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Ask the Vegan Chef, Part 1

Robin Robertson—a former restaurant chef and the author of one of my favorite vegan cookbooks, Vegan Planet—is kind enough to answer monthly questions here on about all things vegan. Yep, she is the “vegan chef” and she answers the questions you may have about baking, meat alternatives and other products, health, young vegans, and more.

You’re in luck, because we have a little sneak peek of Robin’s new round of “vegan chef” questions, and we’re posting part one today. Be sure to check back for part two as well as for info about and reviews of Robin’s exciting new cookbook, Vegan Fire & Spice.

Ask the Vegan Chef, Part 1
Answers by Robin Robertson

Q. I am a new vegan and have a couple of questions about products. Are sugar-free maple syrup, Bisquick, and Smart Balance vegan? Thanks!

A. You’re in luck: According to the Smart Balance Web site, its “Certified Organic” Smart Balance is 100 percent vegan (the lactic acid it contains is derived from beets). Bisquick is also vegan—as long as you don’t add eggs or dairy products to the mix! As for sugar-free maple syrup, I couldn’t find any brands that weren’t vegan, but as with any product, it’s always a good idea to read the label first. PETA has a great factsheet on hidden animal ingredients so that you know what to look for.


Q. I have high blood pressure and have to watch my sodium intake. A lot of the veggie dinners on the market are full of sodium. Are there any frozen veggie dinners available that are quick to fix and low in sodium?

A. That’s a tough one, since most processed products and meals tend to be high in sodium. Here’s an idea that can be economical and lets you control the sodium: Make your own! Pick a day when you have a few hours to devote to cooking. Get some meal-sized containers that you can either pop in the oven or microwave, depending on your preference. Then get cooking: Choose three recipes that you enjoy that freeze well (one-dish meals such as stews and chili are great for that), and then cook a large batch and portion them for the coming weeks. You can also make a big pot of rice or other grain and portion it into containers. Grains freeze well and defrost quickly. To speed things along, you can place frozen rice in a colander and run it under hot water in the kitchen sink.


Q. I am about four weeks into my vegan lifestyle but have concerns about eating out. On this Web site, I found good info on various restaurants, but you do not say anything about the buns. I thought that most buns, bagels, and breads are made with eggs or butter. And what about pastas?

A. Although there are certainly exceptions, many breads, rolls, and pastas are actually made without eggs or butter, especially French or Italian-type breads as well as flatbreads and bagels. The predominant exception is “flavored” breads or bagels, which may contain cheese, etc. Dried pastas are generally vegan, while “fresh” pasta usually is not. One way to give yourself peace of mind is to call a restaurant before you visit it (try not to call during the lunch or dinner rush) and ask to speak with a manager whom you can ask about the products the restaurant uses. This is much less of a hassle than just showing up at a place unprepared.

Commenting is closed.
  • Michelle M Van Gemert says:

    I’m confused about dry pastas. When i look at the ingredients many list egg whites. It would be helpful to know which brands and types are vegan? PS…The shopping guide wasn’t very helpful.
    Thank you very much, Michelle

  • Farah says:

    Hello. I use Gardein mock chicken breasts and put them in shake and bake and bake them for the recommended time (20 mins) on the Gardein box. It also says on the shake and bake box 20 mins if you have a boneless chicken. Everytime I do this, it’s never enough time and gets soggy after 20 mins. I put it in for extra time but it never really comes out right. It will be perfect on top but burnt on the bottom that’s touching the pan. Do you have any suggestions what I can do? Thanks

  • Nancy says:

    Danielle, good for you for asking smart questions. Actually you can get all of the protein you need from plants: beans and rice are a good example. (They do NOT need to be eaten together as previously thought). Tofu is another. Do an internet seach for “vegan protein” and you will find all sorts of sites that will tell you what foods are good protein sources.

  • Nancy says:

    I use Earth Balance Spread. Totally vegan, non GMO, etc. They actually carry it at Safeway in the soy section. You can do a Google search for it too.

  • Amy says:

    Hi Sarah,
    Maybe you could ask your parents to always include two side dishes with their regular meal that are vegetarian friendly?

    You could complete the meal by adding a vegan Boca burger or Morningstar Veggie Riblets, both are available in vegan versions and can be found at major grocery stores and Wal-Mart’s across the country.

    This way, they won’t be pressured to make changes they are not ready for, but you’ll still have a balanced meal.

    Your next step could be to make grocery store trips with your family and pick up things on the shopping guide. They’re all vegan and can be found at grocery stores nationwide. Here’s a link:

    Hope that helps.


  • Sarah says:

    hi, Im 16 years old and because my parents still make the dinner at home im concerned its going to be too difficult for me to be a vegetarian because i dont have time to make my own.
    My family are not prepared to go vegan and we have meat every night.

  • Eric says:

    You’re right. Smart Balance is not vegan. But the post above says that “Certified Organic” Smart Balance is.

    Their site confirms it:

  • Leslie says:

    I just bought a wok and I’m not sure how to use it. Do I have to prep the wok before I use it? Thanks, Leslie

  • mo says:

    I’m sorry to say that Smart Balance is not vegan. It contains whey. The light version does not have whey.

  • danielle says:

    Is it healthy to be a vegetarian because i just barley became one and dont you need protein or milk so if you can you help me with these questions or give me some recipes i would greatly appericate it

    Thank you-


  • Cathy Valladolid says:

    I have read that some maple syrup manufacturers use lard as an anti-foaming agent in their syrup production. Do you have any information about this? Thanks