If you’ve recently sworn off meat in exchange for a vegetarian/vegan diet or you’ve decided that you might swap a few more greens for a little less meat in your week, you may be at a bit of a loss for healthy meal ideas. These days with the high demand for alternatives to meat, dairy and eggs, the quality and availability of these products has greatly increased. They taste amazing and you don’t always have to go to a health food store to source them out.
Tofu is usually the first thing that comes to mind when converting to a veggie based diet. I have heard so many first impressions of tofu described as unappetizingly white with little or no taste and an unappealing texture. With a good recipe and a tasty marinade this is far from the truth. Try firm tofu and the texture is more “meaty”. Treat tofu as you would red meat, neither has great flavour until it is dressed or prepared with your preferred herbs and spices. Some people find putting tofu in the freezer for 48 hours gives it a very firm meat-like texture. The colour, however turns a bit darker when frozen. Soft or silken tofu can also be used in shakes and desserts.
Other substitutes for meat are tempeh, seitan, texturized vegetable protein (TVP) and beans (chickpeas being one of the most popular). Portabello mushrooms are also great served whole as a veggie burger or chop them up for soups and stir fries. Another popular choice is the falafel patty. You can have it the traditional way as a falafel sandwich with tahini, make flat patties and have it as a burger or even as meat balls on top of pasta.
Substituting for dairy in your diet isn’t a problem at all any longer. Milk can be replaced with soya, rice, coconut or nut milks. Mayonnaise can be made from tofu or you can buy Veganaise already prepared. Ice cream can be made from rice, coconut or almond milk and purchased from any major supermarket. You can even create a version of ice cream prepared from frozen fruit in your food processor. Dairy free cheese has come a long way. It no longer tastes like card board and it melts much better. Yogurt can also be made from dairy free milks.
Egg substitutes can be found easily. A popular brand Is Ener-G. Tofu is also commonly used instead of scrambled eggs. When baking you can substitute half a mashed banana or a 1/4 cup of apple sauce for a one egg in pancakes and cakes. You may also substitute for eggs by combining one teaspoon of baking powder, any liquid and a tablespoon of vinegar in more savoury dishes.
Since most of us grew up with meat, poultry and dairy in our diets, adopting a diet free of some or all of these foods can be overwhelming at first. The easiest way to begin is with substitutions that mimic to a certain extent, the flavours and textures we are accustomed to. After you have mastered this and found some dishes you enjoy, try to stop thinking of the process as substituting for meat and focus on the foods you enjoy. Look at cookbooks from other cultures with new flavours and spices. Be creative and embrace the change!
What creative substitution have you tried? We’d love to know.