We've all had that memorable experience at least once, that truly AWFUL vegan meal. Whether it was a knock-off of an animal-based dish, or a health food a friend made you try, or just a boring-ass plate of bland veggies at an otherwise culinarily alluring restaurant.
Anyone here ever been disappointed by someone's "vegan chicken wings" that turned out to be just cauliflower tossed in buffalo sauce?
~ Hey, this is some pretty legit cauliflower, but chicken wings it is NOT! ~
Sorry, it's not the same and you know it.
For me it was a vegan "mac n cheese" from the Whole Foods deli. The greenish-brown color should've been indication enough to stay away... Like a brightly-colored tree frog in the jungle warning,
"Don't eat me! I'm HELLA poisonous!!" But no...
~What the heck? I'll give it a shot ~
Ugh. Bad move, Sarah. I think it had avocado in it. Avocado plus a couple hours in a heat well = gross. Guys, don't add avocado to anything unless you're gonna eat it, like NOW.
We've all been there, but there is hope...
There are some simple tips and techniques that will help you lay your vegan nightmares to rest.
So delicious, you'll be suspicious, so satisfying you won't even remember meat, SO RICH you'll reach for the Lipitor, ladies and gentlemen, I present...
Sarah's 5 Practices for Plant-based Paradise
1. Instead of meat imitations, use whole plant foods
Nobody likes a poser, and the same is true of your food. There's definitely a difference between a veggie burger designed to taste like meat and, say, a black bean burger (not a whole food, I know, but the point here is valid). The black bean burger isn't trying to be something it's NOT and it's delicious. The imitation burger is probably a little strange at best, and just bad at worst. This kind of product can make you feel like you should have just eaten pickles and ketchup on a bun.
There are many ways to incorporate protein into your meal, but I'm going to focus on three big contenders:
TVP (textured vegetable protein): Usually made of soy flour, you can cook this stuff up yourself in whatever sauce you want. It's in the form of crumbles and can be used similarly to ground beef.
Pros: It has a meat-like, chewy texture. When disguised by a flavorful sauce you might trick someone into thinking it's ground meat. (I've done this, so I know it's possible.)
Also, it's a complete protein.
Cons: If you're no-soy then it's a no-go, obviously, but even if you're not, it can be hard to digest. It's a highly processed food, so your overall nutritive and digestive experience will probably be lacking. Watch out for additives, because all it's supposed to be is defatted soy flour. The fats in soybeans are healthy fats, though, so why remove them? Also, it doesn't taste... bad... but it's not particularly good either. It feels to me like the kind of thing that might be found in dried survival foods or army rations.
Store-bought, pre-made, vegan meat replacement: something like Beyond crumbles (which I've tried) or the weird vegan chicken patties you may have seen.
Pros: It's really easy to use, just heat and go. Many often have a lot of protein, but not all, you have to check.
Cons: Might just be TVP. If not cool, but it may still contain soy products, so be advised. Either way, it's probably still EXPENSIVE, and may have weird additives or other ingredients nobody wants or needs. As far as taste and texture, they're usually fine, but you can definitely tell it's not meat. For some people it's unpleasant when you're eating something that you can't quite place... Like dill pickle ice cream; it might technically taste fine, but the confused palate might make it seem gross anyway.
Whole foods: Things like beans, lentils, quinoa, nuts, pumpkin seeds, oats, etc.
Pros: They're already balanced to have the macros, micros and fiber you need to get lots of benefits. When it comes to taste, we're golden. Most have healthy fats that make them satisfying and succulent. Add your favorite seasoning and you're good to go. They're also reasonably convenient. Canned beans are already perfectly tender, other examples just need to be cooked for 20-30 minutes on a stove-top, and many you eat raw. Done.
Lastly, most of these foods are CHEAP when compared to meat or meat substitutes.
Cons: They're often not complete proteins and should be thoughtfully paired with complementary proteins. This is usually pretty easy though, just pair a legume with a grain. i.e. Rice and beans, peanut butter and whole wheat bread. Now you got all nine essential amino acids
For me, with virtually no downsides, the hands-down winner is whole foods every time.
Here are a few more ideas to help you keep it real when it comes to protein:
Tacos: Make your taco filling out of lentils. Use some oil and whatever seasoning you would normally put on your taco meat.
Spaghetti with Meat Sauce: Just leave out the meat. Eat whole wheat pasta for more protein, and add things like broccoli, spinach and olives. I really like to cook down some chunks of fresh white mushroom and throw them in to feel like there's some substance in there. You could add a can of white beans or kidney beans if that sounds like it's up your alley.
