Vegan Boot Camp

After Citizen Radio linked to my “Veganism as a Lifestyle, Not a Dogma” post in their newsletter, I had quite a few people reach out to me to ask for advice on how to start the path toward veganism. I start compiling a list of resources for some people and realized how helpful it would be to have this all in one place. As I come across more awesome resources, I anticipate this post will grow and change – and of course you’re always welcome to leave your own suggestions in the comments, too – I may even add them to the post!

A couple of disclaimers:

  1. I do not take any allergens such as Celiac’s or soy-intolerance into account. If you have allergies, I probably don’t have to tell you this…. but please check the labels! I like you people alive.
  2. I link to PETA a couple of times in this post, but that is in no way an endorsement of the awful, racist, misogynistic, fat-shaming actions they’ve taken in the past. But they have really good info for vegan newbies, and I feel I’d be remiss for not sharing these resources with you.

Now let’s get down to it!

Basic Ingredient Substitutes


  • Tofu
  • Boca Crumbles
    • These are my jam. Put them in tacos, spaghetti, salads, etc.
  • Seitan
  • Tempeh
    • Excellent chicken substitute. Makes great boneless buffalo wings.
  • The entire Lightlife product line
  • Soyrizo


  • Almond milk
  • Rice milk
  • Hemp milk
  • Soy milk

There are so many possibilities here, just find what you like!


  • Earth Balance makes a butter substitute that is indistinguishable from “real” margarine.
  • A lot of regular margarines are also vegan (just look at the label)


  • Daiya vegan cheese is my favorite cheese substitute. While this one takes a bit of getting used to, it’s a great addition to many recipes. Pro-Tip: Use it sparingly, so you aren’t overpowered. This product has a very strong flavor.
  • Nutritional yeast (less formally known as “Nooch”).


PETA has you covered. I don’t need to go into any more depth.


Yes, ranch is a “basic ingredient” where I’m from.

  • My favorite way to enjoy ranch dip (i.e., the thick version) is to pour a dry ranch mix packet and dump it into a tub of Tofutti vegan sour cream. Mix, enjoy, slather it on everything. Just make sure you get a dry ranch packet that doesn’t contain buttermilk!
  • If you’re looking for a ranch dressing, I like Follow Your Heart‘s vegan ranch. They also have a great Caesar Salad dressing.

Easy Entree Ideas

One of the biggest misconceptions about veganism is that everything takes forever to cook. Nope! You can cook many of the same simple recipes you used to – just use some of the substitutes listed above! Here are some of my go-to’s.

  • Pasta with marinara and your favorite veggies (I like adding red bell peppers). Add Boca crumbles or Lightlife ground beef /sausage as a ground meat substitute.
  • Pasta with pesto and veggies
  • Lentil soup
  • If you like stir fry, dice up tofu and mix it with whatever veggies you like (bell peppers, baby corn, & sriracha? YUM). Put it over basmati rice (or any other type of rice, really).
  • Tacos are my vegan everything. Possible ingredients include (but are not limited to!):
    • Lard-free tortillas (Any Mission-brand tortillas are vegan)
    • Black beans (most refried beans are not vegan, but I know Amy’s makes some that are)
    • Fried potatoes
    • Boca crumbles
    • Grilled onions or bell peppers
    • Toffutti vegan sour cream
    • Hot sauce (Cholula is vegan-safe!)
    • Daiya vegan cheese
    • Whatever veggies you’d normally put on a taco (lettuce, tomato, etc.)
  • Vegan Frito Chili Pie (Shameless self-promotion!)
    • Sometimes I make Frito Chili Pie burritos, because I am a terrible person.
  • Zatarain’s Red Beans & Rice, Jambalaya, or Dirty Rice
    • Add Boca crumbles to this to simulate ground beef!
  • See what your local store carries from the Amy’s brand. Their products are always vegan or vegetarian (and they always put “VEGAN” in front of the ingredients list for the products that aren’t just vegetarian).  They have soups, microwave lunches (great for work!), and various other products.

Easy Snacks

  • Nuts (just make sure you get the kind without gelatin – yes, seriously). Also, watch out because some types of trail mix contain milk or eggs.
  • Skittles (vegan since 2009!)
  • Pita chips (or veggies) & hummus (Sabra makes an awesome Roasted Red Pepper hummus. Every store I’ve ever been to has it).
  • Popcorn with nutritional yeast

Vegan Things You Already Enjoy & Probably Didn’t Know Were Vegan

  • Ruffles Potato Chips
  • Fritos
  • Oreos
  • This whole list of “Accidentally Vegan” products from PETA

Awesome Recipe Sites

  • Post-Punk Kitchen
  • Oh She Glows
  • Keepin’ It Kind
  • Just Google “Vegan [whatever food you want to find]” and lots of recipes will come up. I’ve never tried to find a vegan-ized version of something and been unsuccessful! Be careful though, Google uses “vegan” and “vegetarian” interchangeably. Always check your ingredients!

Common Ingredients People Don’t Know Aren’t Vegan:

Animal products are seemingly hidden in everything. For the first two months of being a vegan, I didn’t realize that my favorite cheese substitute wasn’t vegan (DAMN YOU, CASEIN!). If you aren’t sure on something, Google it. Here’s a list of common offenders:

  • Gelatin
  • Casein
    • Milk protein
  • Honey/Beeswax
    • This is such a huge environmental issue. Just read up on Colony Collapse Disorder.
    • Use agave nectar instead, the two are virtually indistinguishable.
  • Lard
    • Pig fat – blech!
  • Rennet
    • Enzyme made from the stomachs of mammals
  • Whey
    • Milk byproduct

Enjoy! Send me your favorite vegan recipes, products, or ingredients – I’m always up for trying new things!

About cultofcourtney

20-something. Former fundamentalist Christian. Atheist and feminist activist. Organizer for North Texas Secular Convention. View all posts by cultofcourtney

5 responses to “Vegan Boot Camp

  • Heina Dadabhoy (@futilityfiles)

    I recommend Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s cookbooks. Her vegan Orea cupcake recipe yields my favorite cupcakes in the world — and I’m an omnivore.

  • Brett

    Gardein products and, if you can find it, Beyond Meat chickn are amazing chicken replacers. Also a butter alternative I used for a while before I knew about vegan margarine was EV coconut oil. It is a little sweet and coconutty by itself, but I never really noticed a difference between margarine when cooking with it.

    • cultofcourtney

      I LOVE Beyond Meat’s faux-chicken. I can make fajitas with that all day, every day :) Thanks for the awesome suggestions.

      Do you know about the health benefits of EV coconut oil vs. something like Earth Balance? Seems like it’d be healthier (and less of an environmental issue, since EB has palm oil).

      • Brett

        I haven’t ever compared the two, but I think it’s safe to say coconut oil is healthier than a processed margarine. I do know coconut oil is actually considered to be a healthy fat with disease fighting ability and helping regulate blood sugar from what I remember off the top of my head. It can withstand high cooking heats and there has been a study on females that found that taking a certain amount a day can help with reducing the fat content around the abdominal area (never found out if it’s the same for all genders.) I only stopped using it for everything because the margarine is a bit cheaper, but every now and then I’ll switch back to it.

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