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Savory Vegan and Vegetarian Alternatives

Updated on June 24, 2014

My Vegetarian Story

How many times does a vegetarian hear, "If you're going to eat that, why be vegetarian at all?" I don't understand when people criticize veggie burgers and other foods with a meat-like taste or texture. People don't become vegetarian because they dislike the taste of meat. They become vegetarian because they're passionate about something -- whether it's animal rights, the health of their planet, the health of their own bodies.

As for me, I don't like to eat sentient creatures. I've been a vegetarian since college. I'm not vegan, but I do try to limit my consumption of animal products.

I was introduced to quite a few vegan cooking alternatives during my seven years in Tucson housing co-ops. We had a vegetarian meal plan and a shelf of cookbooks from Moosewood and other high-end vegetarian eateries. Sometimes we splurged on gourmet ingredients from the local Tucson Cooperative Warehouse. (We made up for it by carting off crates of half rotten vegetables for a couple bucks a box.)

This page is about vegetarian and vegan alternatives: not meat substitutes, but rather savory cooking ingredients that appeal to our craving for umami flavors. My list of 'top vegan ingredients' is for people who are now vegan and vegetarian, but who retain a taste for former favorite foods -- or cook for and love folks who aren't vegetarian).

The picture here is a black bean burger -- something that doesn't try to impersonate meat.

Image by the author

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Veggie burger with hummus dressingPasta salad with sun dried tomatoesHummus - from 'bulk bin' mix
Veggie burger with hummus dressing
Veggie burger with hummus dressing
Pasta salad with sun dried tomatoes
Pasta salad with sun dried tomatoes
Hummus - from 'bulk bin' mix
Hummus - from 'bulk bin' mix

Top Vegan Ingredients - For Your Shopping List

  1. Tahini has a more savory taste than peanut butter. You can spread it on sandwiches, or use it as the ‘cream’ in creamed lentil soups. Try stirring in some water and add miso and chipotle peppers to make sauce. (Chipotle or hot pepper sauce also combines well with tahini for a sandwich spread.)
  2. Mushrooms make savory vegan broths and gravies. (You can make a lower sodium broth by using mushrooms as a flavoring.)
  3. Frontier’s ‘chicken’ bullion makes authentic soup bases, ‘chicken n’ dumplings’, and stuffing. Use it to stuff vegan turkey… and to stuff non-vegan friends. If you want to add texture, try textured vegetable protein. On it’s own, TVP has little flavor — or nutrition — but it soaks up other flavors. (A bonus is that you can buy it in the bulk food bin, dirt cheap.)
  4. Seaweed is pretty fishy… as well as jam packed with nutrition. Use nori sheets for vegan sushi rolls. Use mixed seaweed in soups and noodle dishes. A bonus: it's nutrient-packed.

Chicken-less Broth: A Vegan Alternative

(More) Vegan Ingredients

For the care and feeding of non-vegans

Lentils aren't just for soup. Use them to make veggie burgers (a nice low-budget option).

Tempeh makes great sandwiches and stir fries. It's made from fermented soy or grains. It isn't designed to taste like anything other than what it is -- but it has been giving a 'meaty' taste and texture to Asian cuisines for centuries. It has more flavor and texture than tofu. Like tofu, it marinates well. It may also be digested more easily than more processed soy products.

Miso is another fermented soy product. It's a salty paste that works well in sauces as well as soups. (White miso has a mellower flavor than red.)

Seitan is made from wheat gluten and, seasoned, it "tastes like chicken". (Seitan is pricey, but you might want it for your holiday cooking.) It is also possible to make your own.

Make Homemade Seitan

Whole Foods has wheat gluten in the bulk bins. I recently made seitan by adding water and then 'pulling' clumps and boiling them. I added a bit of miso for flavor. It doesn't take long to mix and prepare, but the boiling time is surprisingly long. (Best to be cooking other things at the same time!)

Seitan can be made from wheat flour, but expect more time, more mess, and more waste.

Video: Making Seitan

Vital Wheat Gluten... Vital for Making Seitan

This is the simpler way to make seitan... and probably the less wasteful, as I imagine the folks who sell gluten also sell gluten-free flour!

Tempeh Time

This tempeh is already marinated. For me, it's an occasional, when-on-sale treat.
This tempeh is already marinated. For me, it's an occasional, when-on-sale treat.

An Excellent Vegan Cookbook

Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook
Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook

Here you can find recipes for miso-tahini sauce, seitan tacos, tempeh sandwiches... a wealth of resources for vegan alternatives as well as the more traditional vegetable dishes -- good stuff for entertaining (vegans and non-vegans alike).


