It’s pretty much a scientific fact: brunch is the greatest of all meals. It includes both sweet and savory options, unfolds at a leisurely pace, and also frequently includes booze. Traditionally, brunch hasn’t offered much in the way of vegan fare, but as people discover the health benefits of a plant-based diet, more and more restaurants are including innovative, flavorful vegan dishes on their menus. Still, even though options for a meat, egg, and dairy-free brunch are ever-expanding, they’re not mainstream quite yet. (If you’re a vegan with rural Southern roots like me, you’ll really struggle to find something to eat when you go home to visit your family.)
Luckily, the pantry staples you need to make a killer vegan brunch at home—including tofu, tempeh, flax and chia seeds, and canned beans—generally cost less than meat, lend great flavor to any brunch dish, and may even be better for your body to boot.
Nix the eggs
Because many conventional brunch items include eggs as either the main attraction or a necessary ingredient, a good egg substitute is vital. You can buy prepared egg substitutes, but, because they’re cheaper and their use more wide-ranging, I prefer to make my own. What you plan on making dictates what substitute will work best.
There’s a reason you see tofu scrambles on menus everywhere—vegans have been deploying tofu to delicious effect for years. With its dense texture and ability to soak up flavors, tofu makes a solid egg replacement. Firm and extra firm tofu can be easily crumbled, deliciously seasoned, and cooked and served up like scrambled eggs. Tofu also makes an excellent base for quiches, frittatas, and crepes. If you want to go full-on fancy, sprinkle on a bit of kala namak, or Indian black salt, for a great eggy taste and a host of potential health benefits.
When it comes to baked goods, applesauce, mashed banana, or canned pumpkin are commonly used, but because of their distinct flavors they’re best suited for sweets. Savory and sweet treats both benefit from egg substitutes that that are seed-based. Flax and chia seeds aren’t only great sources of protein, fiber, and heart-healthy omega three fatty acids—they’re also stellar swap-ins. Three tablespoons of water mixed with one tablespoon of seeds is the right ratio for making an egg substitute in dishes like waffles, pancakes, and muffins. Incidentally, flax and chia seeds are also essential ingredients in most trendy smoothie bowls.
While tofu and seed-based eggs make great egg replacements, they only work as substitutes for whole eggs. Dishes made with egg whites, such as meringues, have recently been successfully veganized by the use of the latest, most lauded egg replacer, aquafaba—or “bean water.” Aquafaba is just that: the water that beans, such as chickpeas, are canned and sold in. It truly lives up to the hype. You can find it in canned beans, or you can make your own with the water you use to soak and cook dried beans. Aquafaba is a game changer no matter how you cut it, but its utility can’t be underscored enough. It can be used to make vegan butter, Hollandaise sauce, and melty, gooey, and sliceable vegan cheeses.
Don’t miss the biscuit
Southerners like me love us some buttermilk biscuits, and being vegan doesn’t change that one bit. Replace dairy milk with any number of non-dairy milks like soy, almond, rice, hemp, and oat. Add a splash of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar to that, swap out butter or lard for vegetable shortening, and you’ve got the makings of rich, flaky biscuits that are perfect for brunch.
Fake the bacon
Finally, what about the meat? I’m sure there is at least one brunch on the planet that doesn’t include bacon, but I haven’t come across it yet. Vegans love bacon, too, ours just doesn’t contain pork. Like everything else, you can purchase faux bacon, but it’s more processed and expensive than making your own tempeh bacon. Not only is homemade tempeh bacon super delicious, it’s packed with protein (not to mention it has no cholesterol and significantly lower fat and calories), and it’s super easy to whip up at home. Yes, it requires a little more effort than opening a package of bacon, putting it in a skillet, and cooking it, but not that much. Your body—and the piggies—will thank you for it.
Whether you’re craving something sweet, savory, or a mix of the two for your vegan brunch, making it at home will save you money and ensure you never have to get out of your cruelty-free PJs.
Appalachian born and bred, Brook Bolen is a freelance writer who lives in Atlanta with her husband, daughter, and pit bulls. She makes a hellaciously delicious tofu scramble.