You’re Vegetarian/Vegan – Why Would You Want To Eat Something That Tastes Like Meat?
Many meat eaters wonder why vegans/vegetarians would even want to eat something which looks and tastes like chicken or a burger. For me – back in 1996 – being a vegetarian was an ethical choice and not because I didn’t enjoy the taste of meat. (I really did. I was the girl who’d happily sit down to eat a plate of liver and onions as well as more child-friendly meat such as chicken.) My decision was purely because I didn’t want to play any part in the way living, sentient animals were being farmed, transported and destroyed – particularly in light of modern mass-farming methods. So for me, and I believe a huge percentage of other vegans/veggies, a ‘meaty’ component is often (but certainly not always) desirable in a meal – it is familiar.
Of course there are millions of recipes that always were and always will be plant-based, but it is good to know that meat-heavy recipes can also be easily adapted. There are huge cultures where a life-long vegetarian diet is absolutely the norm and ‘mock meats’ such as seitan (wheat gluten) and tofu are enjoyed.
What Are You Replacing?
Consider what the dish calls for. Chilli, curry, bolognese, stew, casserole and any dish with a flavoursome sauce or ‘gravy’ base are easiest to adapt and the changes are often undetectable by meat-eaters! Nutritionally, you are looking to replace the protein element – which is easier than you might think – but also think about texture. When you are just starting out, soya mince or chicken ‘meat’ substitutes are great – they need minimal preparation and offer a meaty mouth-feel. The downside is that they are often over-processed and expensive. As your tastes change, you might feel more inclined to try more natural options.
Suggestions for Replacing Mince
Also known as TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein) back in the day! You can buy this frozen and ready to cook from any supermarket, or you can buy it dry. I get mine from Holland and Barrett. The latter is massively cheaper, but you will need to rehydrate it with water and add your own seasonings before cooking. This is very easy once you get the hang of it.
Lentils are a fabulous partial replacement for mince beef. I say partial because I like to use half lentils and half something else – often bulgar wheat. Brown lentils are useful as they have a fairly neutral taste and hold their shape a little better during cooking. Green lentils are also quite stable but have an earthier taste. Red lentils are terrific and most commonly available – if that’s all you can get hold of, use them. They can go a bit mushy though, and are best kept for soups or if the dish has plenty of other textures going on. Quinoa can also be used similarly.
I often use this in combination with lentils to recreate a minced beef texture, see above.
Chopped and fried mushrooms offer a very meaty texture either alone or combined with soya mince or lentils. I’m not a fan of mushrooms (I know, shocking) but I know they are a long-time favourite for vegans.
Offers a really good chewy texture, best used in combination with something else above.
Experiment with different grains!
Suggestions For Replacing Chicken and Other Chunky Meats
Soya Chicken-Style Chunks/Pieces
Available frozen or dry; see ‘soya mince’ above.
I love cooking with beans! I’m a bit lazy and tend to buy them ready to use in tins, but they are far cheaper to buy dry. Chunky, hearty beans such as butter beans, cannellini, chickpeas and kidney beans are superb. Fresh soya beans are trickier to find but also great. You will learn to love beans of all sorts!
Tofu (soya bean curd)
This can be bought in little blocks, either chilled or in UHT packets (handy to keep one or two in the cupboard.) It comes either silken or firm and is quite flavourless, so it is highly versatile and suitable for both sweet and savoury dishes. The firm variety is essential as a meat replacement – it needs to be squeezed before use (to give it a slightly chewier texture) and dry-fried before use. Alternatively, you can buy tofu that is already squeezed and seasoned. Less commonly found is tempeh, made from fermented soy beans.
Quorn is a high-protein, low fat mushroom-based mycoprotein and has been around since around 1985. Love them or loathe them, Quorn products have revolutionised the vegetarian market and made vegetarianism extremely accessible by offering an extensive range of products both chilled and frozen. Their vegetarian products rely on egg as a binder but in recent years they have introduced many vegan products. The vegan chicken-style strips are easy to use in your recipes.
Wheat gluten-based products
Fry’s Family Foods (available in Holland and Barrett and some supermarkets) make excellent vegan products including really delicious chicken-style strips. Other gluten-based foods include seitan, which is easily made at home. I have been perfecting my own seitan recipe and will share it on this site soon!
Vegan burgers, ‘fish’ fingers, ‘chicken’ nuggets, sausages and all kinds of similar foods are available for when you don’t have time to cook from scratch and want to put together a fast meal! Supermarkets all have their own plant-based ranges; the best burgers we have found are Iceland’s ‘No-Bull’ burgers, and their entire vegan range is well worth a look. The list of brands offering tasty vegan meat alternatives is increasing almost daily – Linda McCartney and Fry’s are both excellent and there are many more.