I found switching to a vegetarian diet rather easy but a vegan diet is a greater challenge- I love my dairy. However, when it comes to dairy, I splurge and use sparingly. I never buy no-fat or low-fat, I find companies that make dairy products I believe in, and I keep only what I need on hand (usually milk and heavy cream).
Buttermilk is hit or miss in my house. If I’m craving buttermilk pancakes, I’ll buy a carton and then proceed to make cakes, brownies, and anything else I can think of that calls for buttermilk. The acidity in buttermilk helps create lift in baked goods when it reacts with the baking soda or baking powder. The result is a tender baked good or breakfast with the perfect texture.
Buttermilk is sold in rather sizable cartons which can feel like a waste if you don’t use it. You can freeze buttermilk for use in recipes later or make your own almost-perfect substitute by mixing about 1 tablespoon of lemon juice with 1 cup whole milk.
Cottage cheese isn’t something I have in my house at all times but if you’re looking for something that can be both a snack and a cooking ingredient, cottage cheese is a good option. On the snack side, cottage cheese is full of protein and can easily be topped with fruit or vegetables to round it out. On the cooking side, it works well in batters, like pancakes. I like it paired with eggs.
Like most dairy, cottage cheese is sold with different fat content but I recommend going with the 4% fat cottage cheese. It’s rich in flavor and the perfect compliment to any recipe.
Crème fraîche is a bit of a luxury item in our house- something I keep on hand occasionally. It’s a thickened cream that has soured naturally (unlike sour cream which is thickened with the help of a type of acid). It’s usually a bit pricier than most dairy items but if you’re making soup or a dessert that calls for it, don’t skip. Crème fraîche is rich, creamy, and adds just the right about of tangy flavor to a dish.
Many places may suggest swapping sour cream for crème fraîche, but the fat difference can cause some issues in the recipe (crème fraîche has more fat). I suggest making your own crème fraîche instead!
While there are quite a few things in my pantry that I rotate, eggs are always in my refrigerator. I eat eggs for breakfast, lunch, dinner and the occasional hard-boiled egg for a snack. I buy large eggs because that’s what most recipes call for and they are easiest to find. Keep eggs in their carton, in the coolest part of your refrigerator and use within about a month of buying. I’ve found most eggs last until I’m ready to use them. But if you need to check an egg, your nose is your best tool. Crack the egg and take a whiff- if it smells bad, pitch it!
Cooking eggs feels a bit limitless but having a few techniques up your sleeve can be a meal-saver. I recommend knowing how to poach, fry, and hard-boil.
For many years of my life, I avoided fats in foods because of nutrition and health marketing. However, the more I dug into the research, I realized that saturated fats are fine in moderation. I don’t shy away from using the occasional heavy cream and never by no-fat or low-fat dairy (these can have added sugars). Heavy cream is a welcome ingredient in my pantry. Plus, it’s great to have if you want to make whipped cream for an easy dessert!
Don’t be confused in the market- you may see heavy cream as well as whipping cream. Heavy cream must contain 36% or more milk fat while whipping cream only needs 18%. I always use heavy cream as long as it’s available. Also, keep an eye out- some brands, even organic, contain carrageenan.
Labneh is such a great addition to your pantry and can be made at home. Labneh is yogurt that has been highly strained to make it thick and more like cream cheese. It keeps the yogurts tangy flavor which is perfect for pairing with herbs and spices. Labneh has origins in the Middle East so it’s perfect to pair with spice mixtures like za’atar.
I like to use spiced labneh as a dip for roasted/grilled vegetables or as a pairing for pita and hummus.
The most well known of dairy products, milk is more than just a breakfast staple and can be used in many different ways. A container of whole milk can always be found in our refrigerator and if I had my way, it would always be non-homogenized (meaning the milk would have a cream top). Of course, if you’re not able to have dairy, many of the recipes on this site can be made using alternative milk, like almond milk.
While I typically use Greek yogurt for most recipes calling for sour cream, it does have it’s place in my kitchen. The creamy/tangy flavor sometimes can’t be beat (I’m still a lover of a dollop of sour cream on my potatoes). Sour cream is made from cream that has had a type of acid added to ferment it. The result is a silky, thick cream that is only slightly sour. Just be on the look-out, some brands use additives like gelatin (not vegetarian) to thicken the sour cream.
For substitutions, Greek yogurt can be used in place of sour cream but sour cream can work for creme fraiche in a pinch. Use sour cream in soups, as a topping, and in salad dressings (like homemade ranch). Sour cream doesn’t freeze well, so plan on using it for a few different recipes.
Yogurt is having it’s day in the light as it takes up a good chunk of the refrigerated section in grocery stores. With all the options, here’s what to buy: full-fat, plain yogurts such as Greek, sheep, goat, Icelandic, Australian, or regular (just to name a few). There are so many different varieties on the market that it can make your head spin. I don’t recommend buying pre-sweetened yogurt- there’s a lot of sugar and plain yogurt is more versatile in recipes. (If you’re looking for sweet yogurt, mix in a bit of honey or jam.)
You can also make your own yogurt and Greek yogurt quite easily. I keep yogurt around for breakfast, snacks, baking, to use in soups, and to top tacos/enchiladas. As mentioned in the sour cream section, Greek yogurt makes a good substitute.