Stir-fry: Top with a generous handful of peanuts. Peanuts actually have a lot of protein.
Breakfast: Try oatmeal but instead it's quinoa! Cook it with some cashew milk, nuts and fruit, a little maple syrup, YUMMY
Bagels and Sandwiches: The problem I run into is that most vegan sandwich toppings are mostly sources of lots of fat, not protein. There's nothing unhealthy about hummus or avocado (definitely recommend both!), but they don't up your protein game. Once again, opting for whole grain helps. Whole wheat bread is delicious, but... I don't know about you, to me whole wheat bagels just aren't the same. Instead, if you're doing hummus or vegan cream cheese, or even peanut butter, top it with some pumpkin seeds. LOTS of protein in pumpkin seeds. You could also do chia seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, whatever...
Chili: Beans, beans, beans... 'nuf said. Check out my recipe here
2. Spices are your friend: Create meaty flavors by association
This is mainly helpful if you're trying to recreate a recipe that has meat as a pivotal ingredient. Something like, chicken noodle soup, or shepherd's pie. Using ingredients commonly associated with those meats can help avoid that palate problem of expecting one thing, then tasting something that's... not.
Chicken: Anybody know the song Scarborough fair? If you don't, first of all, go listen to it, it's a lovely folk song. Second, a recurring line in the song is "Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme". Right there is your guide to chicken flavor. This is a very traditional spice combo used for poultry. When someone eats a soup or a casserole with those spices, they're thinking chicken because they're used to tasting those spices when eating chicken. At my house we actually keep a meat free chicken seasoning that we put on everything. It's some kinda cheap-o stuff that has a bunch of salt and MSG (not bad for you in moderation, it's basically salt), but it really does make stuff taste like chicken. We put it on popcorn, fries, eggs... I actually use it to season my tofu sometimes.
Bacon: Mmm, mmm, bacon. What's the big appeal with bacon? Mostly, it's the fat. That rich, oh so good, but oh so bad for you saturated fat. I add a heap of refined coconut oil to help with that. Add a little liquid smoke and maple syrup, and, oh, mama, it's like you're livin' in a Cracker Barrel. (On a side note, I'm pretty sure there's NOTHING vegan at cracker barrel except the fresh fruit... but I still go.)
Beef: Honestly, the flavor of beef is the most difficult to replicate. I think mushrooms can be used for flavor and texture as they are pretty umami and chewy. While those are tasty, they're not all
THAT meaty. I recommend adding alcohol to whatever you're cooking.
Add red wine to tomato sauce, marsala or white wine to cream sauce, beer to chili, and bourbon to barbecue. We're not drinking because we broke up with beef, (unless you want to) there's just something about the rich flavor it imparts that's reminiscent of the slightly gamey flavor of beef.
3. Be CAREFUL with vegan dairy products
This is really a category you can ruin for yourself if you happen to get the gross stuff. I haven't tried everything, but I've tried A LOT, so I can give you a few recommendations for what to use in your cooking.
Milk: Cashew milk is my go-to. When in a recipe there's no discernible difference from regular milk. If you make it yourself, you can vary the thickness and fat content to replicate heavy cream, skim milk or anything in between. Coconut milk is great, but whatever you're making will taste like coconut. We use it for curries. If you're going to have it with cereal for breakfast, I recommend getting a milk that has protein, so you're not having a sugar-blasted morning complete with mid-morning crash.
Cheese: Whatever you do, don't get Daiya. If cheese is what you crave, this won't do it for you. The texture when melted is somehow... gummy. Most other vegan cheeses are really expensive, so I kind of avoid this category. (When I was in Seattle I had some vegan mozz that was AMAZING though, so I know it's out there.) I have however had incredibly convincing cheese dip made with nutritional yeast. We add it to lots of things to up the umami and the richness. Mix it with something creamy and you're on your way.
Cream Cheese: Still working on this one. Tried an organic kroger brand vegan cream cheese and there was a noticeable play-doh kinda taste, even after we tried to cover it with other flavors. Message me if you find something, kay?
Sour Cream: Get Tofutti "Better than sour cream" vegan sour cream. If you like to eat sour cream with a spoon, you might notice a difference, but you can make french onion dip, add it to your chili, nachos, whatever and you can't taste a difference. Definitely recommend this product.
