Cravings are normal. It’s helpful to understand our cravings, know where they are coming from and accept them. Then the only thing that matters is what we do about them. When I crave meaty food, I create vegan versions of my favorite dishes. Knowing how to make my meatless food taste meaty lets me satisfy my cravings in a healthier, compassionate way. So if you’re missing meat, it doesn’t mean you need to eat any. It’s totally possible to satisfy your cravings for meaty tastes on a plant-based diet.
1. Understand Your Cravings
In the beginning, those feelings of not being able to live without meat may be physical. Meats release opiate-like substances just like dairy and sugar does. These compounds are responsible for many of our cravings, including that feeling of not being able to live without these foods. It’s a real physical addiction, which means we can really suffer from withdrawal when we stop eating cheese. The good news is that those cravings will lessen over time. Not all cravings are physical, however. Sure, there is also the taste of meat we miss, but it’s more complex than just the tastes. Eating and foods carry memories, associations, traditions, and emotions. Every food I miss comes with a memory – time spent with family or friends, foods that offered comfort and expressed love, outings that were fun and a part of my life. So when we have cravings for foods, we might also be having cravings for the people, places and experiences that those foods just happened to be a part of. For more information on cravings, check out Find it Hard to Give Up Meat? Here Are Some Easy Ways to Ease Into the Process, 5 Ways to Battle Those Cheese Cravings After You Go Vegan and A Guide to Understanding and Managing Your Food Cravings.
Umami is the 5th taste that is a hot topic now but was actually discovered over a hundred years ago. Joining the other 4 tastes of bitter, sweet, salty and bitter, umami is what makes foods savory, complex, deeply flavorful and satisfying. Without umami, food may taste bland. Scientists have recently discovered a taste receptor for umami, which they believe evolved in humans to make us enjoy eating umami-rich foods. In fact, breast milk is high in glutamate, meaning we may develop a liking for umami as infants. Umami is found in many animal products including meat, aged meats, cheeses, salted fish like anchovies, and foods that have been caramelized or cooked at high temperatures.
What does that mean for vegans? Research has suggested that some people may not experience umami and for them, giving up animal foods and meaty tastes would be much easier. But for others, it could be that umami is why it is harder for them to feel satisfied on plant-based diets or why they may continue to crave meat and cheese. The theory is that these people may, in fact, be craving umami. It may also explain why many vegans, me included, make a lot of meatless food that tastes meaty. The good news is there are lots of vegan-friendly sources of umami, foods that will add depth of flavor and dimension to dishes. Even if you don’t experience cravings for umami, it is always a good idea to make food as flavorful as possible. To learn more about umami and plant-foods that contain it, see The Missing Link: How to Add Umami Flavor to Your Vegan Meals.
3. Meat Replacements
When I became vegan, there were a couple of brands of meat substitutes on the market but in just a few years the market has grown so much. Not only are there more choices but the products are getting better and better with great taste and texture. Check out the Awesome Plant-Based Meat Replacements In the Market Today. You can get meaty taste, however, without buying any brand-name meat replacements and by using tofu, tempeh, texturized vegetable protein or seitan. It’s all about taste and texture.
When I want to make a meatless version of a favorite meaty dish, I think about what texture I need to simulate. If I want my food to have the texture of beef that I can cut with a fork and knife, I choose 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. Read How to Make Perfect Seitan for 3 methods of making your own seitan. If you are gluten-free and can’t eat seitan, 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 Sloppy Joes, meat loaves or Shepherd’s pies. For cooking how-tos and recipes, see 6 Tips that will Make You Love Tofu, How to Use Tempeh and What It’s Best Paired With and The Ultimate Guide to Vegan Meats and Meat Substitutes.
4. Meaty Vegetables
Even though I love tofu, tempeh, TVP and seitan, sometimes I just want to eat vegetables. There are many vegetables that have meaty tastes and textures. Mushrooms, especially Portobellos, are a great choice for making meaty dishes like stews, burgers, Philly cheesesteaks and stroganoff. See 10 Delicious Ways to Cook with Mushrooms. Jackfruit is a fruit but its taste is more savory than sweet and is the perfect ingredient for BBQ sandwiches, stews, and other meaty recipes. Read Have You Tried Cooking with Jackfruit Yet? Get Started with These Recipes for the lowdown on this amazing fruit. Other veggies that can take the place of meat and satisfy your cravings include lentils, beans, eggplant and even nuts. Check out 10 Vegetables that can Substitute for Meat and you’ll be amazed at how many choices there are to help you get that meaty taste without the meat.
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.
6. Flavorful Broths
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. The same goes 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, liquid 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.
7. Other Ingredients
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 craving the taste of meaty food or if you want to satisfy your meat-loving friends and family, it’s possible to do it without cooking or eating meat. It’s all about taste and texture and with these tips, you will be able to make plant-based dishes that are hearty, meaty and delicious.
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Lead Image Source: Braised Seitan Short Ribs in a Spicy Chile Sauce