Some thoughts on meat substitutes

tacos

Beyond Meat and seitan tacos with cashew sour cream, avocado, kale and salsa

 

A few months ago I read an interesting article about Beyond Meat. Around the same time I also happened upon a coupon Beyond Meat was offering for a free package of one of their products. We tried the chicken strips in a salad at Whole Foods once but had never cooked with the stuff. Since it was free I figured we’d give it a try and I picked up a package of the faux ground beef (retail price, $5,99 for a 12 oz. package). Then I put it in the freezer and didn’t pull it out until recently. I sort of forgot about it but also it’s probably been 20 years since I cooked with ground beef and I wasn’t sure what to do with it. Finally one day Darlene suggested we use it to make tacos so that’s what we did.

First, the package was a bit small and I wasn’t sure we’d have enough so I added some homemade seitan we had in the fridge (we got this particular recipe long ago from the Real Food Daily cookbook and it’s posted here). Typically we might make tacos using only the seitan, or maybe some tofu or refried beans. I think people who are new to veganism (or are just trying to eat less meat) find these meat substitutes convenient because they’re not sure how else to make their favorite meals. That’s not an issue for us and it shouldn’t be for you either with just a little bit of experience (or just poking around on the interwebs).

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Can you tell where the Beyond Meat stops and the homemade seitan starts? I can’t.

So with a bit of experience and/or research on-line or in cookbooks, you can find plenty of fabulous meals to make without resorting to meat substitutes. To the extent that they provide a convenient alternative for people who might otherwise be eating meat, Beyond Meat and other similar products are fine with me. The main problem I have with them is the cost. The package of faux ground beef we used was $8 a pound and that’s a little much for us to be buying on a regular basis when there are so many less expensive alternatives. These products can also give people the idea that eating vegan is expensive when in fact quite the opposite is true. I applaud companies like Beyond Meat for bringing disruptive technology to bear in an attempt to change the world and I hope they’re successful. Until this stuff is selling at mainstream grocery stores for less than the cost of meat though that success will be slow in coming. I think they still have a long way to go because they won’t change the world with products that sell for $8 a pound at Whole Foods.

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Almond Cashew Yogurt

yogurt

We’ve been experimenting with making our own yogurt for quite a while now and are making it more often now that we have our Instant Pot, which has a yogurt making setting. If you don’t have a yogurt maker though, no worries. When we started we were just wrapping our yogurt in a big insulating blanket and that worked alright. It’s been easy enough to make yogurt that tastes good; the challenge is getting the consistency right. We still have our ups and downs in the consistency department but this recipe comes out fairly thick and creamy.

What you need:

4 c. water, plus more for soaking

2/3 c. raw whole almonds

1/2 c. raw cashew pieces

1/3 c. cornstarch

3 Tbs. sugar

2 Tbs. soy or almond yogurt, or a package of yogurt starter

Note also that you’ll need a long stem instant read kitchen thermometer because temperature is key here.

What you do:

In separate bowls, cover almonds and cashews with water and soak for several hours. Drain the almonds then add to a blender with 3 cups water. Blend at high speed for a good minute or more then strain through a fine mesh sieve to filter out some of the solids. (You can use this leftover almond pulp in baked goods or in granola.)

Congratulations. You’ve just made almond milk. Now put the almond milk in a saucepan and whisk in the cornstarch and sugar. Heat on medium-high, whisking frequently, until thick and creamy then remove from heat. Now add the cashews to your blender with one cup of water. Blend at high speed until creamy and well blended. You don’t need to strain this mixture; just pour it into the almond mixture.

Here’s where  you’ll need the thermometer. You’ll need to wait to add the yogurt or starter until the mixture is between 108 and 112 degrees Fahrenheit. Check the temperature frequently (stir it first) and when it gets below 112 you can mix in the yogurt or starter. If you’re using a yogurt maker you can get away with the temperature getting a little low because the yogurt maker will bring it to the right temperature and hold it there. If you don’t have a yogurt maker you definitely need to be vigilant about checking the temperature and adding the yogurt or starter when it’s on the high side of the range above.

