Vegan Meat Substitutes

I’ll be honest—from time to time the smell of fried chicken or a hearty spaghetti and meatballs gets to me. I get lost in a fragrant whiff and memories of those delicious flavors urge me to try them again. But I don’t and I won’t, with good reason. I love animals and I feel better this way. Besides, when I really think about it, it’s how the meat was prepared that formerly won me over, not the meat itself. The salty, greasiness of the fried chicken or the generous blend of Italian herbs and spices really were the flavors that did me in. When I keep that in mind, it’s easier for me to find a no-meat alternative with similar tastes.

The Meat Vegans Eat

In transitioning to this lifestyle, I've combed through blogs and cookbooks trying to learn what would soon replace the space on my plate where meat once dominated. I learned a few things in doing this:

  1. I noticed very quickly that most of our meals as a culture revolve around meat, where things like vegetables and fruit are almost plated as a garnish or an afterthought.
  2. Promoting vegetables from side dish to main course could fill me up and be equally satisfying if I learned to do it right—and that part’s exciting.

Here’s the tricky part, or what I like to call partaking in the “Swap Meat”—I am not one of those vegans who easily welcomes “faux fare” into my world. Keep your tofu, your seitan and your tempeh away from me, thanks. I don’t like to play pretend like my seitan’s a sirloin or something, who are you kidding? If I’m going to let veggies rule my world, I’m going to let them be who they really are. Besides, there’s nothing to be shy about, they pack more nutritional value than a block of beef ever could—so there.

That said, here are my five favorite “Swap Meats” that have weathered the Taco Tuesdays and Backyard BBQs just fine.

  • Black Beans or Pinto Beans: On Taco Tuesdays, swap out the ground beef for a heartier mixture of black and pinto beans that have been tossed with fajita veggies. The grilled veggies like bell peppers and caramelized onions will lend a smokier flavor to the beans and you won’t even be tempted to ask “where’s the beef?”
  • Brown Rice with Quinoa: If you mix brown rice with a little sweet corn and cilantro, it’s an amazing taco filling that pairs nicely with veggies and guacamole. Mix brown rice with quinoa and a little garlic, on the other hand, and you've got yourself the perfect base for a “Power Veggie Bowl” where no grilled veggie is off limits. Dice up some poblano peppers for a sweet and spicy kick.
  • Mushrooms: A big ol’ Portabella Mushroom that’s grilled up with a little mix of vinegar, oil, basil, oregano, garlic and salt and you've got yourself a burger “patty” that won’t disappoint – especially if it’s topped with some roasted bell peppers.
  • Roasted Cauliflower: I’ve just recently unleashed the power of the flower in new foods, but it’s incredibly versatile. Mash it up and it’s a healthy alternative to mashed potatoes… roast it up with some lentils, olive oil, garlic and cumin and you’ve got yourself a taco. Flavor it with your favorite hot sauce like Sriracha, sesame oil, soy sauce and rice vinegar and you’ll think you’re eating buffalo wings.
  • Chickpeas (Garbanzo Beans): Besides making a killer hummus, chickpeas can be dressed up in a similar fashion to cauliflower. I’ve found that they are wonderful when whipped up with a vegan barbecue sauce over a bed of rice and also make a fantastic stand-in for the meat in a typical teriyaki bowl.

When you dress up vegetables the right way, there’s really no reason to lean on mock meat for comfort. Hold your ground and get familiar with spices and you won’t fall into the trap of those vegan processed foods.

I felt it was particularly important to put these meat alternatives out there before Thanksgiving – here’s to another year of avoiding the Tofurky. Why is that even a thing?...

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