4. Sauce it up! Spruce up your vegetable dishes with an original sauce.
The beauty of this rule, is that you can make it whatever your want. Your dream, your sauce. I'm going to lay out two basic ways to make a sauce, and you can fill in the rest with whatever you have.
Method #1: The Roux
Start with equal parts butter/oil and flour. If you're using a solid fat, then melt it first. Cook the flour for one minute then add liquid. The more liquid you add, the thinner the sauce. Add it gradually so you can stop when you've hit the desired thickness.
That's the basic method! If you want a tomato-y sauce you can toast tomato paste in the butter before the flour, or add tomato sauce as part of your liquid. If you want to add some aromatic spices, you can toast them with the flour. For the liquid, your main categories are broth, or something creamy. I've also used just straight white wine. Don't forget to salt to taste at the END.
Method #2: Reduction
If you already have a liquid, say, a broth or a marinade in your pan and you want to go straight to the sauce phase, just cook it down. This can take a bit of time, but if it's super watery, just crank it
up to high heat and let the water evaporate. If it's taking too long to thicken, you could always add a corn starch slurry. To do that, put about a Tbsp of corn starch (depending on how much sauce you're making, start small if in doubt) in a tiny bowl and add an equal amount of water. Now get your tiny whisk (or, like, a fork,) and mix it up. When it looks kinda like milk, add it to the sauce. This way there's no clumps of corn starch in your sauce. Ew. The corn starch will also give your sauce a slightly creamy consistency.
5. Use Tofu, but only if you have time to do it RIGHT
Mainly, I'm talking about using tofu similarly to how you might use cubed meat, like in a soup, stir fry or even fried nuggets. I like to add tofu to smoothies, for which I buy silken tofu. Just throw it in raw. Adds protein. For just about everything else, I get extra firm tofu. They don't make it firm enough for me though... ;)
Raw out of the package it's kinda grainy and mushy and tastes funny. Don't eat it raw. We gotta cook it to break down a couple natural antinutrients anyway.
First, dehydrate your tofu. It's still got a lot of water in it that will keep it from getting nice and chewy when we cook it. I just set the block on a plate, put a cutting board on top and then weigh it down with some canned goods or small barbells. Don't go too crazy, you can crush it, but it can withstand at least six pounds. Leave it for at least 30 minutes then drain it off. After that, slice it through the middle, like you would a hamburger bun, so you have more surface area to work with. Place the halves side-by-side on a towel, then fold the towel over and press down to soak up any remaining liquid.
I've heard recommendations to then freeze it to dry it out even more. This doesn't seem to work... maybe I'm doing it wrong, but it seems to me, unless it's sealed in a vacuum pouch, ice crystals are going to form, and then when you thaw it, it'll get damp again. You could try putting it on an uncovered plate in the fridge. That would dehydrate it, but don't do that if you have a stinky fridge. Mostly I find this step a waste of time.
My favorite way to marinate tofu is with a dry rub. Use plenty of salt along with whatever else you season it with. Season every surface. You can either marinate it like that or let it soak in oil with the dry rub. I marinate mine in oil overnight. When it's done I cube it, and it fries up really well in a pan as is.
If you want to do breaded and fried tofu (it's really good, don't knock it), I'd skip the oil marinade. You want the tofu fairly dry to start. Toss it in flour or corn starch (I add some salt and pepper at this phase) and let it sit for a few minutes. You can saute it just like that for some light, crusty browning, but if you're feeling that deep-fry hunger coming on, don't stop there. Whisk up an egg or two with a little water and coat each piece. Toss with some breadcrumbs and drop them straight in some hot oil. Make sure the oil is HOT. If it sizzles when you put a drop of water in you're getting close. I drop one piece of tofu in to test the oil. If it doesn't immediately get all bubbly it's not hot enough. If it's not hot enough your tofu might cook, but it'll be super oily. If it gets dark brown too fast, then turn the heat down a little. You may have to adjust the heat as you go, because the tofu will decrease the temperature slightly when you add it. Just keep an eye on it. Your result should be toasty and crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. If you did your dry rub it'll be nice and flavorful too. Toss it in buffalo or barbecue sauce and dive in.
That's it! All five rules. I've come up with these over years of experimenting, so hopefully I've saved you at least one or two headaches, and helped you forget some of your bad-vegan-food baggage!
Here's a recipe that features both meat-by-association spicing (rule #2) and my famous tofu technique (rule #5). Happy eating! (Click the pic for printable recipe!)
