Savory Vegan and Vegetarian Alternatives
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
Top Vegan Ingredients - For Your Shopping List
- 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.)
- Mushrooms make savory vegan broths and gravies. (You can make a lower sodium broth by using mushrooms as a flavoring.)
- 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.)
- 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
No chickens here -- but this stuff may well fool your non-vegetarian friends. Use in broths, gravies... and Thanksgiving stuffing. An organic version is also available.
(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 Info
A wealth of information about tempeh.
An Excellent 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).
A Vegetarian Cookbook - From the acclaimed Moosewood series
Simple recipes from the acclaimed Moosewood series. More than a cookbook, this book contains quite a bit of information on ingredients and meal planning. (Note: Some of the recipes include dairy products or eggs.)
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.
- Hummus Sandwich
Mhjoy, Flickr Creative Commons
Comments on my WhyVeg page?