The best vegan chefs know the dishes they churn out aren’t second in line to their omnivore cousins. No, these delicious meals are revered by vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores alike.
If you dream of becoming a vegan chef, or are just looking to add a bit of variety to your list of go-to dishes, these ten dishes are a good place to start. Some are vegan variations on dishes that traditionally feature animal products and others are veggie-forward originals that make plant-based eaters proud.
1. Veggie Burger
While there are numerous plant-based ‘meat’ products on the market, every vegan chef should know how to make a veggie burger from scratch. Some say this product should mimic the flavor of meat, but we think a good veggie burger highlights–rather than hides–the vegetables, grains, and beans it contains.
The burger should be bursting with fresh ingredients and hints of seasonings, and the texture should be satisfyingly chewy yet also tender. If you’d like to really earn your marks as a vegan chef, create a signature burger that has diners coming back for more and chefs guessing your secret ingredient.
2. Vegan “Cheese”
Not every vegan dish involves replicating a plant-based product. That said, vegan chefs should know how to make a plant-based variety of the beloved cheese. Rather than using animal milk and bacteria, you’ll likely use nuts and umami-rich ingredients like miso paste and nutritional yeast.
After you figure out the art of making vegan ‘cheese’ you can then move on to creating dishes like grilled cheese, macaroni and cheese, and more.
3. Roasted Vegetables
Sure, roasted vegetables may seem simple, but the difference between mushy, bland veggies and tender flavorful bites is huge—this is why this simple dish can be a good way to test your culinary skills.
Part of the success of this dish involves choosing vegetables that are at the peak of freshness and flavor. That often means connecting with local farmers, like Escoffier students can do in their Farm to Table Experience.
Along with knowing how to choose firm yet succulent zucchini in the summer and frost-sweetened carrots in the fall, you must also practice good knife skills to end up with uniform pieces. If you end up with uneven slices, some bites will be raw or overcooked rather than delightfully tender.
4. Mapo Tofu
Tofu is a versatile ingredient that can be used in everything from vegan pudding to crunchy fried “chicken.” However, if there’s one dish that highlights this soy curd’s ability to take on flavor, it’s mapo tofu.
This spicy dish originates from the Chinese province of Sichuan and is traditionally made with meat. However, it can easily be made vegan while keeping its rich and powerful flavors. In order to deliver a delightful vegan version, you’ll need to be able to blend spices so each one packs a punch without overwhelming the others.
If there’s one dish that’s stunningly simple yet overwhelmingly complex, it’s bread. With just four ingredients—flour, water, salt, and yeast—you can create thousands of different variations of this classic carb-filled dish. And as long as you don’t add any dairy or eggs, each loaf is vegan!
Learning how to make different types of bread can help you understand how variables like time and temperature impact the flavor and texture of the final product. If you find you’re having a bit of trouble nailing your dough and loaves, you can always enroll in a bread baking class.
What Are the Differences Between Vegetarian, Vegan, and Plant-Based?
While these three diets often get lumped together, each has a unique definition.
- Vegetarian: A diet that includes no meat, but may include animal products like milk and eggs
- Vegan: A diet that includes no animal products, including meat, eggs, dairy, and honey
- Plant-Based: A diet that prioritizes plant-based ingredients like vegetables, grains, and nuts; may or may not include animal products
Vegans often get an unfair wrap for eating only salad. There’s a lot more to a vegan diet than green salads, learning how to make a salad sing with a fresh vinaigrette is an essential skill for any vegan chef.
Vinaigrettes are emulsions of oil and acid and require proper ratios and technique. With those two things checked off, making a vegan vinaigrette is easy. Once you’ve got the creamy texture down, you can play with flavors and ingredient pairings.
7. Buddha Bowl
As one of the recent trends in the plant-based world, Buddha bowls should be in the recipe repertoire of all vegan chefs. That said, Buddha bowls are not a set recipe, but rather a balanced blend of ingredients, textures, and flavors.
All of these bowls should have a grain, protein, and vegetable, as well as flavorful sauce and extra toppings. Perhaps you’ll start with brown rice then layer on baked tofu, chopped peppers, scallions, and a spicy ginger sauce. Or maybe you’ll take a note from the California coast and layer on creamy avocados, crunchy almonds, and bright citrus. No matter what ingredients you choose, the most important thing is to achieve balance.
8. Ice Cream
That’s right, we said vegan ice cream! By utilizing plant-based milk like almond milk, coconut milk, and oat milk, you can churn out sweet and creamy frozen delights that even the ice cream truck man would be proud to serve.
Just like with full-dairy ice cream, proper texture is key to good vegan ice cream. And that means patiently churning the mixture until it becomes silky smooth.
“I don’t want you to think about [a plant-based diet] as a narrowing of anything or as a restriction of anything. Rather, I’d like to think of it as enlarging your creative capacities.”*
Shane Witters Hicks, Escoffier Boulder Graduate, Founder of The Soulful Spread
A crunchy exterior, fluffy interior, and a fresh yet comforting blend of flavors are key components of a good falafel. Although these chickpea fritters may seem indulgent, they fit well into a vegan diet.
Selecting fresh herbs and spices is a key component to making a good falafel, as is frying the bites until they’re perfectly golden brown.
If you’re looking to show off your knife skills, ratatouille may just do the trick. The success of this veggie-filled dish relies on perfectly-cooked bites of vegetables, which depends on uniformly-diced pieces.
Perfecting this dish also requires a good grasp of mise en place, as you’ll need to add each vegetable and component at the proper time.
Want to Go Beyond the Basics? Try Plant-Based Culinary School
While these ten dishes are must-haves for every vegan chef, they’re just the beginning. If you have an understanding of culinary techniques, a creative mind, and access to a variety of ingredients, you can make hundreds of delicious vegan dishes.
And if you’re interested in advancing your knowledge of plant-based cooking and vegan dishes, culinary school may be for you. Escoffier’s Plant-Based Culinary Arts programs can help introduce students to foundational skills and provide them space to practice creating new dishes.
Want to learn more about vegan and plant-based cooking? Read these next:
- How Important Is It to Have Vegan Options on Your Menu?
- Seven Vegan Chefs Every Plant-Based Culinary Arts Student Should Know
- What to Know When Opening a Vegetarian or Vegan Restaurant
*Information may not reflect every student’s experience. Results and outcomes may be based on several factors, such as geographical region or previous experience.