When people ask me why I'm eating vegetarian

I say it's better for the planet and I don't like eating things with faces.

Comments on my WhyVeg page?

Veggie Thoughts?

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    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 5 years ago from San Francisco

      My parents always had to cajole and sometimes force me to eat meat. Just never liked the stuff, except for bacon, ham and certain homemade sausages. Guess I like the fatty stuff just fine! I'm always looking for vegetarian protein sources that taste good and are not meat flavored/textured. I especially enjoy tahini in dishes. I also rely on homemade hummus as a protein source. So versatile, and delicious.

    • Matstar LM profile image

      Matstar LM 6 years ago

      I enjoyed your lens and being vegan myself i learnt a few tips on the way :)

    • ChrissLJ profile image

      ChrissLJ 6 years ago

      The video on making seitan makes it seem so easy. I hadn't tried before bc of all the nightmare stories. Considering how expensive it is at the grocery store, I'm definitely going to have to give the recipe a try.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image

      ChrisDay LM 7 years ago

      Nothing to do with animal rights but with my own ethics - one day I couldn't kill an animal I had reared for the pot (as I had done so often before). I stopped eating meat that day and now the idea is repugnant to me. I appear to have undergone a total and surprising physiological change. Even the smell of meat is ghastly to me.

    • profile image

      TaraGreen 7 years ago

      um....I'm a vegetarian because I don't like the taste or texture of meat, has nothing to do with animal rights I've just never liked meat.

    • asiliveandbreathe profile image

      asiliveandbreathe 7 years ago

      Excellent information here. I try to include vegetarian and vegan recipes on my food lenses so I've lensrolled this lens to my Meal of the Month Part 1.

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 7 years ago from United States

      Thank you, thank you, thank you! My children are both vegetarians (since last Fall) and they have requested that I find a substitute for chicken broth so I could make chickenless Chicken and Dumplings for them. I am so glad you featured that here. Now I know what to try.

    • KarenHC profile image

      Karen 7 years ago from U.S.

      Great info! I'm not a vegetarian, but trying to include more meatless meals in our weekly menu. Our daughter-in-law IS vegetarian, and when they come over for dinner, I prefer to make one good vegetarian meal rather than our "regular" meal with just a side-dish for her.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      This is great info for a vegan like me! Thank you. I've never made Seitan before, but I do love it. I'll have to try it soon.

    • profile image

      southshoretees 7 years ago

      I try to eat less meat then I used to and have started eating more vegetables, but going completely meat free I don't think I could do. I haven't tried a lot of meat alternatives to be fair though. Thanks for the suggestions!

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

      Some really tasty alternatives here! A vegetarian diet can be delicious, as you have proved. I've lensrolled to my Top 5 Sources of Vegetarian Protein.

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

      Some really tasty alternatives here! A vegetarian diet can be delicious, as you have proved. I've lensrolled to my Top 5 Sources of Vegetarian Protein.

    • profile image

      enslavedbyfaeries 7 years ago

      Thank you for sharing you story and veggie alternatives. I too find it frustrating when people are critical of my choices in food and assume that because they are vegetarian they are somehow less satisfying. Nicely done!

    • hlkljgk profile image

      hlkljgk 7 years ago from Western Mass

      thanks for sharing your story and joining the why veg club! this is a great resource for alternatives as well!

    • profile image

      seegreen 7 years ago

      Love the Moosewood books. As a vegetarian I've never wanted my food to taste like meat. But I understand why some do. A friend of mine wants to minimize the feeling of her kids being "left out" and so she makes the vegie hot dogs and such. I never had that problem with mine though. Nothing wrong with having options.

    • profile image

      RinchenChodron 7 years ago

      Thanks for this book suggestion. I had seen Moosewood but not the other one. Nice lens - you seem to be an expert.

    • jennysue19 profile image

      jennysue19 7 years ago

      I like the template.

      What I don't understand and never have, is why try to make something TASTE like meat or look like meat if you don't want to eat meat for whatever reason.

      I'm not veggie, but I do usually have one or two meat-free meals per week. For those, I enjoy dishes which feature and bring out the flavour and textures of the pulses and vegetables I am cooking, I never use meat 'substitutes'.

    • GonnaFly profile image

      Jeanette 7 years ago from Australia

      I'm not vegetarian myself, but I can't bring myself to eat things that look like animals eg little octopuses. I would like to try to reduce the amount of meat we eat though.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Good lens. Love the veggie template.