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How to develop confidence with vegan cooking.

How to develop confidence with vegan cooking.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks to moving away from animal foods is a lack of familiarity and confidence with vegan cooking and ingredients. With so many of us being busier than ever, the idea of learning a whole new way to approach food is daunting enough that some people give up before even trying. With a few basic, straightforward strategies in hand, though, you will be well on your way to developing confidence as a vegan cook.

Learn through observation

I was fortunate enough to have a grandmother who was a very skilled, intuitive cook and baker. Her recipes, in keeping with the time, were pretty simple, but even still, she was one of those people who could make something as familiar as cinnamon toast taste like the most sublime cinnamon toast you’d ever had. She didn’t use special ingredients or techniques; she just loved to feed people and I think this made her food so memorable.

Not everyone has been lucky enough to have an influential person like this instill a love of cooking into them from early childhood, but chances are likely that you might know someone like this now. Seek out a vegan friend who is skilled and experienced in the kitchen and ask if you can just observe him or her prepare a meal. Many people love to share their passion for cooking and just need to be asked. Try to think of anyone you can learn from who has a friendly, patient approach. Someone who is experienced with cooking can explain all the useful little nuances a cookbook cannot – indelible textures, smells, visual cues – that help us to understand what we’re looking for on a much more intuitive level. If you don’t know anyone like that, another option is to take a cooking class or even watch videos; this YouTube station, for example, uses only vegan segments from the Food Network. Having someone there with you in person is ideal, though.

Learn some basic techniques

You will begin to develop more confidence in the kitchen when you can create a few dishes that you like a lot. Learning how to caramelize, sauté, steam, roast and so on as well as some basic knife skills (like how to batonnet, julienne, dice and mince) helps you not only create more consistently delicious food, it will give you confidence in the kitchen. Simple Google and YouTube searches should help to get you started but, as with the earlier point, nothing quite beats in-person instruction.

Develop familiarity with replacements

All animal products – honey, dairy products, eggs, and meat – have matching vegan counterparts that are better than the animal-based ones because they are not obtained through violent means. If you don’t like one, chances are there is another option on the market to try. If you don’t like those, you can try your hand at making your own (the Non-Dairy Evolution is a great resource as are many other vegan cookbooks) or simply accept that just because it tastes different than what you’re used to, it doesn’t make it worse, it just makes it different and it may take a little time (and open-mindedness) to get used to. As you gain confidence and know-how in the kitchen, you will learn how to adjust dishes to create more of what you are seeking. Remember that Facebook pages are often a great resource for asking opinions and seeking guidance. This leads to better results and improved improvisation.

Keep flavoring elements on hand

Variety is the spice of life and a variety of spicing elements is all the better. With spices, you can turn something plain into something memorable and you can also create the world cuisines you love to eat out in your own kitchen. With dried spices, fresh herbs, vinegars, soy sauce, flavored oils, citrus juices and so on, you will gain familiarity with what tastes great together and never get bored with your food. Research common flavors in the foods that you love and you’re halfway there.

A few good tools

You don’t need to spend a lot of money to equip your kitchen with some tools that will make cooking more easy and enjoyable. Three good, sharp knives (a chef’s knife, a paring knife and a serrated knife), a vegetable peeler, a garlic press, a lemon zester, a box grater, a zester, a food processor and a blender are some of the fundamental tools that no well-equipped kitchen should be without, as well as a large cutting board or two. All the rest, as they say, is gravy. (Oh, speaking of, don’t forget a whisk!) It’s worth looking over a good checklist.

Being organized makes cooking more enjoyable

There are certain habits that make it easier to avoid common mistakes and make cooking quicker, easier, more consistent and intuitive. For example, reading a recipe through all the way before you begin helps you to know everything that needs to be considered, like time needed for marinate anything or additional recipes required. Preparing the ingredients you need mise en place style, meaning that you have all your ingredients prepped and ready to use, means that you will be less likely to burn your garlic while searching for your oregano. Keeping a large bowl by your cutting board for vegetable scraps cuts down on unnecessary steps. Storing commonly used bulk items in clear glass helps you to stay on top of what you have and what you are getting low on in your kitchen. Washing dishes as you go means that you will have a lot less to have to worry about after dinner: waiting for the pasta to boil is a perfect time to clean off your cutting board and knives, for example.

Author Malcolm Gladwell claims that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to reach a level of mastery at a skill. How many hours does it take to just get proficient? Start now with learning some basic skills at the kitchen and I can promise you, it will be a breeze to develop confidence and intuition with vegan cooking.

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