tips for dairy-free vegetarian cooking

It seems a little odd that I, of all people, would be writing about this topic. I am not a vegan. I am not a vegetarian. BUT, for a while I did go dairy (and soy and gluten) free in an attempt to make my baby a little happier and have recently fallen in love with many vegetarian recipes. I also have a good friend who is cutting dairy and soy from her diet in an attempt to make her baby a little happier. She’s also a vegetarian, and has asked me for some tips on how to actually eat on such a restrictive diet. I had so many, that it seemed prudent to share them here.
1. Know what you’re eating: There are a lot of ingredients and products which contain dairy, or are derived from dairy products, so it’s really important to be dilligent about what you’re buying and consuming. There are endless resources online which can help with this, a couple which list and define hidden dairy ingredients (e.g. Caseinate) and products that contain dairy (e.g. some medications!) can be found here. A quick google search will provide dozens more.

2. Plan and prepare: I found that I had to be extra prepared for cooking/meal planning/snacking when my diet became especially restrictive, especially when I was breastfeeding and needed the extra calories. Make sure that you have staples on hand: things like canned beans, cooked lentils, raw or cooked grains, and roasted nuts.

3. Find substitutions & additions: coconut oil, milk, and yogurt. Almond yogurt (saw at whole foods). Add a fried egg or beans to recipes. Need to make a salad dressing a little creamier? Try adding avocado.

4. Invest in/have a few key “go-to” resources: There are dozens and dozens of new products, websites, and cookbooks which are dairy (and gluten) free. It is not longer as difficult to eat this way as I suspect it once was. Here are just a couple to get you started:

  • Eat Drink and Be Vegan – This cookbook was recommended by a friend. The author also has a blog of the same name. Since vegan diets are slightly more restrictive than a dairy-free vegetarian one, the recipes here (and any vegan recipes you find) could be adapted to suit your needs [e.g. adding eggs].
  • Living Without– Maintains articles about and recipes for dairy-free living/cooking.
  • The Whole Gang– a blog that has more than 400 gluten and dairy-free recipes. Again, gluten-free recipes can be altered to suit your needs.
  • Gluten-, Dairy-, and Sugar-Free– a blog that is more extreme than someone just wanting dairy-free cooking needs, but it’s a good place to start and (as I’ve said ad nauseum already) the recipes can be altered. This site also contains a great description of a well-stocked kitchen, and a blogroll with other gluten, dairy and/or sugar-free recipes and resources.

5. Try these– Some recipes to get you going! (I could go on…but I won’t now. I’ll save it for another post.)

Whole Wheat and Millet Banana Bread

Adapted from Joy the Baker

Makes 2 8X4 inch loaves

 {Note: I love the crunch in this bread. I was not sold on it at first bite when the bread had just come out of the oven, but once it cooled the millet, not fully cooked contrasts beautifully with the moist bread. I love walnuts, but not in my baked goods (weird, I know) so this is a nice alternative way for having that same crunchiness. The original recipe called for both buttermilk and butter. When I made this, I did not use butter at all, but you could substitute Earth Balance Natural Butter Spread (the vegan version) if you wanted. Also, I dramatically cut the amount of oil and sugar called for in the original recipe- I thought the bananas and a little sugar (about ½ cup) would suffice (original recipe called for 1 ½ cups sugar) and I didn’t want this banana too sweet. If you want something sweeter, feel free to up the amount of sugar you add. In addition to cutting the amount of oil (and not using butter) I used half oil half applesauce. I think the bread is very moist, and wouldn’t make a change next time around. But you should feel free to. Finally, I checked the bread at just 45 minutes although the original cooking time called for about 1 hour. The bread was done, and just a little too brown on top (still edible, of course). If you make any other alterations from this recipe, be sure to start checking your bread on the early side.}


  • ¼ c canola oil
  • ¼ c unsweetened applesauce
  •  ½ c granulated (not turbinado) sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • ¾ c milk substitute (coconut, almond, oat)
  • 4 medium (ripe!) bananas, mashed
  • 1 ½ c whole wheat flour
  • 1 ½ c unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (I used a little more…I love cinnamon and never feel like recipes call for enough)
  • 1/3 c raw millet, rinsed (don’t skip this part. For an easy rinse, pour the millet in a coffee filter).


