Life / Food

'DIY Vegan' shares tips on creating plant-based staple foods, drinks from scratch

Nicole Axworthy and Lisa Pitman feature 135 recipes for everyday food staples free of animal byproducts in their new cookbook “DIY Vegan”

Clockwise from bottom left: Date and Fig Cashew Cheese, Spicy Jalapeno Cheese, Cultured Nut Cheese and Cheddar Cheese are seen in this undated handout photo from "DIY Vegan" by Nicole Axworthy and Lisa Pitman.

Nicole Axworthy

Clockwise from bottom left: Date and Fig Cashew Cheese, Spicy Jalapeno Cheese, Cultured Nut Cheese and Cheddar Cheese are seen in this undated handout photo from "DIY Vegan" by Nicole Axworthy and Lisa Pitman.

TORONTO - Nicole Axworthy and Lisa Pitman grew tired of scrutinizing food labels to ensure products adhered to their vegan diets.

They decided the only sure bet was to steer away from the store and towards the kitchen to customize their own homemade plant-based cuisine.

“I think one of the biggest things that we see in the food industry is the overabundance of processed foods and fast foods,” said Axworthy.

“We really wanted to break it down and make it simple for people. And show people that it's easy, that you can still enjoy nachos and mac and cheese and cereals and all those things with basic ingredients.”

Axworthy and Pitman feature 135 recipes for everyday food staples free of animal byproducts in their new cookbook “DIY Vegan” (St. Martin's Griffin).

The coobook offers a comprehensive breakdown of vegan pantry essentials including natural sweeteners; oils and fats; nuts; dried fruits; vinegars; oats, quinoa and millet; and flours derived from almond, buckwheat or chickpeas.

The Toronto-based pair, who are both contributing editors at VegNews magazine, also provide insight into lesser-known items that can help enhance dishes. They include xanthan gum, used as a thickening agent in liquids, and lecithin, an emulsifier derived from sunflowers or soybeans that is used to bind ingredients.

Once the pantry is stocked, readers can start off with the basics such as making their own dairy-free milks and cheeses, broadening into breads, dressings, sauces, seasonings and condiments, and rounded out by comfort foods like mac and cheese, pizza and desserts.

The cover of

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The cover of "DIY Vegan" by Nicole Axworthy and Lisa Pitman is seen in this undated handout photo.

While it may seem daunting to create such food essentials from scratch, Axworthy said what's key is making the process routine, such as soaking cashews prior to bed to make dairy-free milk first thing in the morning.

With the holiday season looming, some individuals hosting dinners may be unsure of what to prepare for vegan guests.

Axworthy said as a vegan, she finds “side dishes (are) really where it's at.”

“They can be especially nutritious and filling if they're made with whole grains and vegetables and greens and beans,” she said.

“One thing that the host can do is just make some easy substitutions. For example, replacing the butter for vegetable-based oils, or putting the cheese on the side for people who want it ... or replacing the chicken broth with vegetable broth.”

Cashew-based cheeses teamed with crackers would be “an awesome holiday appetizer,” she added.

As for sweet treats, Axworthy said there are substitutions that can be made for ingredients that are central in many baked goods.

For example, a mixture of flax seed and water replaces egg, and cold coconut oil can add a flaky texture to a premade pie crust.

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