You can culture your yogurt in whatever vessel works for you. We go through a lot of applesauce in our house and save the glass jars. They hold 24 oz. and two of them are just right for this amount of yogurt and also fit well into our Instant Pot.

yogurt_in_jars

Whatever container you’re using, just put them in your yogurt maker or wrap them in a big blanket or winter coat in the warmest part of your house. Don’t touch them for 8-10 hours then put them in the fridge without disturbing the yogurt. We’ve found that the yogurt will thicken a bit more if refrigerated for a while.

Enjoy!

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Split Pea Soup

split_pea_soup

It’s not the most photogenic thing and I don’t have time to expound eloquently on its virtues but this split pea soup really hit the spot on a cold winter’s night. This is the first time I’ve made split pea soup in our pressure cooker and it worked out quite well. If you don’t have a pressure cooker this can easily be done on the stove top; it’ll just need to simmer for at least an hour, perhaps more.

What you need:

1 Tbs. olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

2 medium carrots, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tsp. salt or to taste (depends on how much sodium is in your broth)

fresh ground pepper to taste

1 tsp. ground coriander

1 tsp. smoked paprika

1 bay leaf

4 c. vegetable broth

2 c. water

2 c. split peas

What you do:

Saute onions, carrots and celery in olive oil until they’re just starting to get soft. Add garlic, salt, pepper, coriander and paprika and cook another minute. Then add the remaining ingredients, stirring to combine. Cover, bring to pressure and cook on high pressure for 30 minutes then allow for a natural release (though if you’re pressed for time a quick release should be fine). You could certainly do this in a slow cooker or on the stove top as well. We had ours over brown rice but you could serve it with any grain or just a nice piece of crusty bread.

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Mac & Cheese

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Mac & cheese (or pasta with some sort of creamy cheesy sauce) is a staple at our house and one that the kids love. An old standby (pictured above) is the “Cheezee Sauce” recipe from Robin Robertson’s Vegan on the Cheap. It’s quick to make and we usually add some peas or frozen spinach and pour it over pasta – a quick weeknight meal. For this, just add 2/3 c. nutritional yeast, 3 Tbs. cornstarch, 1 1/4 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. garlic powder to a saucepan. Whisk in 2 c. water or plain unsweetened soy milk and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until thickened. Then stir in 1 Tbs. olive oil, 2 tsp. lemon juice, 2 tsp. cider vinegar and 1 tsp. mustard.

Another Robin Robertson recipe we just tried recently was the Butternut Mac and Cheese from Vegan Without Borders. This ups the nutrition with the addition of cashews and butternut squash. It’s slightly more involved because it requires a blender and it has to bake for a short time but it still came together quickly and was quite delicious.

mac_and_cheese

I encourage you to give one of these a try or find your own favorite. Many vegan cookbooks have a faux cheese sauce recipe, or just Google “vegan mac and cheese” and you’re sure to find many options from which to choose.

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Spring Rolls

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Do you only have spring rolls when dining out at Chinese or Thai restaurants? Why not make them at home? It’s not as hard as you might think. The hardest part for some might be finding the spring roll wrappers but if you have an Asian market nearby it’s likely you can find them there (they’re in the freezer section of our local Asian market). We posted about spring rolls many times on our previous blog and this post has a bit of a recipe and some instructions for wrapping. It’s mostly cabbage, usually carrots, plus whatever else you want to throw in – tonight that happened to be tofu and kale. The key here is that if you’re nervous about or otherwise turned off by deep frying, well there’s another way. We deep fry these on occasion but they come out pretty good just by rolling them a little flat and frying in a shallow pan with a generous amount of canola oil. You can try baking them too.

It’s nice to have a good dipping sauce to go along with these and our usual recipe is to whisk together 1/3 c. apricot jam, 2 Tbs. soy sauce, 1 Tbs. rice vinegar, and 1 tsp. sesame oil. They can be a meal by themselves or you can serve them with some noodles or fried rice or whatever else suits your fancy.

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It had been quite a while since we made spring rolls but they used to be a regular go-to meal and I think they may become so again because they’re so delicious!