  1. Place rack in the center of the oven; preheat to 375°F. Grease and flour 2 4X8” bread pans. (I actually only had one, so used an 8X8” square pan for half the batter).
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together butter (if using), oil, sugar and eggs. Beat until thoroughly incorporated. Whisk in the vanilla, milk substitute, and bananas. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together flours, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon. Stir in millet. Create a well in the center and pour in the wet ingredients. Using a spatula, fold the batter together.
  4. Divide between the two prepared pans. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean (see headnote about baking time). Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan for 15 minutes before turning onto a wire rack to cool completely. The bread will last, well wrapped, at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Crustless Quiche with Spinach and Mushrooms

Adapted from Joy the Baker

{Note: Joy’s original recipe called for 1 cup of half-and-half, but I substituted lowfat buttermilk. For dairy-freeers use any milk substitute you like. I forgot the pine nuts, so didn’t use those or walnuts. If you’re not vegetarian, I think some crispy bacon or thickly sliced pancetta would be great- a little crunch and a little saltiness. For you vegetarians, try olives instead.}


  • 1 10-12 oz bag of (baby) spinach, stems trimmed
  • 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 c chopped mushrooms
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 c milk substitute
  • Something to grease the pie plate


  • 1 c crumbled cheese (I used cheddar, goat would also be nice, or blue cheese for a stronger flavor [but use less than 1 cup so it’s not too overpowering])
  • 3 Tbs chopped walnuts or lightly toasted pine nuts


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Butter a 9-inch pie dish and set aside.
  2. Place the spinach in a large pot, cover and cook over medium heat just until wilted, about 3 minutes.  Remove from the heat and spoon into a strainer set over a bowl.  Let cool.
  3. Press hard on the spinach in the strainer with the back of a spoon to remove most of the moisture, then squeeze in your hands to remove more.  Turn out onto a cutting board and coarsely chop. Place between two layers of paper towels or wrap in a clean kitchen towel and press to remove more moisture.  You should have about 1 cup packed spinach.  Set aside.
  4. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring until tender, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more.  Add the spinach and cook, stirring, until any remaining moisture has evaporated, about 2 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Add a pinch of salt (the cheese is salty, so you won’t need much) and pepper to taste.
  5. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until light.  Stir in the half and half.  Spoon the spinach mixture evenly into the buttered pie dish.  Sprinkle with the cheese and nuts.  Pour in the egg mixture.
  6. Bake the quiche until puffed and golden brown, about 35 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature, cut into generous wedges.

Dairy-Cane Sugar-Free Homemade Granola

Adapted from Joy the Baker

makes about 9 cups of granola

{Note: The original recipe called for raw seeds and nuts, but I much prefer mine toasted. Do with yours as you see fit. If you’d like to make this Dairy-Cane Sugar AND Gluten-Free Homemade Granola then use gluten free oats instead of regular ones. And feel free to substitute any dried fruit you like for the raisins; or mix and match with several kinds. And there’s no need to measure the fruit- just toss until it looks like a good amount. I have come to really like dried cherries in my granola. A little bit of tart in the morning, Mmmmm…..}


  • 6 c oats (old fashioned or quick cooking)
  • 1 c toasted almonds
  • 1 c toasted pumpkin seeds
  • ½ c toasted sunflower seeds
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • ¾ c coconut oil, melted to a liquid (or substitute extra virgin olive oil)
  • ¾ c macadamia nut butter (or substitute natural peanut or almond butter)
  • ½ c plus 2 Tbs honey (or substitute maple syrup)
  • ¾ c golden raisins


  1. Place two racks in the middle and upper third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, or spray lightly with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, toss together oats, nuts and salt (leave out the raisins, we’ll toss these in after baking).  In a medium bowl, gently whisk together the melted coconut oil (or extra virgin olive oil), nut butter and honey.  Pour the oil mixture over the oats and nuts and stir well.  Make sure that every bit of oats and nuts is covered in some of the oil mixture.
  3. Spread the granola mixture onto the two baking sheets from edge to edge.  Bake for 15 minutes and carefully remove the pans from the oven to toss and stir the oats.  This will ensure that the mixture cooks and browns evenly.  Bake for another 10 minutes.  Remove and stir.  Repeat until mixture has cooked a total of 30 minutes and the oats are dark and golden.
  4. Allow to cool completely before tossing in golden raisins and storing in an airtight container.

