Last week I posted a recipe that called for an ingredient that might be unfamiliar to many people, especially non-vegetarians. I want to expand on that this week.
First off, I dislike the term meat substitute. It makes it sound like whatever you are using is second best because it is a substitute and not the “real” thing. If you want something that is like meat, why not just eat meat? I think of these ingredients as protein and they are interchangeable to me just like beef or chicken or pork are to carnivores. The great thing is when I read a recipe for a yummy sounding meal and it calls for a meat, I just change it to whatever plant based protein would work the best. Ever see a delicious sounding recipe that calls for fish and you don’t like fish so you switch it to chicken? This is exactly what I am talking about! The same can be done with recipes I post. If you like the basic recipe but do not want to make it vegetarian, just switch to your favorite protein source!
Second, the majority of my protein comes from beans, nuts and dairy (eggs, yogurt, cottage cheese, etc). I do not use much tofu (refer to my post What do I eat?), tempeh or seitan. However, they are awesome ingredients to use, occasionally, when I want to make sandwiches, chili, lasagna, no-meatloaf, stir fry, etc.
So what the heck are they? Tofu is the most familiar and probably the most maligned of plant based proteins. It is simply soy beans that have been processed down to a blob. It will take on the flavor of whatever you are cooking. There is no getting around the texture, though, unless you bake it or freeze and thaw to give it more of a chewiness. The best recipe I have for baking tofu calls for 1/3 cup each low-sodium soy sauce and lime juice combined with a couple tablespoons of oil (olive, sesame, vegetable, etc). Add tofu (either cubed or whole), marinate one to four hours and bake in a 450 degree oven for 20 minutes, turning once. You can also buy tofu that is already baked and flavored. This can be tossed on to salads or pizza, into stir fries, pastas, risottos, etc.
Tempeh is also made from soy beans but looks different because it is much sturdier (less mushy) and does not come stored in liquid. The beans are fermented and formed into a rectangular, thin block that still retains the look of the beans. If you use this and see some black on the cake, no worries. It is a natural part of the fermentation process. Don’t say yuck! If you eat blue cheese you are eating mold! It is all good! Tempeh must be cooked before eating. It is easily sliced and I use it often for sandwiches. Check out this recipe for Tempeh Reubens. It can also be grated or broken up and used to make Bolognese, lasagna, chili and any other recipes that call for ground beef.
Last, but not least, seitan. Say what? Seitan! This is not for anyone who is gluten free! This is also called wheat-meat. It is made by rinsing away the starch from wheat to leave the high protein gluten. This is kneaded and mixed with
flavorings creating a “dough” that is cooked until it has a firm, chewy texture. Seitan should always be rinsed before using, like you rinse canned beans. It is awesome sautéed with Italian seasonings and then used in any dish you might use sausage or pork.
All of these proteins can be found in the refrigerated section of a well stocked grocery store. Tofu can also be bought in a shelf stable form.
I hope these ingredients don’t scare people. I have heard comments such as “I don’t know how to pronounce it” or “I don’t know what it is” so I am not going to eat it! I laugh at this because so often we will help ourselves to crackers or chips or a frozen meal or any other processed food that has ingredients listed that sound more like a science experiment than food! Seriously, what is maltodextrin (Healthy Choice frozen meal) or tripotassium phosphate (Cheerios) or annatto extract (Wheat Thins)? I don’t have them in my pantry! Wheat and soy beans don’t sound so bad after all!
It is 90 degrees here today and I don’t want to post a recipe that calls for turning on the oven or stove! Here is a delicious, no-bake dessert that uses tofu. Trust me, you will never know it is in there! I have made this often and no one ever guesses the “secret” ingredient! Enjoy!