How to Turn Your Favorite Foods Vegetarian
There are lots of logical reasons to eat vegetarian, and there are also lots of evolutionary reasons why we humans crave meat. However, there are creative and tasty ways to staunch your meat cravings and get the protein your body needs without actually eating meat. For those who have recently turned to vegetarianism, or have been vegetarian for a while and are looking for new cooking ideas, here is a run-down of six tasty and easy to prepare meat substitutes that will help turn your favorite foods vegetarian.
Meat Substitute #1 - Jackfruit
This amazing and relatively unknown fruit from India is high in protein, potassium and vitamin B, making it not only a convincing doppelganger for meat, but providing some of the same nutritional value.
How to use it: Pulled pork has been a hot trend in the professional culinary scene for a few years now because, well, it tastes amazing. Vegetarians can get in on the action (without clogging their arteries) by using jackfruit as a substitute in pulled pork dishes.
How to prepare it: The most important part of the preparation is finding green jackfruit. It is often sold in cans, a much better option than lugging home the giant, bulbous fruit itself. Go for the jackfruit in water or brine, not syrup.
- Once you have some green jackfruit rinsed and cut into bite sized pieces, season it with barbecue spices.
- Saute some onion and jalapeños if you like it spicy, and add the jackfruit to the pan.
- Add about a cup of vegetable broth, cover, and simmer until the liquid has been absorbed.
- Remove the jackfruit from the saute pan and spread on a baking sheet, breaking up the fibers with a spatula so that it resembles pulled pork.
- Bake in a 350-degree oven for about 20 minutes.
- Remove and toss with vegan barbecue sauce.
- Add it to a bun with a slaw of your choice and BAM! You've got yourself some vegetarian pulled jackfruit.
Where to find it: Asian or Caribbean stores, and some large supermarkets.
Meat Substitute #2 - Lentils
Lentils are part of the legume family, which also includes beans and peas. Legumes often mimic meat in their protein levels, texture and tastiness. Lentils, in particular, are a great sub-in for dishes that call for minced meat, and are incredibly low in fat yet high in fiber, iron and protein.
How to use it: Lentil burgers (grilled or pan-fried) make a quick, easy and nutritious dinner for the conscious diner.
How to prepare it: There are a few different ways to make a veggie burger with legumes, but here's our favorite:
- Cook lentils in vegetable broth, with 2 cups broth to every cup of lentils.
- Stir fry some onion and spinach and season with cumin, salt and pepper.
- Add to the lentils along with about a cup of breadcrumbs and an egg.
- For a gluten free option, use cornmeal instead of breadcrumbs.
- If you are going vegan, you can skip the egg, which just helps to bind the mixture a bit better.
- Let the mixture cool and then form into patties.
Where to find it: Lentils are a common staple and found in most grocery stores.
Meat Substitute #3 - Marinated Mushrooms
Mushrooms have a meat-like texture when cooked and take on a lovely umami flavor when marinated in soy sauce and rice wine vinegar. They are packed with vitamin D, fiber, potassium, and selenium, a mineral rarely found in fruits and vegetables, but which is essential to healthy liver function. Shiitake mushrooms, in particular, are known for their meaty texture and savory flavor.
How to use it: Next time you need to put a little pizazz in your salad, try adding these marinated mushrooms. They are a great stand-in for chicken or other forms of protein typically found in a Cobb, Caesar, or Asian chicken salad.
How to prepare it: Mushrooms can be marinated in any combination of oil, vinegar, herbs and spices. Here's our suggestion for Asian-style mushrooms, which use soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, minced garlic and salt.
- About 2 lbs. of mushrooms will take about a cup of rice wine, 4 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons oil and 3 cloves garlic.
- Mix the marinade first and then add to a container with the mushrooms.
- The mushrooms can be sliced or, if they are small enough, put whole into the container.
- It is best to let these marinate over night. Due to the vinegar, these can be stored in the refrigerator for about two weeks (if they don't get gobbled up first!)
Where to find it:Though button and crimini mushrooms are easily found, have fun experimenting with different types of mushrooms found in Asian supermarkets and health food stores. Try chaneterelles (known for their golden color) or porcini mushrooms, the smaller cousin to the portabello.
