Vegan food has officially gone mainstream, as evidenced by a handful of new restaurants that take vegan cooking beyond the "health food" category and into the world of fast food. One of the best examples of this trend is New York City's new café By Chloe, where Chloe Coscarelli, a cookbook author and the vegan champ of Food Network's Cupcake Wars, is turning out awesome takes on burgers, ice cream and lasagna, all without using a drop of dairy or an ounce of meat. She's challenging the way people think about vegan cooking and the limitations of vegan ingredients. We tapped the up-and-coming chef for her favorite vegan pantry staples and tips on how to incorporate them in ways you may never have considered.
Not just for hippie popcorn anymore, Coscarelli loves how nutritional yeast adds a "roasted, nutty, umami flavor to any dish." It's a key source of amino acids and B vitamins for both vegans and non-vegans, and it's almost always gluten-free. "Use it the way you would parmesan, sprinkling a handful on salad or your favorite pasta," says Coscarelli, who uses it as a secret weapon for cheesy flavor in her kale-artichoke dip.
These can be great for adding new textures and flavors to your baked goods, even in non-vegan dishes. In vegan recipes, they can help compensate for textural changes if you're not using dairy. Coscarelli particularly likes chickpea flour, which "can be subbed in for normal white flour while adding extra protein and fiber." She also recommends using almond flour to add richness in vegan scones, or as the base for a batter to fry up things like vegetables and tofu.
According to Coscarelli, this is "the most important staple to have in your vegan panty, and it can be easily made at home or purchased." She uses full-fat coconut milk as the base for her ice creams, though she plays with the proportions of coconut and nut milks to achieve the ultimate texture for each flavor, including a coffee with chocolate-covered chia seeds variety.
"These are the most versatile foods you have in your kitchen," says Coscarelli. If you're interested in going the DIY nut milk route, she recommends cashews, which have a soft texture and richness that make them great for experimenting with. "At By Chloe, we make fresh mozzarella from cashew milk and a version of parmesan that's based on almond milk."
If you can nail the seasoning combinations of your favorite non-vegan dishes, it goes a long way toward perfecting the vegan versions, too. For example, Coscarelli relies heavily on garlic, basil and oregano to re-create the flavor of the meatball parm she ate as a kid, though her version is totally meat-free and topped with that genius cashew mozzarella.