Meet the Fakers
Summer grilling season may be in full swing, but before you throw another burger or dog on the grill, now read this: According to the American Institute for Cancer Research’s Guidelines for Cancer Prevention, once you tip over the recommended max of 18 ounces of lean red meat per week, each additional 1.5 ounces increases your cancer risk by 15 percent. And those numbers are worse if you’re chowing down on processed meats: For every 1.5 ounces eaten per day, your colorectal cancer risk increases by 21 percent.
The guidelines recommend transforming your diet so it consists mostly of plants, which not only lowers your cancer risk but also boosts your intake of cancer-protective nutrients. And the good news is that if you prepare these meat alternatives right, you’ll satisfy your craving for meat minus the fat, calories, and potential health risks. Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, author of The Flexitarian Diet (McGraw-Hill, 2008), and Rachel Kesley, head chef at Denver’s award-winning vegetarian restaurant WaterCourse Foods, share how.
Perhaps the most well-known meat alternative, tofu is crafted from coagulated soy-milk curds that are then pressed into blocks. It’s soft and gelatinous—even the extra-firm varieties—so while it’ll never satisfy a meat eater’s craving for hearty texture, it does have extreme flavor versatility. “Tofu is super absorbent, which means it will soak up any flavor,” says Kesley. “And that makes the options for what you can do with it limitless.” And with experimentation—plus a helpful trick of freezing and thawing tofu before you cook it—you can minimize textural issues. Tofu has nearly zero saturated fat, and a 4-ounce serving packs a mere 100 calories and a whopping 10 grams of protein.
Try it: Buffalo tofu makes a great substitute for a turkey or meatloaf sandwich. Cut a drained tofu block into 1/3-inch–thick slabs, marinate in 1/2 cup peanut butter, 1 cup olive oil, and 1/4 cup tamari. Then bake at 350 degrees for 8 minutes per side. Next, bread the pre-baked tofu with store-bought or homemade breadcrumbs mixed with a pinch each of garlic and onion powders, and bake again, approximately 8 more minutes per side. Toss baked tofu in buffalo sauce, and serve on a whole-grain roll.
Invented in Indonesia and a staple there, tempeh is made of whole, fermented soybeans formed into cakes that have a nutty flavor and chewy texture. Kesley says tempeh can easily be used to recreate meat flavors because, like tofu, it soaks up flavoring well. Blatner adds that its meaty texture and earthy flavor make it a great substitute for hearty meats such as hamburger and pork. What’s more, it packs about one-third more protein than tofu: around 22 grams per 4-ounce serving.
Try it: Use tempeh to recreate chorizo. Crumble a brick of premade tempeh into chopped-chorizo-sized chunks, and then sauté in oil with onions, cayenne, cumin, toasted fennel, coriander, garlic, shallot, paprika, onion and garlic powders, and parsley flakes. Add to your favorite omelet or egg-free breakfast burrito.
Allegedly invented by Chinese monks seeking a protein alternative to meat, seitan is wheat gluten, or the protein part of wheat. To make it, wheat flour dough is washed with water until all the starch dissolves, leaving the sticky gluten that’s then cooked in soy sauce and seaweed stock. It has a remarkably meat-like texture and is used most commonly in vegetarian Asian cuisine to make mock-meat dishes. It is virtually fat free and has almost twice as much protein as tofu. Blatner says seitan is a good steak stand-in because of its chewy, tough texture.
Try it: Swap seitan for cuts of meat in this country-fried-steak recipe. Purchase premade, unseasoned seitan in sizable strips or “cuts,” and triple-bread it (dredge the strips in flour with salt, pepper, paprika, and cayenne, then in an egg wash, and then again in flour mixture). Deep-fry or panfry. For a version that pairs well with pasta dishes, use Italian spices instead.
Textured vegetable protein
TVP’s most famous use might be Bac-Os (yes, they’re vegetarian). TVP is made from defatted soy flour—a by-product of making soybean oil—shaped into flakes or chunks. TVP is dehydrated when purchased and needs to be rehydrated for use. Try soaking 1 cup of TVP in 1 cup of hot or boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes to start, but experiment to suit your needs. Per ounce, TVP contains 94 calories, 14 grams of protein, almost 5 grams of fiber, and zero fat. Blatner says TVP makes a good ground beef or ground turkey substitute because of its meaty texture.
Try it: Use TVP instead of ground turkey, chicken, or beef in tacos, chili, or sloppy joes. Simply rehydrate TVP, and substitute for the meat in your favorite recipe.
Bryce Edmonds is a freelance writer in Los Angeles.
Steal Their Idea!
When the chairman of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggested that the most useful step ordinary citizens could take to help combat climate change would be to stop eating meat, the Belgian city of Ghent designated every Thursday “Veggie Day.” On those days, meat-free meals are served in schools and public buildings, and vegetarian restaurants help promote ways to follow a herbivorous diet.