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Hey, you! Yeah, you, with the lovely vegan dish full of leafy greens and other healthy noms, and the cat circling your ankle. A question for you: Where do you get your protein??
I apologize for that. I’m just as tired of hearing it as you are. I think this question has to be just as old as time itself, and there seems to be no end in sight for us green monsters having to endure these proverbial six words of doom. This one question bores in our brains and nags at our psyche, testing us and waiting for us to finally crack, and crack some of us eventually do. It’s strange, really, how omnis feel the need to pester us with such a question, possibly hoping that they will somehow bring about the kind of reaction that allows them to laugh in our faces at our “inferior” lifestyle choice.
Luckily for us, we have several different means of getting our much-needed protein through plant power! This article will serve as a guide to the various meat alternatives that we green monsters enjoy on an almost daily basis. These meat analogues are sure to add a big kick of protein to any dish, and they’re quite versatile to boot!
Seitan, also called wheat gluten, gluten meat, wheat meat, or simply gluten, is an alternative to soybean-based meat substitutes such as tofu. Some types of seitan can have a stringy or chewy texture to them, making them closer to resembling meat than other alternatives. It is often used in Asian, vegetarian, Buddhist, and macrobiotic cuisines. Wheat gluten was first developed in China and has also been historically popular in many East and Southeast Asian nations. Seitan is also the primary ingredient in many mock meats you can find in stores.
- Seitan isn’t all that flavorful on its own; its versatility comes from how it is cooked or otherwise prepared. Whether it’s baked, boiled, simmered, or steamed, there are tons of ways to use it! Try cooking it in veggie broth!
- This goes without saying, but gluten-intolerant individuals should avoid seitan at all costs.
Recipe: Make Seitan at Home
Our Favorite Seitan Recipe: Seitan Pineapple Jack BBQ Sandwiches
Alternatives: Seitan Wellington with a Creamy Spinach , Seitan and Mushroom Bourguignon or Potato Chip-Encrusted Baked “Chicken” Salad Sandwiches
Tempeh, at its most basic, is soybeans fermented with a bacterial starter into a large block. Originally from Indonesia, it is made from a natural culturing and controlled fermentation process that binds soybeans together into a cake form, similar to a very firm veggie burger patty. Tempeh’s fermentation process and retention of the whole bean give it a higher content of protein, dietary fiber, and vitamins. The hulls (or skins) are removed, and the beans are split (as in, they fall apart in two pieces). Brown rice or other whole grains may also be included. The process is rather simple and goes like this: Soybeans are soaked, de-hulled, and split, cooked (boiled), cooled, inoculated with a starter, pressed into a cake, and then left to ferment for about a day.
Like tofu and seitan, tempeh isn’t very flavorful on its own and tends to be a little bland. This can make trying to get into tempeh after trying it for the first time difficult, as the lack of flavor can feel off-putting. But while tempeh doesn’t lend itself to as many applications as tofu, it’s still amazing, and you can use it in so many different ways!
- Like tofu, tempeh can be crumbled into little pieces and used in things like sloppy joes, chili, or as taco “meat”. If you’re going the taco meat route, I’d suggest steaming it before you sautee it.
- Tempeh is much hardier than tofu, and lends itself to different applications, such as piccata, braising, and vegan-style pork chops and buffalo wings.
- A good way to start with tempeh is to find a tempeh bacon at your local health food store (or the supermarket if you so choose). if you like it, you can easily make your own!
Finally, we come to what is, arguably, the most well-known and popular meat analogue. Tofu is a processed food made by soaking, boiling, and straining soybeans into soy milk, and then adding a coagulant, like gypsum or epsom salts, and then pressing the curds that form into a block and discarding the extraneous liquid. The amount of remaining liquid determines the firmness or softness of the tofu.
If you go to your local health food store, you’ll likely find tofu in two different places: in the refrigerator case, where it is often in a plastic container that houses a block of tofu andsome liquid, or on the shelf, where it is in a tetra pack. Both are perfectly fine and come in many different varities, from extra firm to soft, and everywhere in between. Refrigerated tofu tends to have a less beany flavor to it, so I find myself using that more often.
Silken tofu is made very similarly to the above-mentioned variety, but usually salt water is used as the coagulant, and much less water is pressed out. It can be found in either the aseptic packs or the chilled packs in the refrigerator, much like non-silken. Silken tofu is best used for dressings, sauces, puddings, and as an egg replacer in baked goods.
If you’re having tofu for the first time, a good way to start is with a nice Sesame Tofu — fried pieces of tofu smothered in a sweet & spicy sesame sauce. Beforehand, try freezing the tofu first, then defrost and drain. This will give it a more meat-like texture.
So there you have it! Feel free to experiment with these meat substitutes and you’ll be on your way to making delicious, proten-packed dishes in no time!