Growing up as a meat-eater, and a big one at that, I can wholeheartedly relate to the fear that’s associated with giving it all up. For many of us, a meal wasn’t considered complete without some form of meat on the plate, so the idea of veggie-full platters may seem lackluster at first. In my experience, and that of many other vegetarians, you will get over that hump in due time. Mostly, it’s just about acquiring new habits, and that only comes with practice, so don’t be so hard on yourself at first.
In the meantime, there are plenty of plant-based foods that provide a similar mouth-feel of meat. Some are meat substitutes, but there are natural, minimally processed foods that also get the job done. Let’s take a look at some of the most common varieties.
This ancient protein source originated about 2,000 years ago in China. It’s produced by coagulating soy milk and pressing the resulting curds into a firm block. It comes in varieties ranging from silken (best for desserts), to extra/super firm (the “meatiest”). Tofu is widely available in supermarkets, and if you find yourself at an Asian grocer, ask them if they have yuba, the “skin” of the tofu that is removed as it’s boiling. This delicacy is especially meaty, and can be used to make faux ribs! One favorite way of preparing really toothsome tofu is to press it (description HERE), marinate it, and bake it. Try this recipe: Crispy Baked Tofu Strips.
This strikingly meaty protein is derived from wheat gluten. Originally created by strictly vegetarian Buddhist monks, seitan was traditionally prepared by washing the starch away from whole wheat flour until you’re left with only the stretchy gluten. This is then kneaded into a firm dough and simmered in a seasoned vegetable broth. Seitan can be made at home using the traditional method or, to simplify things, with the commercially processed vital wheat gluten, which can be found online or in health food stores.
Seitan has the ability to take on whatever flavor the chef desires, with no strange aftertaste. It can be formed into cutlets, breaded and fried, meatballs and burgers, or even pot roast dishes. The possibilities are endless! Oh, and for my kitchen-averse readers, you can purchase it premade from large supermarkets and health food stores 🙂
This protein-packed meat alternative hails from Indonesia and is usually made from soybeans. However, it can also be made from various grains such as rice or millet. Soy-based tempeh is made using the whole soybean and the fermentation process results in an even more nutritious product than tofu! It has a firm, chewy, somewhat nutty texture that lends itself well to meatless meals. Tempeh is often used in stir-fries, burger patties, or one of my favorite preparations, Buffalo Tempeh Wings!!
TEXTURED VEGETABLE PROTEIN (TVP)
This meat analogue is derived from soy flour. Often sold in its dehydrated form, TVP requires a quick soak in water before it can be used in most recipes. It has a texture so similar to ground meat, that it is often used in schools and other large organizations as a meat “extender,” so even if you’ve never dreamed of being vegetarian, you’ve likely already eaten TVP. It works great for tacos, bolognese sauces and chili. Speaking of chili, how about these Chili Dogs made with TVP?
These are no second-class meat subs. In fact, some of you may prefer them to the more refined faux meats. As a bonus, they are whole foods with little to no processing, so you can pat yourself on the tummy for being extra extra healthy.
Portobello Mushrooms: So long as you’re not one of those crazy mushroom haters, like my sister!, these jumbo shrooms will help to satisfy your need for a meaty texture and flavor profile. Try them in this: Creamy Portobello Stroganoff
Jackfruit: You’ll find the canned variety of this fruit in most Indian or Asian stores. It shreds like meat, and when prepared right, has a similar bite to it. Just be sure to purchase the young jackfruit packed in brine, not the one packed in syrup. Then you’ll be well on your way to making these: Jackfruit Crab Cakes
Lentils: Lentils make a great, whole foods, sub for ground meat. You can try them in soups, “meat” sauces, sloppy joes, and my fav, tacos. Try these: Ancho Lentil Tacos
Chickpeas: Chickpeas make great meat alternatives. Think falafel and burgers and fritters..etc. But did you know that when mashed, they make a spectacularly delightful sub for TUNA?? Welp, now you do…carry on and make this immediately: Chickpea “Tuna” Salad