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Using what you’ve got, Part 1 – Just throw stuff together

While we love thumbing through cookbooks for new recipes to try (or pulling out our old favorites), the reality is that we just don’t have the time to do that very often. We’ll certainly post here about cookbooks or recipes we’ve found that we really like but our day to day meals are often whipped up on the fly with whatever we have on hand. I’ll admit that I tend to be one to cook more from recipes but Darlene is a master of cobbling together whatever we have in the fridge and the pantry and making it into a great meal. She’s taught me that meals don’t have to be elaborate to be satisfying and nutritious. Let’s take a look at a couple of recent examples of what I’m talking about. First up, the bowl (or plate in this case), which generally consists of a grain, a vegetable and some beans or tofu (or both) with a sauce or dressing of some sort.

black_bean_rice_plate

Here’s what’s on the plate, along with some ideas for how you could change it up.

  • Brown rice. We often cook a big pot of brown rice on the weekends and use it for a couple of meals during the week but if you haven’t done that and you don’t have the time to cook brown rice, how about quinoa?
  • Black beans. Just plain ‘ol beans that we cooked in our Instant Pot. Don’t have a fancy schmancy pressure cooker? No worries, just open up a can of any beans you have on hand.
  • Tofu, diced and fried in a little olive oil. You could leave this out entirely but if was a nice addition here.
  • Roasted butternut squash. A baked sweet potato would make a fine substitution, or change it up entirely and use steamed broccoli or roasted brussels sprouts or sauteed kale or any other vegetable under the sun. If you’re really in a rush, microwave some frozen broccoli. We almost always keep a bag of frozen broccoli on hand to add to a quick meal and frozen vegetables are still very nutritious.
  • This was all tied together with a ranch style dressing from Terry Hope Romero that Darlene found on-line. We almost always make our own dressings and you should too, if for no other reason than you’ll save money. Dreena Burton has quite a few dressing recipes in her cookbooks, as does Isa. And if you don’t want to go to the trouble of looking for a recipe just whisk together some olive oil, cider vinegar or lemon juice (or both), a bit of prepared mustard and salt and pepper to taste.

Here’s another example of throwing stuff together for a quick, satisfying meal – burritos.

burritos1

We almost always have tortillas on hand because the kids love burritos and quesadillas. And while there’s no shortage of burrito recipes available, I don’t think I’ve ever followed a recipe for a burrito. Here we have the black beans and rice again, cooked beforehand and at the ready, along with avocado, mango salsa and cashew sour cream. You could certainly use salsa from a jar and we do so regularly (especially in winter with a dearth of fresh tomatoes), but here Darlene made a nice quick salsa with a small can of diced tomatoes (drained), some frozen diced mango, diced onion, plus a little oil, cider vinegar, oregano and salt. For the “sour cream” we used the Cashew Crema recipe from Viva Vegan! and it’s very similar to this one from Oh She Glows. (One tip on this front: if a recipe calls for soaked cashews but you don’t have any that have been soaking, you can boil them for a few minutes and get similar results.)

Hopefully this post has inspired you to move beyond cooking from a recipe and into whipping up a quick meal with whatever you have on hand! (Just remember to always keep rice in your pantry and you’ll be well on your way.)

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Mitch’s Vegetarian Chili

mitchs_chili

Here’s a recipe that goes back a very long time but we still make it on occasion – vegetarian chili from Mitch’s Tavern in Raleigh, NC. Tonight I experimented with making it in the pressure cooker. Check out our post on our previous blog for the original recipe (or get it straight from the Mitch’s Tavern site). If you have a pressure cooker it’s even easier. Here’s the variation I made tonight. I just put all these ingredients into our Instant Pot and cooked on high pressure for 20 minutes.

1/4 c. split peas
1/4 c. brown lentils
1 1/2 c. dried red beans, soaked for several hours and drained
4 c. chopped green cabbage
1 medium onion, cut into 1/2″ dice
4 c. water
4 medium carrots, diced
5 stalks celery, diced
1 tsp. dried basil
1/3 c. chopped fresh cilantro
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 Tbs. chili powder
1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes

The chili was fabulous and so was the appetizer. We just got a good deal on a big bunch of plantains and I made tostones for the first time. I’ve fried ripe plantains many times before but I’ve never used them green. They’re less sweet this way but equally delicious. I used the recipe from Terry Hope Romero’s Vegan Eats World, but if you don’t have that one just Google tostones and you’ll find many recipes.

tostones


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