Being vegetarian in this day and age isn’t as difficult as it used to be. As a chef, I am delighted by the many options that are available today for cooking vegetarian dishes. The 10 ingredients below are so delicious as meat replacements that even your most passionate carnivore won’t ask, “where’s the beef?”
Lower your cholesterol! Manage your blood sugar! Prevent digestive disorders! With lentils, you can eat your body into shape. You’ve probably already enjoyed a rustic lentil soup with some crusty bread, but lentils make for a multitude of lovely meals. Cold lentil salads are a simple staple that you can bulk out with your other favorite ingredients, and you can also use lentils in place of meat in dishes like curry or stew. They’re a frugal option that add an earthy flavor, pairing easily with cuisines from around the world.
Hemp is more than just for hippies. While it is related to the cannabis plant, hempseed use dates back to the Neolithic era. Everyone from George Washington to Thomas Jefferson once farmed hemp, giving it an American pedigree in addition to its ancient history. This ingredient has five grams of protein for every ninety calories, and is dense with nutrients like iron and fiber. You can eat them in granola or sprinkled on top of any meal from oatmeal to salads. They’re also a great secret ingredient when ground up, making a delicious powder that can be added to your daily smoothie or worked into your favorite baking recipes.
Do you ever fill up on edamame before your sushi gets to the table? Sure, you eat the sushi anyway, but edamame’s secret is out — it’s a little green powerhouse. With all nine essential amino acids represented, it’s a complete protein, packing a whopping 17 grams of protein per cup. That’s 35% of what you need in a day! Edamame is essentially a soybean that’s been harvested early, which makes sense when you think about how soy is the most common meat-free protein replacement. The green baby soybean is simply a less popular, and often more delicious, way to enjoy the same amount of nutrition. Add edamame to salads or serve it alone with some soy sauce.
Quinoa is the only item on this list with a hallowed background. The Inca once considered it sacred, calling it the “mother of all grains.” The emperor even began the quinoa harvest with golden tools! Luckily, you don’t need gilded utensils to enjoy this seed today. That’s right, it’s a seed, not a grain or cereal. It eats like a grain, though, and can be used as the base for any type of salad or rice bowl. It’s a complete protein with a multitude of varieties, but you’re most likely to find it in white, red, and black. And get creative! This whole grain superfood can be used for oatmeal, cookies, or a savory filling in stuffed peppers. While it’s not a direct replacement for meat, you’ll be so full you won’t miss it. The options are endlessly tasty.
Chickpeas are the secret ingredient to Mediterranean — and meat-free — cooking. They pack in a ton of protein, with almost two and a half grams per tablespoon… and that’s at 46 calories per serving. Yes please! That’s why hummus is more than just a guilty pleasure. It’s the perfect vehicle for snacks, wraps, and late-night binges that don’t have you wake up feeling greasy. Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, can be found in Munchery menus everywhere from stews to salads. The variety that this little guy has is truly delectable. Everyone knows and loves them as the primary ingredient in fried falafel, but spiced and roasted chickpeas can also add some surprise to any dish in need of some crunch. If you’re buying your chickpeas canned, you can even use the runoff liquid (called aquafaba) as a vegan egg replacement, whether whipping up meringues, brownies, or homemade mayo.
Now, mushrooms aren’t a superfood or an essential protein, but when it comes to meat alternatives, few natural ingredients can star in a dish with such flexibility. A grilled portabello mushroom can stand in for a burger or even a steak, served with the same sides you’re used to enjoying. It’s also an easy replacement for weeknight Italian dinners, whether you’re using it in a mushroom stroganoff or simply using it to bulk out a marinara. Once you start throwing new mushroom varieties into the rotation with plenty of butter and grilled onions, you’ll want to work them into more and more go-to meals.
While some may start every day with bacon, your heart will thank you if you switch over to yogurt to get your morning protein. There’s an incredible variety of brands and flavors, so those avoiding meat can seek out protein-rich favorites — some of which it may taste more like dessert. If dairy is also out, there are a number of non-dairy yogurts out there, based in everything from coconut milk to soy. If you are more focused on protein, Greek yogurt is an even better choice, while regular yogurt offers more in the way of calcium. Whichever yogurt becomes your go-to, you definitely can’t go wrong dressing it up with fruits and granola for a perfect morning parfait.
Meatless doesn’t always have to be vegan. The last item on this list, eggs, are often wasted on breakfast. Sure, you can poach one and slap it on top of avocado toast, and it will be delicious (try adding red pepper flakes or nutritional yeast!). But eggs are also ready to go beyond brunch hours. A lot of savory, delicious dinners can also benefit from a runny yolk topping it off. Try adding an egg to a flatbread pizza, veggie burger, or even a buttery pasta and you’ll wonder how you ever went without. And if you’ve never had shakshuka, it’s time to try this spicy North African tomato sauce-based dish. Best of all, if you’re pressed for time, you can’t go wrong with breaking out a carton of eggs and having breakfast for dinner.
A recent 2017 food trend, jackfruit is a surprising new replacement for meat. Savory fruit? It sounds bizarre, but this relative to the fig can be shredded and slow-cooked just like pork butt, with a similar final texture. It picks up flavor easily, allowing creative chefs to transform it into something entirely new.
One of the best things about jackfruit isn’t its taste, however — it’s the possibilities that it represents for food sustainability experts. One tree can produce over a hundred jackfruit each year, weighing between ten and one hundred pounds each. With 75% of that being edible and packed with everything from potassium to Vitamin C, it’s no wonder this fruit has been a staple ingredient for working classes in South and South East Asia. It’s even the national fruit of Bangladesh! With so many benefits to this ingredient, it’s no wonder it’s poised to be the next meatless must-have on more and more menus around the U.S.
You’ve already heard of tofu. And you may have even heard of the wheat gluten-based seitan. But tempeh is the final piece in the meat-replacement pyramid. Made from soy and originating in Indonesia, tempeh has been eaten in Asia for centuries. Its consistency is actually meaty, and it tastes nutty. Tempeh can be spiced and substituted for ground beef. Whether thrown into a stir fry, wrapped up in a tortilla, or served over noodles, tempeh offers an adaptable flavor that can be fine-tuned for any tastebuds.