Honey-Balsamic bean Salad

Adapted from Heidi Swanson, 101 Cookbooks

Serves 4-6

{Note: Feel free to use any beans you like in this.  Find that chickpeas and black beans have become a staple, but I also like substituting in a larger white bean every now and then rather than the pinto called for below. Also, in Heidi’s original post she used a small head of romaine lettuce, shredded in place of the green beans. My family prefers the four bean salad so I tend to stick with that as much as possible, but if green beans aren’t in season, or just look sad, you might try the lettuce instead. Asparagus or snap peas would also be nice.}


  • 8 oz (about 1 ½ c) EACH cooked chickpeas, pinto beans, black beans
  • 2-3 handfuls of green beans, blanched
  • 1/3 c sliced almonds, toasted
  • 2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 ½ Tbs runny honey
  • 2 Tbs balsamic vinegar
  • 1 ½ Tbs fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 + tsp fine grain sea salt
  • 10 sprigs fresh thyme


  1. Combine the beans, lettuce, and most of the almonds in a large salad bowl. Set aside. Make the dressing by whisking the olive oil, honey, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, and sea salt in a small container. Taste, and adjust to your tastes.
  2. Run your fingers up each thyme sprig, removing the leaves. Add to the salad bowl along with a good amount of the dressing. Toss well, and add more dressing if you like. Finish by sprinkling with the remaining almonds.

Pan-fried Chickpea Salad Recipe

Adapted from Heidi Swanson, 101Cookbooks

Serves 4 as a side

{Note: The beauty of this recipe is its adaptability. If you find that you don’t like the taste of almond or coconut yogurt, you could always skip making the dressing all together- pan fry the chickpeas and leeks with the curry powder, toss with some lemon juice and fresh zest, and serve (warm or at room temperature) over quinoa or some other grain of your choice. You might also add other vegetables as you desire, add a little coconut milk at the end of cooking (thicken with corn starch if too runny) and serve everything over rice.}


  • 1 Tbs clarified butter, olive oil, or coconut oil
  • 2 c cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans), pat them completely dry with clean dish towel
  • 1 c chopped leeks
  • 1 medium clove of garlic, minced
  • zest of one lemon
  • 1/3 c plain yogurt (substitute with non-dairy yogurt here, experimenting with different kinds)
  • 1 ½ tsp Indian-style curry powder (or to taste)
  • scant ¼ tsp fine grain sea salt
  • 1 or 2 Tbs warm water
  • ½ c loosely packed fresh cilantro, chopped
  • ½ c red or red spring onions, chopped


  1. Heat the cooking oil in a large skillet and add the chickpeas. Saute over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until they start getting a bit golden in color. Stir in the leeks and cook until the chickpeas are more golden and the leeks have browned a bit as well, roughly 7 – 10 minutes total. At the last minute stir in the garlic and the lemon zest. Remove from heat, and set aside.
  2. While the chickpeas cool (I like to serve this salad at room temperature), make the yogurt dressing by combining the yogurt, curry powder, and salt in a small bowl. If you need to thin it out a bit, particularly if you are using Greek yogurt, whisk in warm water a tablespoon at a time. Taste, adjust, and set aside.
  3. When you are ready to serve the salad, toss the chickpea mixture with most of the cilantro and most of the chopped red onion. Add about 1/2 of the yogurt dressing and toss again. If you like more dressing, keep adding until you are pleased. Serve on a platter sprinkled with the remaining onions and cilantro.



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