Vegaptation: Things that Can Be Other Things

Vegaptation is my attempt, for better or worse, to make meatless versions of existing recipes. Bonus points if I can make them vegan.

Combine one part job interview, one part oversleeping and one part hectic weekend and you’ve got a robust portion of me signing up for a time slot and never getting around to adapting a recipe. I don’t want to let all of you lovelies down, however, so I thought this time around I’d put together a handy-dandy guide to ingredient substitutions instead of providing a recipe.

Meat Substitutes:

Tofu – This is obviously the most common and well-known of them all. It dates back to ancient China, is made from soybean milk, and can be used pretty much anywhere. It’s available in consistencies ranging from silken (best for smoothies or desserts) to extra firm (good for grilling), and is extremely versatile. Because it has a very light flavor, tofu will adapt to just about anything and absorb whatever you cook it in. It will generally need to be drained and patted dry before cooking, and it’s a good idea to marinate it so it soaks up the most flavor, though generally it doesn’t need to marinate for as long as meat does.

Tempeh – Indonesian in origin, it’s made from whole soybeans and other grains and has a stronger flavor of its own than tofu. It’s also denser, so it’s going to be a little better about holding up in some dishes. If you marinate or braise it before cooking it can soften it up and cut some of the flavor, which is a little bit nutty.

Seitan – This stuff is made from wheat gluten, and inspired the hilarious “hail seitan” ads from Fresh Direct. This is obviously not an option for everyone, since the gluten will exclude those with celiac disease and similar sensitivities. But if you can handle the wheat, it’s a good texture to stand in for chicken and other poultry. PETA has a recipe to make the stuff at home, much as I don’t like linking to them.

Commercial substitutes – My personal favorite brand of pre-made substitute is Gardein. Sometimes I feel like I’m cheating when I use these (not to mention many kinds are high in sodium and heavily processed), but they make some delicious frozen items that can stand in for meat in recipes or work on their own. Sometimes a lady really misses Buffalo wings, and Gardein makes the best meatless version she’s found (pro tip: sprinkle on some additional Frank’s hot sauce and smother in Marie’s blue cheese dressing). Sometimes this same lady would rather throw frozen beefless tips in her stir-fry instead of marinating tofu. Whatever the reason, there are tons of brands of these out there and many have become popular enough that they’re easy to find in most grocery stores, even outside of my New York health-nut, elitist bubble. Taking a box of Boca burgers along to a barbeque or cook-out is generally a good idea, especially if you don’t feel comfortable having the, “So are you going to have anything I can eat?” conversation.

Other Substitutes:

Arrowroot and friends – Gelatin is made from boiled down animal parts and other things you probably don’t want to think about, so recipes that call for it aren’t exactly veggie-friendly. Luckily there are other things you can use. Arrowroot, corn starch, carrageenan (which Wikipedia tells us can also be used in personal lubricants), agar-agar, fruit pectin, and some kosher gelatins. If you’re going to go the kosher route, read the label, because not all of them are vegetarian. As far as which one to use, it depends on what you’re making, trial-and-error, and what you can actually find in your local store. I used arrowroot when I made my shrimpless dip, and it worked pretty well. You’ll also have to do some research or just play around to figure out the right amount.

Non-eggs – If you’re looking to veganize, eggs can be replaced in baking by using 1/4 cup applesauce or mashed banana per egg, or by combining soyflour and water. For more egg-prominent dishes you can play around with tofu and spices.

Non-dairy – Soy milk probably seems like an obvious choice, as does almond milk. If you need buttermilk you can add 2 Tbsp of lemon juice per cup of soy milk and let it sit for five minutes. There are plenty of soy-based vegan alternatives for dairy products like butter, sour cream, yogurt and cheese. You can replace ricotta cheese with silken tofu and lemon juice.

If anyone has any other meat alternatives they love using, or any tips (especially on the vegan stuff, I have less experience there), definitely leave a comment and share your knowledge.

Information taken from PETA (sorry), Wikipedia, The Vegetarian Site, Savvy Vegetarian and my own brain. Seitan image from Herbivore Clothing, and now you know what to get me for my next birthday.

By [E] Liza

PhD student. Knitter. Brooklynite. Long-distance dog mom. Reluctant cat lady. Majestic unicorn whose hair changes color with the wind.

13 replies on “Vegaptation: Things that Can Be Other Things”

Tofu tip- Freeze it. Pop it in the freezer in the package. When you thaw it out squeeze the water out and crumble it or you can also cut into cubes or strips.The result is more firm and chewy than pressing. I will sometimes saute it with Italian seasonings and then mix into marinara or add lemon juice, cayenne, salt, pepper, garlic powder for tacos or stuffed peppers.

You know, I’ve never even heard of seitan. Am I sheltered?
Gotta say that I just can’t get behind meat substitutes because of the fake taste, even as a part of my new flexitarian diet, but then again the last time I tried to eat beef it just tasted like blood so I might be giving it a go again soon…

Seitan is definitely a lot less common than tofu, so you’re not sheltered. I’ve really only had it a few times, and that’s just because there’s a really good vegetarian pan-Asian takeout place near me that uses it. I cooked with it once, though, and it wasn’t any harder to use than tofu.

I make all kinds of things meat-free. But, I do rely heavily on boxed meat substitutes because I’m far too broke and strapped for time to do anything else. I love Quorn products, the Gardenburger, Smart Deli, Yves and Morningstar brands. I make fake meatloaf with veggie crumbles, ‘beef stroganoff’ with fake chicken strips or tofu, and everything in between. It can be done!

No shame in using them. Like I said I really like the Gardein stuff, especially their “chicken” fingers, Buffalo wings and “beef” tips (I just had some of those for dinner tonight). But other brands are pretty good, too. Morningstar Farms is really easy to find (when I was living in your area I think that was the brand most stores had) and not outrageously expensive. I’ve never tried anything from Quorn, but I’ve heard their stuff is good.

I’m sort of pathetic in how much I use that stuff. I sub it everything. I made my husband smothered pork chops in apple gravy the other night and made one for myself with a quorn cutlet. At the holidays I brine a tofurky and roast it. I’ve breaded the quorn pieces and fried them up into homemade nuggets. I use them in chick’n salads, sandwiches, wraps…I love that they aren’t made with soy. The burger and meatballs they’ve recently come out with are also good.

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