Here’s a question I get asked a lot: if I’m vegan, why do I make so many foods that look and taste meaty? The simple answer is that I loved the taste of meat and had it at almost every meal. When I went out with friends, they wanted ice cream, and I wanted a burger. But when I learned the ugly truth about the horrors that animals go through, that was it. I gave up meat that same day!

Now, that doesn’t mean that it was easy for me or that I don’t still miss many of those foods I used to eat. I do. Usually what I really miss is going out to eat at the old familiar places, having the old familiar dishes with the old familiar people. Everything we eat has associations of people, places, and experiences, but sometimes I just miss the taste. That’s why I make a lot of dishes that are meaty but totally vegan! Yes, you read that right. Meaty vegan dishes. I make plenty of pure veggie dishes too, but when I get those cravings that only something meaty will satisfy, I turn to the most delicious, cruelty-free recipes I know.

There are plenty of vegan stand-ins for meat. Being vegan is not just for people who never liked meat that much anyway. It is totally possible to go from being a massive meat-eater to a satisfied, meatless vegan. Here’s a quick guide to vegan meats:

1. Tofu

Tofu is a great substitute for 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 How to Make Perfect Tofu Dishes and then make these Buffalo Tofu Fries, Crispy Tofu Nuggets, Tofu “Shrimp” Scampi, Tofu Vegetable Kabobs with Peanut Dipping Sauce, Sesame Tofu, and even vegan “Liverwurst.”

6 Vegan Meats for Hearty, Meat-Free Dishes

2. Tempeh

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. Try tempeh in this Pomegranate Sweet and Sour Tempeh, Tempeh Piccata, Buffalo Tempeh Meatballs, Tempeh “Fish” and Chips and this refreshing Tempeh “Tuna” Salad.

6 Vegan Meats for Hearty, Meat-Free Dishes

3. Seitan

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. Look at these delicious dishes made with seitan: Seitan Steak with Beurre Blanc Sauce, Seitan Pot Roast, Balsamic BBQ Seitan Ribs, Seitan and Mushroom Bourguignon and “Chicken” Green Chili with Hominy Posole.

6 Vegan Meats for Hearty, Meat-Free Dishes

4. TVP

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. Try this delicious vegan Irish “Lamb” Stew, this lovely Chik’n Salad with Cranberries and Pistachios, or these yummy Tacos Sin Carne.

6 Vegan Meats for Hearty, Meat-Free Dishes

5. Jackfruit

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, and I used it to make these Philly Cheesesteak Sandwiches.

6 Vegan Meats for Hearty, Meat-Free Dishes

6. Gluten-Free, Vegan Meat

When I became gluten-free, I really missed seitan. A lot. 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. I have used it to make French Dip Sandwiches, vegan cutlets, and even Thanksgiving dinner.

6 Vegan Meats for Hearty, Meat-Free Dishes

So you see, even a meat-lover can find plenty to eat without turning to the animals. Try these “meaty” meat-free recipes and I guarantee that you will be happy, satisfied, and living the good vegan life.

Lead image source: Braised Seitan Short Ribs in Spicy Chile Sauce