There are many reasons why people choose to stop eating meat – animals, health, the environment – but that doesn’t necessarily mean they didn’t like the taste of meat. Personally, I loved the taste of meat and ate it at every meal. However, once I opened my eyes to the truth about the meat industry, I could no longer prioritize my taste buds over the devastating impacts it caused. As much as I enjoy eating colorful, healthy and delicious plant-based food, I have to admit that I sometimes miss meat and that’s ok. There is nothing wrong with having cravings.
What matters is what I do about them and what I do is create vegan versions of the meaty dishes I used to eat. Because it isn’t really about the meat, per se, it’s about the texture, the flavor, the heartiness, and the satisfaction I feel when I get to indulge in a favorite food. If I can have all that in a compassionate, cruelty-free way, why wouldn’t I? So if you ever find yourself craving meat, there is no need to worry or feel deprived. You can make amazing meat-free dishes that will satisfy your need for “meaty” food. Here are some tips for making meatless food taste meaty:
Whenever I start to write a recipe to recreate an old favorite meaty dish, I think about the texture I am trying to simulate. If I want my food to have the texture of beef, food that I can cut into with a fork and knife and exercise my jaw chewing it, I reach for seitan. Seitan can be cooked in multiple ways to achieve the firmness of a steak, the softness of pot roast or the chewiness of ribs. If you are gluten-free, try my V-Meat, a gluten-free version of seitan that I created. Seitan is also good for simulating the texture of pork and chicken though I prefer using well-pressed, extra-firm tofu for recreating chicken dishes.
Whether I’m cutting it into cubes for crispy Chinese fare or slicing it into cutlets that I will bread and fry, tofu gives me back all my favorite chicken dishes. Tofu and tempeh also work well when I recreate fish dishes, depending on whether I want the firmness of vegan scallops or the flakiness of “fish” fillets. Tempeh and TVP are excellent choices to mimic the texture of ground beef for burgers, meat loaves or Shepherd’s pies. To read more about how to use these vegan “meats,” read my article 6 Vegan Options for Hearty, Meat-Free Dishes.
As well as tofu, tempeh, and seitan work, sometimes I want to stick with vegetables for my meaty dishes. Mushrooms are a gold mine of texture. Large Portobello mushrooms are my choice for making French Dip Sandwiches and Philly Cheesesteaks though jackfruit also makes a decadent Philly Cheesesteak. I have made the most incredible Ropa Vieja with both mushrooms and jackfruit. But don’t think you are limited to just those two veggie wonders. There are lots of veggies that can take the place of meat and still satisfy your cravings such as lentils, beans, and eggplant. Check out my article “10 Vegetables That Can Substitute for Meat” and learn how you can use veggies you never would have guessed to help you attain that meaty texture.
After texture, seasoning is the recipe component that makes meat taste so good. After all, no one just eats plain meat without seasoning it, so why wouldn’t you do the same to vegetables? You can use the same spice mixes on vegetables that you would have used on meat. Poultry seasoning may be marketed for use on chicken and turkey, but guess what? It’s vegan. There is no actual poultry in poultry seasoning just as there is no steak in steak seasoning. These mixes are just blends of herbs and spices we have come to associate with meat. Combine sage, thyme, marjoram, rosemary, celery seed, allspice and black pepper to make your own “poultry” seasoning. Blend chile powder, paprika, oregano, cumin, coriander, mustard powder, brown sugar, salt and pepper to create your own spice rub for seitan steaks. To learn more about spices and seasonings, read “How to Stock Up Your Spice Cabinet for Delicious Vegan Cooking” and then check out “10 Awesome BBQ Sauces, Rubs and Marinades” to get more recipes including a few of my spice rubs.
Have you ever watched a cooking show on TV where the chef is showing you how to make a scrumptious vegetarian or vegan meal only to watch them pour chicken broth in the pot? Argh! Chicken broth is not vegetarian; there is chicken in it. Ditto for beef broth. Just because it is liquid meat doesn’t mean it isn’t meat. The reason chefs default to chicken broth for everything is that is has extra flavor so let’s make vegan broth with extra flavor. You can buy vegan “chicken” or “beef” flavored broth or bouillon cubes or you can make your own broth. Simply add some “poultry” seasoning to vegetable broth and you have vegan “chicken” broth. Add ingredients such as tamari, soy sauce, Bragg’s Aminos or vegan Worcestershire sauce, red wine or red wine vinegar and black pepper to vegetable broth and you have a rich, hearty “beef” broth. Then use your flavorful “meaty” broths to make soups, sauces, gravies or anywhere you would normally use broth or water in a recipe for incredible results.
My personal “must-have” ingredient when I’m making meaty vegan dishes is vegan Worcestershire sauce. It has a blend of ingredients that is rich in flavor including mushrooms, peppers, and tamarind. Adding just a tablespoon of vegan Worcestershire sauce to a dish automatically adds umami, that fifth taste that one usually gets from meat. If you can’t find vegan Worcestershire sauce (or harder still, vegan and gluten-free Worcestershire sauce) and you don’t want to make your own, substitute it with an equal amount of a rich tamari and balsamic vinegar for that same savory goodness. If I’m making burgers or meat loaves and want to simulate the taste of beef or even when I make seitan, I always add some tomato product such as ketchup or tomato paste. It adds to the “beefy” taste of the dish. Braising the vegan meaty food in red wine or even a red chile sauce can also add depth to the flavors of the dish such as in my Braised Seitan Short Ribs in a Spicy Chile Sauce.
If you are missing the taste of meaty food, these tips will help you make satisfying, meaty dishes without the meat. Or maybe you want to show your friends and family that plant-based food can be hearty, meaty and delicious while also being cruelty-free. Whatever your reasons, you can make amazing meaty food that is also compassionate and healthier. Sounds like a win-win to me.
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Lead image source: Seitan Sausages Four Ways