Top 5 unprocessed plant-based meat substitutes for preparation

Vegan Eggplan parmesan with walnut and mushroom mince
Vegan eggplant parmesan with walnut and mushroom mince (photo: courtesy of Jerainne Johnson-Heywood)

Kitchen Vegan Chronicles

As you browse the food pages of social media, you are inundated with a plethora of dishes claiming to be plant-based but which seem to have every element in the ingredient book including meat! But why? Your entire reason for adopting a plant-based diet is to ditch the animal flesh! Rest assured these delectable meals look and taste the part. They are usually 100 per cent plant based. If you were close enough to see, smell and taste these dishes in person, I bet you, at least 50 per cent of the times you would be fooled! It happened to me a few months ago when I visited a vegan restaurant. My order came, the meal looked and smelled heavenly. I did a double and triple take, inspected, then took a bite and for a minute, became instantly confused! It was like I was in a trance. I instantly waved to get the server’s attention and asked if there was meat in my meal! I quickly snapped back to reality when he responded and reminded me that I was in an establishment that does not prepare or serve any kind of meat. My work colleague was also temporarily fooled, and he was an avid meat eater.

Cauliflower and quinoa loaf
Cauliflower and quinoa loaf (photo:courtesy    of Jerainne Johnson-Heywood)

For me, these alternative meat options do bring an element of excitement and fanfare to the typically vegan dish, which can sometimes be boring, especially the ones you try to replicate from your meat-eating days! The attempts for these replications, I must confess, can be super challenging but definitely fun!

Plant-based meat substitutes can be classified into two categories, processed and unprocessed. The processed options include substitutes such as tofu, seitan, tempeh, and the unprocessed include offerings such as legumes, mushrooms, and a variety of nuts. On my personal journey I have opted to indulge in meat alternatives that are unprocessed because they are natural, nutritionally dense, made from ingredients that I can find in my pantry or refrigerator and they are a lot easier on the digestive system, at least in my experience.

Let us explore five of the healthiest plant-based meat substitutes that will spruce up any plant-based meal you plan to prepare and cook!

Lentils are a quick and easy go to for a plant-based meat substitute. They are high in fibre, rich in proteins, carbohydrates, and minerals such as magnesium. This unique meat alternative also has a host of known health benefits, which include aiding in lowering blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose levels. Lentils have a neutral flavour, with an earthy undertone, which make them even more versatile. Lentils are also very affordable and are the best meat alternative for stews such as Chili, Bolognese, or any dish that has texture and calls for beef.

Chickpeas, like lentils are nutritionally dense, they are rich in carbohydrates, folate, Manganese, copper, and fibre. They are also known as a protein powerhouse, with one cup of chickpeas having as much as 39 g of protein! This makes it a perfect meat substitute to help with appetite and portion control for a newly transitioning vegan. Chickpeas has a unique taste and a texture that can easily mimic poultry or any kind of minced meat. This versatile meat alternative is utilized best in sandwich salads, burgers, meatballs, meatloaves, or any dish that calls for textured meat. I prepare and eat chickpeas as is. Coconut curry chickpeas with steamed rice is one of my favourites.

Ground nuts (Pecan or Walnuts) especially when paired with mushrooms, is a meat alternative that fools even the avid meat eater! This snazzy meat alternative packs a big punch when it comes to nutrition. The combo is rich in omega fatty acids, antioxidants, fibre, proteins, vitamins B and E and contains more monounsaturated fats vs polyunsaturated fats. The choice of mushroom ultimately determines the specific meat to be substituted. White mushroom ground with walnuts gives a look, flavor, and texture similar to ground poultry; while the choice of a baby bella or cremini mushrooms give a look, texture, and flavour profile similar to ground beef. In my kitchen this duo is magical. I use them to make pasta sauces, a variety of lasagnas, stews and even the filling for Jamaican patties!

Cauliflower is high in fibre and supports a healthy digestive system. It is also very versatile in terms of its preparation. As with most natural meat substitutes, cauliflower has a neutral flavor, so there are endless possibilities on how it can be prepared. Cauliflower can be baked, fried, grilled, braised and even processed to make pizza crust and loaves. It can function as a substitute for any meal that calls for chicken, especially when fried. A few of my family’s favourite cauliflower dishes are orange cauliflower and cauliflower rice stir fry!

Jackfruit I must confess is one of my all-time favorites. It is such a versatile meat alternative, and the best part is, when ripe, this fruit is unforgettably delicious! Young jackfruit mimics best the texture of pulled pork, so if you were a pork fan in your other life, then you will definitely love Jackfruit! It is a nutritional powerhouse packed with fiber, antioxidants, vitamin B6 and magnesium. Additionally, it is low in carbohydrates and protein. So, pairing this superfruit with other sources of plant protein such as ancient grains and legumes will ensure that your jackfruit-based meal is balanced, filling and complete!

When looking for plant-based meat alternatives, the offerings these days are plenty. The things you must keep in mind when trying to find the right meat substitute for your vegan dish are the texture, the flavour, and the nutritional content. Once these are understood, the rest will be easy and before you know it, planning and cooking a healthy, balanced, tasty plant-based meal will become as natural as breathing.

Try this quick and easy mushroom and walnut mince substitute. It can be used in any recipe that calls for ground beef or poultry.

Mushroom and walnut mince

Ingredients: 1 cup cremini mushroom, roughly chopped; 1 cup walnuts. Directions: Place walnuts and mushrooms in a food processor and pulse in 2-3 20-seconds interval until ingredients are completely combined and the consistency like that of ground meat. Use this mushroom mince in any recipe that calls for ground beef or ground poultry. It makes approximately 1 pound of plant-based mince. Happy cooking!

Dr. Jerainne Johnson-Heywood is a Physical Chemist, home chef, culinary influencer, and a food enthusiast, focused on creating plant-based cuisines! Her culinary

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