The Best Meat Alternatives: There are More Than You Think
Some people who decide to become vegetarians are afraid that they will miss the taste and mouthfeel of meat, but they need not worry. A surprising number of vegetables, if they’re prepared the right way, are delightfully, satisfyingly meaty. Here are a few examples:
Seitan is made from gluten, which is a protein found in wheat. It has been a popular food item in Asian countries since the 6th century. To make it, dough is rinsed until it is free of starch, then the mass is cooked. This leaves seitan with a texture that tastes like meat. It can be oil fried, steamed, baked or eaten raw. Seitan parmigiana is cooked exactly like eggplant parmigiana, with the wheat gluten substituting for the slices of eggplant. Unfortunately, seitan is off limits to people with gluten allergies or celiac disease.
Mushrooms take on the flavors of whatever they’re cooked with, but some mushrooms are quite meaty. Sometimes mushrooms are ground up, added to other ingredients and formed into loafs that resemble and taste like meatloaf. This can truly be called veggie meat.
The meatier types of mushrooms include portobellos. These are simply the mature form of the white mushrooms commonly sold in grocery stores. Portobellos can grow very large and can be grilled, baked or stuffed.
Porcini mushrooms can also grow very large, with caps as much as 12 inches in diameter. Their name in Italian means “piglets,” because of their look and perhaps their meaty taste. They’re unusual for mushrooms because they’re high in proteins, and most mushrooms are not. This alone makes them a good meat substitute. Porcini are often sold dry in the United States and revived by being steeped for a few minutes in hot water.
Shiitake mushrooms grow on the rotting wood of the shii tree, from which it gets its name. Like porcini and portobello mushrooms, shiitake have brown caps, and the stems are somewhat tough and should be trimmed before the mushroom is used. They’re readily found in Asian markets and even in some high-end supermarkets. Some people grow their own. The mushrooms can be used fresh or dried, and are good for all kinds of dishes that usually feature meats, including ragouts, stews and pies.
Traditional tofu is made from soybeans. The milk made from soybeans is coagulated, curdled then pressed into blocks that can be silken, soft, firm or extra firm. Like mushrooms, tofu takes on the flavors of what it’s cooked in. Like porcini mushrooms, tofu is a good source of protein. It’s also high in iron and certain minerals. Tofu can be fermented, dried, fried in oil or freeze dried. Tofu skin is made from the film that occurs when soy milk is boiled and is often used as a substitute for meat. Tofu skin is sold in dried sheets.
Like mushrooms, beans can be ground up and used to make veggie loaf or veggie burgers. Beans used for this purpose include lentils, chickpeas, lima beans and garbanzo beans.