Meat-Free Fridays: A Medley of Meatless

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Each Friday during Lent, the dailySpark will feature a different meat-free main dish. Whether you observe Lent or not, we can all benefit from learning about alternate, affordable proteins. This is the final blog in the Meat-Free Friday series. View the rest of the series here.

They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and the adage applies to food. When you know you can't or shouldn't have a food, do you crave it all that much more? Since Lent started, have you had any Friday cravings for meat?

Sure, I've offered plenty of meat-free alternatives, but what are you to do when a craving for a hot dog, chicken nuggets or a turkey sandwich hits? Must you hold off until Saturday?

Nope. You can indulge your cravings for all your favorites--pepperoni pizza, BLTs and even sausage and egg breakfast sandwiches--even when you're on a meatless diet.

Welcome to the wonderful world of… meat analogs.

Take a stroll through the frozen food section of any grocery store these days, and you'll find the meatless meats. Chicken nuggets, chicken patties, ribs, burgers, sausage, bacon, ground meat, hot dogs, even turkey have been made meatless.

These meatless meats are not just limited to vegetarians and those who give up meat for Lent. If you keep kosher and crave a cheeseburger or are on a low-cholesterol diet but want an Italian sausage, they could also fill a niche in your meal plan.

I like to think of meat substitutes as "gateway" foods for new vegetarians and those who want to enjoy a meat-free meal. They help you adapt foods you know and love for a meat-free meal, day, or lifestyle.

How are these meat substitutes made?
Meat substitutes can be made from a variety of foods, the most common being soy/TVP and seitan, which is wheat gluten.

Veggie burgers: These are usually made from various processed soy products, mushrooms, vegetables, beans and seitan. There are plenty of different brands to choose from, including Morningstar Farms, Boca, Amy's and Gardenburger. Beyond just a beef substitute, check out interesting flavors like spicy black bean (great in Mexican and southwest dishes), Asian vegetable (try them in stir-fries), veggie-medley (get a serving of vegetables on a bun) or tomato and cheese (fabulous on top of pasta).

Quorn: Quorn is the most popular brand of mycoprotein foods. Marketed as being made from mushrooms, Quorn is made from an edible, processed fungus that is bound with egg whites. Quorn is especially popular in the UK, and its products are convincingly meatlike. I've had their chicken cutlets in the UK, and I was thoroughly surprised by how much it looked and tasted like meat! Quorn also makes chicken nuggets and patties, turkey roasts, meatballs and mince (ground meat, as we call it in the States).

Yuba: This is one you can't knock until you try. Yuba is… wait for it… the skin that forms on the top of soymilk. It's also called dried beancurd. It's actually quite tasty. Yuba can be used to recreate chicken and other poultry. It's not bad!

Do they taste like meat?
Well… no… yes…maybe…

"It depends" is the best answer I can give you.

Is a veggie burger going to taste like beef? Nope. But after you pile on the low-fat cheese, lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles, ketchup, mustard and low-fat mayo, will you really miss the beef? I sure don't.

Funny meatless meat story No. 1: After college, I moved in with my dad and stepmom for a couple of months. My stepmom bought me a box of Boca burgers. One night my dad worked late and opened the freezer in search of a quick dinner. He saw "burger" on the box, popped one in the microwave, and plopped it on a bun with onions and mustard. The next night at dinner, he remarked to my stepmother, "Those burgers were a little dry. Were they on sale or something? I'd much rather have a regular burger."

She laughed. "I didn't buy any burgers," she said.

"Yes, you did," he replied. "They're on the door--Boca something."

She laughed again. "Those are Stepf's veggie burgers. They're not beef."

"Oh. I wondered why you had bought such a cheap, dry cut."

My father, a real meat and potatoes kind of guy, thought the Boca burger was beef--just not good beef! (He still eats them and says he liked them better once he learned they weren't beef.)

Chicken-less nuggets don't taste like chicken, but do chicken nuggets really taste like chicken? Not really.

Would an Italian soy-sage be mistaken for real Italian sausage? Yes. If you're my dad. (A few weeks later, the same scenario happened, only with Italian soy-sage. He's a fan of those now, too.)

Vegetarian hot dogs taste remarkably similar to regular hot dogs. They have the snap of a good hot dog, and you don't have to shudder to think about what's in them (various soy products and wheat gluten, plus spices, in case you were wondering).

There are also vegetarian cold cuts, chorizo, and pepperoni (surprisingly tasty)!

As far as meat-free eating goes, I would prefer "whole" unprocessed foods in most cases. These products are good for satisfying the occasional cravings. How about you? Would you or have you tried "meatless meat"? Would you?

And, while we're on the subject: What's your favorite veggie burger? Do you buy them or make them? Which brand is best?