Meat Substitutes: What Are Your Options?

If your goal is to cut down on or cut out meat consumption, you may be wondering if there are worthy substitutes out there. Sure, you'll eat more fish, chicken, and beans, but are there any foods that can really stand in for meat in your favorite recipes? Happily, the answer is yes.

Check out these three vegan meat substitutes that provide lots of flavor and nutrition:

  • Tofu. You've no doubt seen tofu in the refrigerated produce section of your supermarket, even if you've never tried it. It's difficult to find in most mainstream restaurants, but your corner Chinese joint is likely to serve it. Want to try it at home? Look for a package of firm tofu, which comes in a block and is packed in water. After removing the tofu from the water, press the excess water out by wrapping the block in a towel and putting something heavy on top for at least 20 minutes. Now you're ready to slice it and use it in your favorite dishes. You can marinate tofu slices in barbecue sauce and grill them, pan-fry them in olive oil and garlic, or dice them and mix with mayonnaise for mock chicken salad. Nestle the tofu inside a crusty roll along with grilled peppers for a satisfying sandwich, or array on a bed of mixed greens and serve with a hearty soup for a delicious dinner.
  • Tempeh. Unless you regularly shop at health-food stores or eat Indonesian food, you may not be familiar with this meat substitute. Tempeh is a fermented form of soybeans that carries a nutty flavor and is denser than tofu. It's quite high in protein, fiber, magnesium, riboflavin, manganese, and copper, making it an excellent substitute for meat. When buying a block of tempeh, look for one that has a thin whitish covering with just a few black or gray spots. A pink, yellow, or blue hue may mean the tempeh has been overly fermented. Tempeh can be prepared in much the same way that firm tofu can—sliced and grilled, broiled, fried, or baked and then layered in sandwiches or over salads. Tempeh is also a great meatless addition to a pot of chili.
  • Seitan. If you've ever had "mock" duck or chicken at an Asian restaurant, you probably were eating seitan. Derived from the vegetarian protein in wheat, this lowfat and nutritious alternative to meat is quite versatile. You can make it yourself using flour, but a better way to try this food is to buy commercially prepared seitan from a health-food or specialty grocery store. It comes in tubs or vacuum packs in either the refrigerator or freezer section. You can cook and flavor it in a variety of ways, or you can buy premade faux burgers, chicken strips, sausages, and more to use in your favorite dishes. One caution, however: Since seitan is pure wheat gluten, it should be avoided by anyone who is gluten intolerant or has celiac disease.




People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

The Vegetarian Resource Group

The George Mateljian Foundation