Whether you’re a vegetarian or just looking to go meatless a little more often, there are lots of wonderful ways to convert meat-centered recipes into plant-based feasts. One of our favorite strategies is to swap in a protein-rich meat substitute. There’s a growing number of options in the supermarket these days — some are rich in flavor, and others blend delicately into the seasonings of any dish. Read on to find out about the flavors, textures and nutritional profiles of our favorite plant-based meat stand-ins.
Seitan was created over a thousand years ago by Buddhist monks looking for a protein option to suit their vegetarian lifestyle. This versatile, gluten-based meat substitute is now widely available in supermarkets. Seitan is made by blending wheat gluten with spices, then cooking it in a soy-based broth for a taste that’s remarkably similar to meat. With 19 grams of protein per 100 grams, seitan is a good source of protein for vegetarians and vegans. Since this meat substitute is gluten-based, it’s not recommended for people who have a gluten allergy or intolerance.
Cooking Tips: What makes seitan especially handy in the kitchen is that it has a texture similar to chicken and beef strips, and can be marinated and easily substituted into savory, meat-based recipes. Seitan is sold minimally seasoned in large pieces or in a variety of pre-marinated products such as vegan burgers, vegan hot dogs, “bacon,” and meatless hamburger mixes.
Try swapping seitan into these simple, tasty recipes:
Mushrooms are a delicious plant-based alternative to meat. While they don’t contain the same amount of protein as meat or other meat substitutes (100 grams of mushrooms contains just over three grams of protein), mushrooms can offer a hearty texture and smoky, umami flavor profile for a substantial, satisfying meal.
Cooking Tips: Choose large mushrooms, cooked whole in a flavorful marinade, to replace meat in burgers and sandwiches. You can also use a variety of marinated or seasoned mushrooms to replace meat in sautees, stuffing and more.
Try swapping mushrooms into these popular recipes:
Tempeh is a protein- and nutrient-rich fermented soy food. It’s originally from Indonesia, but today it’s a staple in vegan and vegetarian cuisine around the world. Moreover, cooked tempeh contains as much protein as chicken. One hundred grams of cooked tempeh yields 20 grams of protein compared to 30 grams of protein from 100 grams of cooked chicken breast. Although you can make your own tempeh at home, it takes several days and can be quite complex. Luckily there are commercial varieties at most supermarkets.
Cooking Tips: In the store, you can usually find tempeh in vacuum-sealed packaging in the refrigerated section. After opening your tempeh, it’s a good idea to steam it for 20 minutes before use — this will open it up to absorb the flavors of your recipe. You can then slice, cube, chop or crumble tempeh into your favorite dishes. Tempeh can be swapped into recipes that call for marinated chicken, bacon or ground meat. Its distinctive, nutty flavor will blend with the marinade you use, so tempeh does well with strong sauces and flavorings like barbecue and buffalo sauce.
Try swapping tempeh into these flavorful dishes:
- Green Eggs and Ham Bagel Breakfast Sandwich
- Thai Chicken Stir-Fry with Basil and Cashews
- Buffalo Chicken Salad
Textured Vegetable Protein
Textured vegetable protein, or TVP, is a gluten-free soy protein product made from soy flour, a by-product of soybean oil extraction. Virtually flavorless on its own, TVP takes on the flavor profile of the spices and sauces it’s cooked in. TVP is a great choice if you’re looking for a gluten-free meat alternative and are not sensitive to soy — one serving of TVP has 12 grams of complete soy protein and four grams of dietary fiber, and it’s a good source of key vitamins and minerals such as magnesium and phosphorous.
Cooking Tips: Since TVP is typically sold as small chunks of soy protein, it closely resembles ground meat. It’s an excellent meat substitute in any recipe that calls for ground beef, chicken or turkey such as chili, tacos and meatloaf. You can purchase TVP dry, and prep it by soaking it in heated vegetable broth or water for five to seven minutes, then adding it to whatever recipe you choose.
Try swapping TVP into these weeknight dinner favorites:
Jackfruit, a nutrient-dense tropical fruit native to India and Thailand, is a relative newcomer in the meat replacement world. It’s available fresh, canned or pre-marinated in many supermarkets, and it can be used in lots of ways because it readily takes on the flavor of sauces and marinades. While Jackfruit is not a significant source of protein, it is rich in vitamin C and potassium, and it’s a source of B vitamins and magnesium.
Cooking Tips: Jackfruit has a stringy texture, so it’s perfect for swapping into recipes that call for marinated pulled or shredded meat, such as pulled pork, barbecue chicken sandwiches and tacos. Jackfruit is also a great addition to curries and meat pies, or as a tuna and crab replacement in seafood burgers and cakes.
Try swapping jackfruit into these delicious dishes: