If you're a new vegetarian (or vegan!), you may want to try experimenting with vegetarian meat. Vegetarian meat is usually a store-bought frozen or refrigerated food made from soy, gluten, vegetables or a combination of those three main ingredients. The vegetarian meat is shaped, prepared, spiced and colored to resemble real meat. Although many vegetarian meats are vegan, some do contain egg and traces of dairy, so check the label if you are sensitive to or avoid these foods and need your vegetarian meat to be vegan as well.
Vegetarian meats (also called meat substitutes or mock meats) come in just about every type imaginable - from the common everyday veggie burger to the exotic haggis and jumbo shrimp. Some vegetarians and vegans choose not to eat vegetarian meats for a number of reasons. Up to you. Here are my picks for the best vegetarian meats.
1. Tofurky Deli Slices
If you miss cold cuts or hot deli sandwiches, make the refrigerator section of your health food store your first stop in your quest for vegetarian meat substitutes. Tofurky deli slices are made from smoked wheat gluten and come in a variety of flavors. Even my meat-eating friends love Tofurky vegetarian deli slices. I like the Philly cheesesteak flavor the best, but they're really all quite tasty. For Thanksgiving, try the cranberry flavored Tofurky deli slices, smothered in gravy and plated with stuffing and mashed potatoes.
2. Morningstar Farms brand sausage patties with maple syrup
Sure the original flavor of Morningstar brand's sausage patties are pretty tasty too, but the addition of maple syrup adds that certain "je ne sait quoi" of flavor to these chewy vegetarian sausage patties. You can find these vegetarian sausage meats just about everywhere, from Target to Walmart to Whole Foods and everywhere in between. Perfect as a side with some tofu scramble
, or warmed up in a breakfast burrito, or even just eaten plain for a quick high protein breakfast. See also: More high-protein vegetarian breakfasts
3. Quorn brand Chicken nuggets (or any of their products, really)
Yum, yum yum. There's not too much else that needs to be said about these vegetarian chicken patties. Quorn brand vegetarian meats have a secret ingredient (ok, it's fermented mushroom, and it's not all that secret) that give them a super chewy texture that closely resembles chicken meat in particular. The patties contain eggs, so though they aren't suitable for vegans, they are a super yummy vegetarian meat. Use them as patties in veggie burgers, in a breakfast sandwich or dipped in ketchup or hot sauce for dinner along with a side of mashed potatoes and veggies for an all-American meal. See also: Vegetarian chicken substitutes
A relative newcomer to the vegetarian meat substitute game, Gardein has become hugely popular fairly quickly, thanks in part to backing by celebrity vegan chef Tal Ronnen (also known as the guy that cooked for Oprah when she went vegan
), who uses this meat substitute exclusively in his popular gourmet vegan cookbook, The Conscious Chef
. If you're lucky to live close to a Whole Foods that has a hot food bar, this is the stuff that they use in their various prepared vegetarian dishes.
Pictured: Grilled gardein "chicken" scaloppini
If you want to experiment making your own vegetarian mock meat substitutes at home, seitan is the place to start. It can be baked or simmered, and you can add just about any spices you like. Add poultry seasoning
for a chicken-y meat substitute, a bit of seaweed and lemon for a fishy flavor - get creative! The process is simple, but it may take a couple tries to really perfect the technique. Once you've perfected your homemade seitan
technique (or even if you haven't, store-bought seitan is pretty tasty too) try tossing your seitan in small chunks or thin strips on the grill brushed with a nice sweet barbecue sauce. You can thank me later.
Pictured: Grilled seitan in barbecue sauce
I'm one of those vegetarians who's quite fond of tofu, just the way it is, so I don't often bother transforming it into a meat substitute, however, if you're looking for simple and cheap vegetarian meat substitutes, tofu is going to be at the top of your list. You'll want to make sure it's well-pressed, and may want to freeze it and thaw it first before marinating it in plenty of flavors. Try baking your tofu for the most intense flavors.
Pictured: Tofu "fish" sticks
7. Mei Wah DrumsticksMany Chinese restaurants and vegetarian restaurants already know one of the best secrets to the perfect vegetarian drumstick: It's Mei Wah brand vegetarian chicken meat. These little drumsticks come on a wooden dowel and can be baked or fried just like regular chicken. Their storefront is located in New York City, but several health food stores also stock their vegetarian meat products. If you can't find a supplier, check out their vast online stock of dozens of vegetarian meats.