Meat/Cheese Substitute - Nuts
Nuts are incredibly versatile, and can add that extra zing of protein and healthy fat that you need to make a vegetarian dish a complete meal. Cashews, almonds and walnuts are perhaps the easiest to find nuts with the most versatility. Almonds have 6 grams of protein per ounce, and are also high in fiber, vitamin E and iron. Cashews are a particularly good source of essential minerals, such as zinc, potassium, manganese and iron.
How to use it: Cashew cheese in your vegan lasagna.
How to prepare it: Not only vegetarian, but vegan too, cashew "cheese" makes for a creamy, delicious substitute in savory dishes that usually call for copious amounts of dairy. Enter: vegan lasagna! Cashew cheese is ridiculously easy to make.
- Soak raw cashews for a few hours in water (make sure the cashews are totally covered) and then drain.
- Place in a food processor with a little lemon juice, salt and pepper, to taste, and puree until smooth.
- You may need to add water depending on how thick you would like your "cheese".
- Layer in between sheets of lasagna and meatless tomato sauce, and you've got yourself a quick and easy vegan lasagna.
Where to find it: Raw cashews can be found in most health food stores and some grocery stores. Note: You can make cashew cheese with roasted cashews, but they work better (and are more nutritious) in raw form.
Broth Substitute - Miso
For a long time, taste was put into four narrow categories: sweet, salt, sour and bitter. It was only about a century ago that a Japanese chemistry professor discovered a fifth taste: Umami. Umami is a pleasant, savory flavor that results from a type of amino acid commonly found in, you guessed it, meat and fish. But, lucky for vegetarians, it is also found in miso, a Japanese paste made of fermented soybeans. Used as a seasoning for a multitude of dishes, miso is also packed with protein, vitamin B2, vitamin E, vitamin K, iron and calcium.
How to use it: Miso provides just the right seasoning for folks wanting that savory taste in their meatless broth.
How to prepare it: Miso broth is easy to prepare and oh-so easy to customize to your palate.
- Bring a cup of water to a boil, then add green onion and a handful of vegetables of your choice.
- Simmer until the vegetables are cooked through, then add a heaping spoonful of miso paste.
- Try the various kinds of miso paste (red, green or white) to see which kind you prefer best for your broth.
Where to find it: In the health food or Asian food section of most large grocery stores.
Flavor Substitute - Smoke Flavoring
If there is one food that could likely to break a vegetarian's meat-less streak, it's probably bacon. It is the smoky flavor (and smell!) found in bacon and other barbecue foods that brings vegetarians running. But, never fear, there is a way to add that smokey flavor to a wide variety of food -- and we're not just talking about vegan bacon. Grilling vegetables on a charcoal grill is a surefire way to get some of that smokey flavor in your life. But, try experimenting with ingredients such as smoked salt, smoked maple syrup (yes, it exists), and smoked paprika. Liquid smoke, essentially condensation from the steam of smoked wood, is another option, however it does contain carcinogens, so it is best to use sparingly.
How to use it: Smoked maple syrup baked beans.
How to prepare it: You can use any kind of beans you want with this recipe, but Great Northern beans or Navy beans work well. Add the beans to a pot, along with:
- 2 tablespoons of smoked maple syrup
- A third a cup of beer
- A chunk of onion (about a quarter of the onion would suffice)
Simmer until the onion is softened and enjoy!
Where to find it: Smoked maple syrup is most successfully found online. Smoked salt can be found in specialty food stores, while smoked paprika can be found in most grocery stores.
- "7 Health Benefits of Lentils", http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-5488/7-Health-Benefits-of-Lentils.html
- "Almonds 101", http://authoritynutrition.com/foods/almonds/#Nutrition_Facts
- "Every Type of Mushroom You Need to Know About", http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/19/types-of-mushrooms_n_4994638.html
- "Green jackfruit: is 'pulled pork for vegetarians' the next food craze", http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/shortcuts/2015/apr/12/green-jackfruit-vegetable-pulled-pork
- "Is Smoke Flavoring Safe", http://blog.fooducate.com/2014/07/09/is-smoke-flavoring-safe/
- Miso, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miso
- "Mushrooms: Health Benefits, Facts and Research", http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/278858.php
- "The secret healing benefits of miso", http://www.naturalnews.com/036618_miso_fermented_food_nutrition.html
- "What is Umami?", http://www.umamiinfo.com/2011/02/What-exactly-is-umami.php