Recently I had the opportunity to write an article for the "How to" issue of the Vegetarian Dietetic Practice Group newsletter (yeah, that's a thing). With their permission, I am posting the article here as well. The newsletter goes to dietitians so it's written in case someone like 2005 me shows up in their office, but the tips are for anyone. If you like it and you want more stuff like this, you can go to the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group page for everybody.
So without further ado, here you go!
McBride R. How to veganize traditional recipes. Vegetarian Nutrition Update. 2013; Volume XXII, Number 2: 9.
One of the biggest obstacles to adopting a plant-based diet is the perception that one must give up favorite foods. Many comfort foods and cherished family recipes feature meat, cheese, or eggs, making them seemingly off-limits to a plant-based lifestyle. Your client may wish to make the switch for health, ethical, or environmental reasons, but feelings of deprivation make it difficult to stick with any dietary change. Fortunately, more meat and dairy substitutes are available now than ever, and they are no longer exclusive to health food stores. Holiday roasts, nondairy milks and cheeses, sliced lunchmeat, breaded “chicken” nuggets, crumbles that mimic ground beef, and even faux sausage and pepperoni are just a few products that are often readily available at the local grocery store. While this may be an easy and convenient option, there are also plenty of tricks for converting recipes that don’t require hunting down an exact replica of an animal ingredient. By either leaving out the offending ingredients or making a few simple substitutions, your clients can still enjoy their grandmother’s beloved lasagna recipe and other favorites.
Tofu. Well known for its ability to absorb flavor, tofu also serves as a great substitute for a variety of textures. Soft to medium tofu may be crumbled and used in place of mozzarella or ricotta cheese in salads and lasagnas. A mixture of medium and firm tofu can be scrambled with a bit of turmeric to mimic scrambled eggs, or firm silken tofu may be chopped to use in place of boiled eggs. In place of sour cream, yogurt, or cow’s milk, silken tofu can be blended into soups, smoothies, pie fillings and sauces for a thick, creamy texture. Given the bland natural flavor and color of tofu, it may be used simply for texture or marinated and seasoned to more authentically recreate the original recipe.
Tempeh. A soy product like tofu, tempeh is also a good source of protein but features a uniquely earthy flavor and a chewier, firmer texture. It can be purchased in strips or blocks that may be used whole, sliced, or crumbled. Tempeh can serve as a delicious alternative to ground, chopped, or sliced red meat in sauces, wraps, sandwiches, or prepared on its own as the main entrée. When seasoned with soy sauce and liquid smoke, baked tempeh is often even used in place of bacon.
Seitan. Made from wheat gluten, seitan offers a chewy, meaty texture packed with protein. It can be bought ready-to-eat or made from scratch relatively easily. A few of the many uses for seitan include shredding for a mock chicken salad, slicing to use in place of chopped steak in hoagies, or cutting into strips or cubes for use in stir-fries, pasta dishes, stews, or fajitas.
Beans. The uses for beans are as diverse as their variety. Beans are nutritious, packed with protein, and offer a heartiness that can be used in place of meat in many traditional recipes. Pinto beans easily blend into Mexican dishes, kidney beans make a delicious chili, black beans can be mashed with a few ingredients to make delicious burger patties, and any variety of beans can be tossed into stews or soups. Garbanzo beans offer a surprising substitute for tuna when partially mashed with kelp powder, which can then make a great mock tuna salad or nostalgic casserole.
Quinoa. One of the few plant foods that is a complete protein, quinoa offers both nutrition and versatility in a vegetarian or vegan diet. It can stand on its own as a salad or side dish, but quinoa may also be used in place of ground beef in many recipes that don’t require binding. While it may not provide the same texture, it can serve as nutritious filler in tacos, chili, sauces and casseroles.
Vegetables. Many dishes that traditionally feature meat can be improved upon by eliminating it rather than attempting to mimic it. Stews, pasta dishes, casseroles and salads can be hearty and nutritious when a variety of chopped vegetables are used in place of chicken, beef, or pork. Eggplant and portabella mushrooms both feature a meaty texture and are a delicious substitute on the grill or in dishes that traditionally use cuts of meat, such as chicken parmigiana or even chicken-fried steak.
If a client is interested in trying a vegan or vegetarian diet, reassure them that they can still enjoy their favorite foods. With a little trial and error, they can recreate even the most traditional recipes with plant-based ingredients. Just as there is no shortage of nutrition in a plant-based diet, there is also no shortage of flavor.