How to replace eggs and dairy in recipes

THE WASHINGTON POST – The Washington Post Food staff recently answered questions about all things edible. Here are edited excerpts from that chat.

Q: I’m trying to eliminate the use of eggs and dairy in my diet as much as possible (medical issue). I want to try substitutions in recipes, but I’m not really sure how to go about it without wasting a lot of food if something flops. What is the best way to try substituting non-dairy products or flax eggs in recipes? I have searched for recipes that have already made the substitution but I would also like to modify existing favourites.

A: I’m a fairly lactose-intolerant person, so I think I’ll be able to help with dairy. I find that in a lot of savoury cases, subbing dairy milk with alternative milks is generally a-OK. If a recipe depends on the fat of whole milk, you’re going to want coconut milk. If you need heavy cream, coconut or cashew milk is going to be your friend. Quite a few non-dairy cheeses are designed to act like dairy cheese, so you’ll just need to do a little research and tasting on those to see what works for you, taste and texture wise.

In other cases, it really tends to be ok. I made a roux with almond milk for a green bean casserole a couple years ago that worked just fine – nobody could tell it was almond milk. When it comes to baking and sweet stuff, that’s where it becomes tricky. Fat is hugely important with things like ice cream, which is why you can’t just one-for-one sub an alternative milk. Plant based butters can often be subbed in for butter, but it does require a trial and error period. – Kari Sonde (KS)

A: On the egg substitutes, if you’re talking about baking, the best thing to do is just try. You might follow the Minimalist Baker – she uses egg substitutes a lot in her recipes, and has some guidelines. – Joe Yonan

Q: I’m trying to use less refined sugar. Do you have and good recipe suggestions or where I should start?

A: You might find Amy Chaplin’s Whole Food Cooking Every Day: Transform the Way You Eat with 250 Vegetarian Recipes Free of Gluten, Dairy, and Refined Sugar helpful. – Ann Maloney (AM)

Q: I’m having a casual gathering in a couple weeks for about 20 people. I’d like to serve a simple buffet that feels warm and welcoming. I’ve got gluten-free and vegetarian folks among my friends, and I think it’s nice when an entire dinner is available to everyone, rather than having to tell people what they can/can’t eat. I’m thinking about some kind of rice pilaf and a bunch of different sides/toppings/condiments that go with it, but not sure where to start. Any other ideas welcome!

A: Sort of like a build your own rice bowl type of thing? That sounds like such a fun idea. You can make a base rice pilaf, spice up some beans, roast up some veggies, then have a couple dressings/condiments for the top. Maybe also some chopped nuts, pickled onion, etc. – KS

Q: If I stir half-and-half and some cinnamon into cooked rice over low heat, is that basically rice pudding? I have half a carton of half-and-half left in the fridge.

A: I would simmer the cooked rice with the half and half for a little bit so the starches get all nice and gooey. And also don’t forget to add a bit of sweetener to make it taste rice pudding-y. I’m a fan of adding a bit of maple syrup. – Olga Massov

Q: Do you all have any suggestions for a cookbook focussed on risottos or pasta dishes? I need one for a birthday gift and I’m running out of time!

A: If you’re buying for less experienced cook, you might like America’s Test Kitchen’s Pasta Revolution. It’s an older cookbook, so you might have to order it online. It’s got lots of basic, well-tested recipes. – AM

This roasted carrot and cashew soup is both creamy and vegan with the use of unsweetened coconut milk or cashew milk. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST