When I decided to give up meat, it was an impulsive decision that was many years in the making. You see, for most of my life I talked about wanting to be a vegetarian (I had not yet learned the term “vegan”) but I loved meat too much. It was what I ate at every meal every day. Then one day I watched a film about the animals that became the meat on my plate and I never ate another bite of any meat. That doesn’t mean, however, that I stopped loving the taste of meat or that I don’t miss it because over six years later, I still do. That’s why I make vegan versions of all my favorite meaty dishes. Because if I can have all dishes I love in a cruelty-free way, why wouldn’t I?
I make lots of veggie-centric dishes too but when I get cravings for something meaty, I turn to vegan foods that I can turn into delicious meaty meat-free dishes. There are lots of packaged vegan meats and meat substitutes you can buy but this guide is about using less processed foods to substitute for meat. I’m proof that it is completely possible to go from being a big meat-eater to a satisfied, happy meatless vegan. Here is the ultimate guide to vegan meats and meat substitutes.
Tofu is a great substitute for meats including pork, chicken, beef, and seafood in recipes. It’s made from soybeans and is high in protein and calcium. Tofu has been a staple of Asian cuisine for ages, but most people think of tofu when they hear the words “vegetarian” and “vegan.” Tofu gets a bad rap as being soft, spongy, bland, and tasteless, but that doesn’t have to be true. Buy extra-firm tofu and press the heck out of it. Or, freeze it and then press it. Tofu can be as firm and chewy as meat. It also has an amazing ability to absorb flavors through spices and marinades, so be liberal with seasoning before cooking it. Read more about 6 Tips that Will Make You Love Tofu, 7 Steps to Make the Perfect Tofu Dish and Tofu: How to Avoid 5 Common Cooking Mistakes and then try these recipes: Crispy Tofu Nuggets, Tofu Pot Pie Casserole, Tofu “Shrimp” Scampi, Grilled Buffalo Tofu Po’ Boy with Apple Slaw, Badass Vegan “Fish” Sandwich, Vegan Tofu “Scallops,” General Tso’s Tofu and even Vegan “Liverwurst.” You can also learn How to Make Epic Vegan BBQ Tofu Wings and 10 Ways to Cook Tofu with Global Flavors.
Tempeh is firmer than tofu and has a more grainy texture. It is made from fermented soybeans and has a nutty flavor. It’s packed with protein as well as fiber, calcium, and vitamins. One of the advantages to cooking with tempeh is that you don’t have to press it. Just slice it, dice it, or grind it up in a food processor. If you find tempeh to be a bit bitter, however, try steaming it for a few minutes before using it. I find tempeh to be the perfect texture to emulate fish in recipes. It also is a great substitute for ground beef in chilies and other dishes. For tips on cooking with tempeh, check out How to Use Tempeh and What it’s Best Paired With and 6 Amazing Ways to Eat Tempeh. Try tempeh in these recipes: Tempeh “Fish” and Chips, Tempeh “Crab” Cakes, Tempeh “Tuna” Salad, Tempeh Piccata, Buffalo Tempeh Meatballs, Vegan and Gluten-Free Tempeh Meatballs, Vegan Tempeh Gyros, Butternut Squash Tacos with Tempeh Chorizo, Balsamic BBQ Tempeh Ribs, Vegan Sloppy Joes, Vegan Tempeh Reuben Sandwiches, and Gingery Maple Glazed Tempeh on Baby Greens Salad. For more ideas, check out 25 Super-Rad Recipes Made with Tempeh.
If gluten is not an issue for you, turn to seitan for the most meat-like texture. Seitan is processed wheat gluten and it is a great source of protein. Depending on how you flavor it, seitan can be similar to chicken, beef, or pork. Seitan has a dense, chewy texture that can hold up to grilling, frying, braising, or anything else you want to do with it. You can buy it in stores, but don’t be intimidated. It’s not as hard to make seitan as you might think. Read How to Make Perfect Seitan and then try these delicious dishes made with seitan: Seitan Steak with Beurre Blanc Sauce, Seitan Pot Roast, Balsamic BBQ Seitan Ribs, Homemade Seitan Hot Dogs, Homemade Vegan Italian Sausage, Seitan Kebabs with Sangria Tomato Salad, Seitan Portobello Stew, Seitan and Mushroom Bourguignon, Seitan Wellington with Creamy Spinach Sauce, and “Chicken” Green Chili with Hominy Posole.
4. Textured Vegetable Protein
TVP or texturized vegetable protein is an inexpensive, easy to use ingredient. It’s dehydrated soy, and once you rehydrate it, you can do just about anything with it. It comes in granules or chunks. You can use it for ground beef dishes, to make cutlets, or delicious burgers and meatloaves. It is also listed sometimes as TSP or texturized soy protein. Get The Low-down on Textured Vegetable Protein (with Product Picks and Recipes!). Try this delicious vegan Irish “Lamb” Stew, this lovely Chik’n Salad With Cranberries and Pistachios, Tacos Sin Carne and Mini BBQ Soy Curl Taco Bowls With Pickled Onions.
5. Gluten-Free, Vegan Meat
When I became gluten-free, I really missed seitan. I searched the web for gluten-free seitan recipes, tried them all and was thoroughly disappointed. So I set out to make my own gluten-free version of seitan. That’s how my baby, V-Meat, was born along with its siblings, V-Chicken, V-Turkey, and V-Sausage. The recipe uses several different flours and proteins to make a vegan meat that has a texture similar to seitan and can be flavored multiple ways for versatility. It can be sliced, rolled, made into cutlets, chunks or links and can be used in lots of recipes. I have used it to make French Dip Sandwiches, vegan “chicken” and “turkey” cutlets, and even Thanksgiving dinner. Read Finally! A Gluten-Free, Plant-based Meat Recipe to learn how to make V-Meat and then check out the recipes for Gluten-Free Vegan Chicken and Gluten-Free Vegan Turkey.
Yes, I said a fruit. Jackfruit may be a healthy tropical fruit, but its texture and mild taste make it a wonderful stand-in for meat. If you want the jackfruit to be chewier, just roast it on a baking sheet for 15 minutes. Other than a slight sweet taste, almost like pineapple, the jackfruit is pretty much a blank canvas, so you can use whatever spice and flavor panels you like best – Indian, Mexican, Chinese, etc. It can be used to make pulled “pork” or BBQ jackfruit. Learn all about it in Have You Tried Cooking with Jackfruit Yet? Get Started with These Recipes including my recipes for Jackfruit Philly Cheesesteak Sandwiches and Jackfruit Ropa Vieja.
When you want that savory, meaty taste, that umami, mushrooms are the way to go. Their flavor is rich, earthy, and meaty, especially cremini or Portobello mushrooms. They are healthy and filling and can replace meat in any recipe. They can stand in for meat to make Mushroom and Walnut Chopped “Liver” Pate or for sliced meat to make a Mushroom Philly Cheesesteak. Try mushrooms in this Mushroom Stroganoff or as a vegan “Lamb” Burger. You won’t miss the meat in these Portobello Mushroom Burgers, Portobello Wellington, Shitake Bacon, Garlic Portobello Meatless Balls, Mushroom Mutter Masala, and Portobello Mushroom Steaks. For more recipes, see 10 Delicious Ways to Cook with Mushrooms.
Lentils have always been a stand-in for meat since the beginning of veganism. Lentils are hearty and can replace ground beef easily. Lentils come in a variety of colors such as green, red, brown, and black. They cook up quickly, are inexpensive, and a small amount goes a long way. Read 10 Delicious Ways to Eat Lentils and then try Red Lentil Burgers with Kale Pesto, Lentil Meatballs, Double Decker Lentil Tacos, Hearty Lentil and Brown Rice Burgers, BBQ Lentil Meatball Sandwich, Lentil Tacos, Lentil and Mushroom Shepherd’s Pie and South Indian Lentil Stew.
9. Beans and Legumes
Beans and legumes are inexpensive, healthy, filling, and there are so many to choose from: black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, aduki beans, navy beans, chickpeas, split peas, peanuts and black-eyed peas, to name just a few. Beans make hearty soups, stews, and chilis that will taste meaty without the meat. Read 10 Ways to Cook Beans with Global Flavors and then try Hearty Hoppin’ John Sliders with Lemon Aioli Sauce and Sauteed Greens, Hoisin Black Bean Burgers, Black-Eyed Pea Italian Sausages, Chickpea “Tuna” Salad, Three Bean and Sweet Potato Chili, Black Bean, Corn and Walnut Vegan Burger, Vegan Spicy Italian Sausage, and Kidney Bean Walnut Burgers with Mississippi Comeback Sauce.
10. Other Foods
Other foods that can substitute for meat include eggplant, cauliflower, potatoes, beets and coconut. Eggplant has a rich, meaty taste and it’s very versatile. If you think you’re not a fan of eggplant, read 10 Ways to Cook with Eggplant and then try it in these Eggplant Crunchburgers, Vegan Mozzarella-Stuffed Eggplant Meatballs, crispy Eggplant Fries with Marinara Dipping Sauce, and spiralized Eggplant Noodles. Cauliflower is highly underrated even as a vegetable but amazingly, it can also stand-in for meat. Read Do You Really Know How to Cook Cauliflower? Here are 10 Ways and then try Orange Cauliflower, Sweet and Sour Cauliflower, Roasted Buffalo Cauliflower Bites, and Cauliflower Piccata. Beets are nature’s candy. They are sweet and delicious and perfect for salads, but they have another side to them. Beets are also earthy and work well in savory dishes that usually have meat. Amaze your guests with a beautiful platter of Beet Carpaccio and then treat them to Roasted Beet Burgers with Cumin-Scented Ketchup. For more recipes, see 10 Ways to Cook with Beets. Potatoes are hearty, satisfying and versatile. You can mash them, fry them, boil them, bake them, or roast them. Turn them into burgers like this Spicy Potato Cauliflower Burger, Sweet Potato and Kale Patties and this Moussaka Burger with Béchamel Cheese Sauce. For more ideas, see 10 Global Ways to Cook with Potatoes and Got Sweet Potatoes? Here are 10 Ways to Cook with Them.
It is totally possible for meat-lovers to eat satisfying, meaty foods without giving up their healthy, compassionate plant-based diet. For even more tips and ideas, see 5 Tips to Make Meatless Food Taste Meaty, 10 Vegetables that Can Substitute for Meat, and 10 Vegetables You Can Make Burgers With. And when someone inevitably asks you why you’re vegan if you want to eat meaty foods, tell them it’s because you can be both compassionate and satisfied at the same time and that’s a win-win.
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