Just because someone doesn't want to eat things that once roamed about doesn't mean they have to sacrifice the pleasures or cooking and eating. On the contrary, with the right ingredients, a vegan diet can be as sumptuous as any other.
The items listed here fall into three basic categories: ingredients that can stand in for their animal-based counterparts; ingredients to enhance plant-based dishes; and ingredients to add nutrients that a vegan diet may be lacking. This list is in no way complete, but it's a fantastic place to start.
A word to the wise: When first transitioning to a vegan diet, you may feel the need to add fake animal products to your meal plan. That’s fine if it helps you step away from the cows; but in general many of these items are highly processed — glorified vegan junk food — and you may be better off without them. We've listed some of the better products here; just be aware and take a look at the ingredients list when shopping.
Dairy foods that don't come from cows
Alternative milks: Almond, soy, rice or hemp milk.
Buttery spread: Look for non-hydrogenated versions, like Earth Balance.
Dairy-free cheese: Daiya melts and doesn't taste like plastic.
Cream cheese: Tofutti makes a reasonable mock cream cheese.
Sour cream: Again, Tofutti.
Soy yogurt: Good for probiotics.
More proteins than just animal meat
Tofurkey: If you can't live without a "roast."
Field Roast products: Grain-based faux meat products, not too processed and unusually tasty.
Tofu: Silken for smoothies and puddings; medium or firm for cooking.
Tempeh: Soybean-based meat substitute.
Seitan: Meat substitute made from wheat gluten; great texture, great protein.
Frozen vegetable burgers: Making your own is better, but these are convenient in a pinch.
Edamame: Fresh (frozen) soy beans are a great high-protein snack or side.
Beans: Dried and home-cooked are cheap and the healthiest.
Chickpeas: In addition to beans, because they're so versatile.
Seeds: Sesame, sunflower, poppy, pumpkin, chia … all high in protein and healthy fats.
Nuts: Because, protein.
Nut butters: Because, peanut butter!
Cashews: In addition to nuts, because they can be soaked and used in so many ways.
Grains to get you going
Brown rice: Ditch the white for more-nutritious brown.
Quinoa: One of the few plant-based perfect proteins.
Steel-cut oats: Good for breakfast.
Whole grain grits: Because they're filling and delicious.
Whole-wheat couscous: More nutritious than regular.
Multigrain pasta: Whole-wheat or legume mixes offer more nutrients and don't all taste like cardboard.
Sprouted bread and tortillas: Food for Life products are nutrient-rich and altogether lovely.
Vegan pops of flavor
Agar agar: Vegan substitute for gelatin.
Nutritional yeast: A must for B12 and very palatable; use like Parmesan cheese.
Miso paste: Excellent for adding umami to vegetables, and it's a great anchovy substitute.
Vegetable broth: Go for organic, and watch the sodium.
Vegetable bouillon: Better Than Bouillon No Chicken Base works well.
Dried mushrooms: Like porcini, to add a meaty component to soups and stews.
Tomato paste: Great (surprising) source of iron.
Sun-dried tomatoes: Fantastic for adding texture and flavor.
Capers: Great for adding a punch of flavor.
To help with your desserts
Ener-G Egg Replacer
Flax seeds: To make a viable egg substitute for baking.
Chia seeds: For nutritious puddings and egg substitute.
Vital wheat gluten: A great binder that also adds protein.
Coconut oil: Great for replacing butter in some recipes.
Vegetable shortening: Non-hydrogenated, like Spectrum.
Agave syrup: Instead of honey.
Maple syrup: Instead of honey.
Blackstrap molasses: Fantastic source of iron.
Mayonnaise: Vegenaise tastes most like traditional mayo, Spectrum is a bit sweeter. You can also make your own.
Bragg Liquid Aminos: Liquid protein concentrate, delicious soy-sauce taste.
Sriracha: Or other favorite hot sauces.
Harissa: Tunisian hot pepper paste makes anything taste good.
Tahini: Sesame paste can be used as a condiment or in preparing Middle Eastern recipes.
Kimchi: Great source of probiotics if you don’t like soy yogurt.
Sauerkraut: A surprising source of health benefits.