Hearty and delicious, this 100% plant-based recipe will cure what ails ya! Featuring flavorful broth, savory chunks and of course the all the noodley goodness you could wish for, this traditionally inspired recipe is sure to be a hit among herbivores and carnivores alike!
For a gluten-free option, substitute rice or potatoes in the soup. If you don’t mind eggs, egg noodles or even homemade dumplings won’t lose their integrity when stored IN the soup.
Tofu (Prep day before)
You’re gonna need: · one block of extra firm tofu · About a cup or so of neutralish cooking oil · Some spices and seasoning (If you can find a no-chicken chicken seasoning, this works GREAT! Otherwise, I recommend some rosemary, thyme, parsley, a tiny bit of sage, SALT, and paprika (smoked if you have it) You can supplement your no-chicken seasoning with these as well. Dehydrate the tofu: Place the block between two flat surfaces and place something heavy (6-7 lbs at most) on top. Wait at least 30 minutes, then drain off the water. Cut the tofu in half, along a plane parallel to the ground (like a sandwich bun) then place each half side by side on top of a towel. Fold the towel over the tofu, so that there’s towel above and beneath and gently press down on each half to absorb the water and pull it out of the tofu. Mix your seasoning together on a plate, and press each surface of the tofu into the seasoning. Place the tofu in a container not much bigger than the tofu block and cover with oil. Let it marinate at least four hours, but preferably overnight. If your tofu isn’t quite covered, try to flip the container upside down at some point. When you’re ready to make the soup, pull the tofu out of the oil, and SAVE THE OIL. You don’t need it for the soup, but that’s some nicely seasoned oil now, and you can use it to saute some veggies, or as a base for a salad dressing or something. I don’t recommend it for heavy frying as you’ll burn the spices in it To cook it for the soup, cut your tofu into bite-size chunks and throw it straight in a frying pan. It’s soaked in oil, so you don’t need to add anything. Turn the burner to Medium-High heat and toss the tofu around until it’s getting golden-brown and crispy all over. Turn off the heat and set it aside. The Soup!
· 2 Tbsp Oil · ½ Large Onion, diced · 2 Medium Carrots, chunks · 2-3 Large Celery Stalks, chunks · 4 Cloves of Garlic (Minced or Pressed) · 2 Jalapeños (optional!) · 2 Tbsp of Dried Parsley · 1 Tbsp Dried Thyme Leaves · 1 tsp Rosemary leaves (crush or chop first if not powdered · 1 tsp Dried Sage (Crush if not powdered) · Dash of Cayenne Pepper (to taste) · Dash of Black Pepper · 6 Cups Vegetable Broth · Can of Chickpeas or Other Bean (optional!) · Salt to Taste · ½ Lb Fresh Green Beans, (pieces 1 in long) · 12 oz Pasta Cooked Al Dente (slightly chewy, We’re going to be storing this separately from the soup, so if you just make a 1 lb box you can use the leftovers in something else. Use whatever shape you want, but long pasta is not recommended.) Start by sautéing your onion, carrot, and celery together in the oil over medium heat. When this gets slightly tender, add the garlic and jalapeño and sauté for another minute or two. Add your herbs and spices, (no salt yet) incorporate, then top it off with the broth. If you’re adding beans, add them now too. At this stage, you can let the soup simmer for up to an hour to make your broth extra flavorful. Taste it to make sure it’s salty enough. Some broths will already be good to go, others may have no added salt and will need A LOT. I happened to have zucchini broth (just leftover from boiled zucchini with some Italian spices) that gave mine the light color you see in the pictures. Yours is likely to be darker and a little redder if you’re using regular vegetable broth or Better than Bouillon In the meantime, you can cook your pasta. Make sure to salt the pasta water. When you’re about 10 minutes away from the end of your simmering time, add your green beans and sautéed tofu.
That’s it! Your soup is ready to enjoy. Add the pasta to each individual bowl when you’re ready to eat.
I REPEAT: store your pasta separately, do not add it to the soup pot. Regular dry pasta (containing no egg) will get mushy when left in liquid, absorb way too much water, and could turn the whole thing into pasta jello… I’ve had that happen with some stellini… It’s not what we’re going for, so only add it when you eat it.
· French’s crispy onion topping (guilty pleasure of mine, I may or may not eat them like chips)
· Fresh parsley
· Hot Sauce (recommend tabasco)
· Fresh green onions