As vegetarians, we spend a lot of time in the kitchen and eat a lot of home-cooked food. It’s important to us to have tastiest products and most convenient kitchen tools. We’ve taste-tested just about every vegetarian product we could get our hands on over the past 20 years, and found a lot of crap on the market. We’re happy to report we’ve also found some stand-out products that we love and routinely use. Here’s our love-it-can’t-live-without-it list:
Morningstar Original (Vegetarian) Sausage Patties – This is our favorite beef/pork substitute. Has a well balanced meaty texture and taste. We don’t cook it the same way as regular meat because it absorbs water and becomes mushy easily. We typically bake it in the oven until it’s crispy, slice it to the desired size, and then add it to the dish after everything else is cooked.
Gardein Mandarin Orange Crispy Chick’n – This is our favorite deep-fried breaded chicken substitute. We use it without the Mandarin Orange Sauce. It’s particularly good in dishes with sauce. The crispy breading absorbs all the saucy goodness. It’s properties are similar to the Morningstar Sausage patties, and we prepare it the same way.
Gardein Golden Fishless Fillet – This is one of the few fake fish products available in the market, and it’s quite good. Has a great fishy texture. The fish taste is mild, which is perfectly fine with us.
VegeFarm Vege Bacon Ham – This bacon ham is a lot like smokey Canadian bacon both in texture and taste. Goes great in Chinese dishes as a substitute for pork or ham. It’s not available in most grocery stores, we have to go to Chinese grocery stores (e.g., Ranch 99) to get it.
Fats and OIls:
SIOF brand Andalousia Huile de Grignon d’olive (Olive Oil) – Moroccan olives are to die for, better than any I’ve ever tasted, I eat them like candy when I find them. So it wasn’t surprising that Moroccan olive oil was also the best I’ve ever tasted. It’s hard to get olive oil without a bitter after taste, but this brand managed to do it and maintain great flavor. It’s perfect for cold dishes and as a finisher for warm dishes.
Helmann’s Mayo – Okay, I know that mayo is a very taste specific, but I just can’t get enough of this stuff. I mix it with all kinds of other sauces to make delicious dips. It’s the perfect base for dipping sauces.
Sauces and Seasonings:
Knorr Vegetarian Bullion – This is probably the most important ingredient on our list. We use it in almost every dish. The above fake meats are great for texture, but they are not as flavorful as real meat. We add this bullion to most of our dishes to boost the meaty flavor.
Telma Beef Flavour Stock Cube – As this is made to be a kosher item, it doesn’t actually have beef in it. It does have a great beefy flavor for those dishes that need it.
Maggi (or Knorr) All Purpose Liquid Seasoning – This stuff is liquid gold. It’ll turn any dish into a Chinese-soy-deliciousness. We put it on plain rice, dumplings, raddish cake
Momoya or S&B brand Seasoned Oil With Red Pepper and Garlic – Combined with Maggie All Purpose Liquid Seasoning, for a dynamite garlicky chili flavor. It’s got all the great chili taste without the heat.
Mae Ploy Sweet Chili Sauce – This is the traditional duck sauce is used as a dipping sauce for spring rolls. After visiting Australia, we discovered that paired with mayo, it goes great as a dipping sauce for deep fried salty items like french fries and falafel.
Hidden Valley Original Ranch Seasoning & Salad Dressing Mix – We’ve found that this dried mix creates a better ranch dressing than the already prepared bottled liquid version. We like that we can mix in our favorite brand of mayo. The result is less tangy and more creamy smooth.
Kewpie Deep-Roasted Sesame Dressing – Hands down the most popular dressing in Japan. We were worried we wouldn’t be able to find it when we moved to Hawaii. This dressing combines the deep roasted flavors of sesame with just the right amount of creaminess. Pairs particularly well with cabbage-based salads.
Angelo Pietro Shoyu Original Dressing – The best soy-based dressing on the market. I learned from a Japanese friend that it works well not only on salad, but a combined salad/noodle dish. Has a delicious tangy soy taste.
OurHome Roasted Seasoned Laver – I eat a lot of Korean deep-fried seaweed. I mean a lot. I snack on it just about every day, and down it like most Americans eat potato chips. So I’m really picky on brand. I’ve tried every brand I could find. OurHome has that perfect salty umami taste without the strange aftertaste of many other brands. Hands down my favorite.
Chaokoh Coconut Milk – There’s a wide range of quality in coconut milks. Chaokoh is an expensive brand, but it’s worth it. It has a much higher cream content, which makes for delicious and rich curries. We often find it so creamy that we need to add extra water.
Torani Dark Chocolate Sauce – Chocolate sauce is essential for my daily dose of mochas, along with freshly roasted and ground coffee beans. While Hershey’s offer a more affordable alternatice, both Nestle and Hershey’s add sweetness to the beverage while Torani manages to add more chocolate taste while keeping sweetness at a balance. Bigger pump models will cost less per use.
Ghirardelli Ground Chocolate – Torani could be good, but sometimes it’s not as accessible (or affordable) as the others. Here is a very good alternative, in powder form. Just add 2 tablespoons of Ghirardelli Ground Chocolate to your espresso shot, and add your steamed milk for a perfect cup of mocha. One canister can last a long time, and per-cup cost will be very low. Also, great for other recipes such as mug cake.
Madama Oliva Italian Olive Trio – After trying this once, I fell in love. It is almost as good as the ones from an olive bar, but in a oily water mixture that requires refrigeration. It comes in 3 containers each of which contains different type of olives: Green Castelvetrano Olives, Pitted Taggiasca Olives, and Pitted Italian Olive Antipasto. Comes on and off at Costco.
Valbreso Feta Cheese – Sometimes Greek feta crumbles just won’t cut it. You will need to get a block of rich, creamy, moist sheep feta cheese that you can use in your sandwiches, salads, and anything in between. Part of my daily breakfast with no exceptions. Also available in Costco.