the cheapest icing you will ever make, but a little goes a long way.

Food Hack: If you tend to use margarine (or butter) to add a little fat, salt and flavor to things – for instance grilled cheese – you can easily substitute other fats and add a dash of salt. I grill thick slices of bread with a drizzle of olive oil and just a sprinkle of salt and I don’t miss the butter at all.

3. Egg Substitutes

A few years ago I made a free download that contains a lot of these, but as a refresher – there are lots of ways to replace eggs in various recipes. Some of the packaged ones might contain some questionable ingredients, so here are some homemade options:

  • Tofu  – Duh? But seriously, you can scramble it for breakfast, use it in baking, whip it into dressing. I always have tofu in it least three forms in my house.
  • Aquafaba – The cooking liquid from chickpeas (or other mild-flavored beans) replicates egg whites so well it’s scary. There’s lots of info on the internet about how to use it, but again, it’s a cheap and easy solution to a lot of vegan conundrums.
  • Flax eggs – Mix some ground flax and warm water and you’ll get a goopy substance that acts as a binder in heartier recipes like brownies and breads.
  • Bananas – You can replace 1 egg with 1/2  mashed banana in lots of recipes, just know that it’s going to taste like banana.
  • Non-dairy yogurt – You can also make this at home, but I kind of think yogurt is gross so I don’t consider it a staple personally. Either way, 1/4 cup can replace 1 egg in a lot of baking recipes.

Food hack: If you’re using aquafaba or tofu to substitute eggs in a recipe where eggs are normally the star (think breakfast sandwiches or quiche) consider adding a dash of Hawaiian Black Salt. It smells “eggy” – so much so that Teno and Tony both yell at me when I use it.

4. Meatless Meat

A lot of new vegans find themselves spending the bulk of their grocery budget on faux meats, and not only are they inexpensive to make at home, but you can avoid the whole conflict between wanting to buy Beyond Meat burgers but not wanting Tyson to get 20% of the money (one example – start digging and you’ll get super bummed super fast about how many vegan “meat” brands have tested on animals or are secretly owned by animal agriculture brands). Here are some easy versions you can make at home:

  • Seitan – I hesitate to say it’s like making bread because then people are like, “Oh my god, I can’t make bread!” But really, it’s easy. Stir things together, cook the things, eat the thing. Plus once you’ve figured out the texture you like, just switch up the seasonings to make chick’n, Thanksgiving “turkey,” etc.
  • Chickpea seitan – Like seitan, but a bit less of a gut-bomb, in my opinion. Another easy one to make and to switch up the flavors.
  • Tempeh – A bit more complicated to make yourself, but as far as questionable ingredients are concerned, I’ve yet to find a store-bought tempeh that had anything in it that made me question whether or not I should buy it.

Food Hack: OK now is the part where I get super vegan and annoying on you, but get this through your head – vegetables are good. You don’t need “fake meat” to eat a satisfying meal. There are lots of whole veggies (and even fruits) that can be prepared similarly to meat – try jackfruit, cauliflower, or mushrooms.

5. Creamy Condiments

vegan ranch dressing recipeAnother area of the supermarket where palm oil tends to lurk is in the pre-made salad dressings, mayos and vegan sour creams. But those are all really easy to make at home, so here are my favorite subs:

  • Vegan sour cream – Yes, it does call for a lot of cashews but if you buy them in bulk it’s not so bad and plus, how much friggin’ sour cream are you eating?
  • Vegan mayo – I like this recipe because it calls for aquafaba, which makes sense because real mayo is made from eggs.
  • Creamy salad dressings and dips – Surprise! You just learned how to make them. Just add your favorite spices and seasonings to either of the above two recipes and you’ll have creamy ranch dressing and yummy onion dip in no time.
  • If you feel more comfortable with a recipe, this one for vegan ranch dressing is easy and tasty.

Food hack: Sorry to keep doing this to you, but in a pinch avocado strikes again! Mash one into your salad or blend it up with some lime juice and seasonings for dips.

Bonus: Milk & Cream

Listen, I’ve made my own nondairy milks and coffee creamer a few times and just not found it to be worth the effort – but I totally understand why someone would want to. A lot of the easy to find and affordable store-bought options are owned by some truly shitty companies. So here are some options:

  • Coconut oat vanilla coffee creamer – Kathy Hester is the queen of DIY vegan solutions, especially when it comes to coffee.
  • Nut milk – Heh. You can make milk from pretty much any nut and they all work kind of the same way.
  • Yogurt – I mentioned before that I don’t consider this a staple because I think yogurt is gross, but for those of you who do, well, here you go.

So there you go – way more than five, but kind of five vegan pantry staples you can make yourself. Enjoy!