Plant-Based Cooking 101: Substitutions for Oils, Butter, and Meat

Submitted by Kim Campbell, director of culinary education.

Learning how to “plantify” a recipe is a fun challenge. Sometimes you simply can’t make a replacement, but most of the time, I am pleasantly surprised. I have learned a few tricks over the years and received advice from the pros. Here are just a few tips:

Oils and Butters: We use absolutely no oils in our house. That is not to say we don’t consume oil in the plant foods we consume. We just don’t eat refined oils. That means olive, sesame, coconut, and canola oils as well. Oil is oil, and I believe they are all unhealthy. We can get all the fats our body needs through eating a whole-food, plant-based diet. Here are some substitutions for oils/butter in your recipes:

Vegetable broth: I use this to sauté my vegetables. Sometime I just use water if vegetable broth is not available.

Nut butters: I use nut butters in my cookies as a fat replacer. It works perfectly.

Avocados: An avocado can be a butter replacement that will add natural fat and creaminess to just about anything.

Bananas: A perfect replacement in cookies or quick breads, but it will make your recipe taste like bananas!

Prune puree: I put pitted prunes and a little bit of water in a food processor until I have a thick puree. This is a great substitute for butter when baking.

Applesauce: Unlike bananas, applesauce is a good replacement in cookies and quick bread because it doesn’t add a strong flavor.


Meats: I recommend you stay away from “fake meat” products since they are very processed, loaded with oils, and hard to digest. Here are some healthier meat substitutes.

Frozen and thawed tofu: Freezing and thawing tofu gives it a spongy, chewy consistency similar to textured vegetable protein. It will soak up marinades better and crumble easily, making it perfect for salads, as a beef substitute, or in stir-fry.

Flavored tempeh: Tempeh is made with fermented soybeans and has a firm, nutty texture. The bacon flavor is very salty so you may want to rinse it slightly before cooking. You can flavor your own tempeh by soaking it in your favorite marinade.

Beans: Coarsely ground or mashed beans makes a great sandwich and burrito fillings. Simply replace the tuna, chicken, or beef with chickpeas, white beans, or black beans—you might be surprised at how delicious a sandwich or filling it can be.

Bulgur: Adding cooked bulgur to your soups, stews, marinades, tacos, and casseroles gives them a texture much like hamburger. It absorbs flavors well, so try seasoning it with any flavor.


The more plant-based recipes you make, the more creative you will become. I love to watch traditional chefs cook and then “plantify” their recipes. You will be amazed at how easy it is when you begin to use the substitution guidelines. Bon appetit!


Photos courtesy of Pixabay.


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