Satisfying Our Bellies
When my former boss found out I was a vegetarian, he believed that there was no way I could get enough protein in my diet and that if I didn't eat at least every two hours, I'd perish from hunger. He brought in bunches of bananas and grapes, containers of berries, and packages of cheese. Every morning, I found an egg and cheese sandwich on my desk and every evening, he'd bring bring me a complete vegetarian meal like eggplant Parmesan, zucchini stuffed with couscous, or vegetable pizza. It was an extremely generous gesture but it was simply too much food for one person. I was able to fill my freezer at home with uneaten entrées and ten pounds of banana nut bread that I made from all of those bananas. Three weeks later, I found the courage to gracefully ask him to not bring so much food. After five minutes, I was finally able to convince him that I was indeed healthy, well-nourished, and satisfied.
I understood his concern because it's a question that many people have asked me through the years: "How can you possibly get enough protein from vegetables?"
To answer this, we first need to look at what protein is. Simply put, proteins are made of long chains of amino acids. In order to thrive, our bodies need 20 different amino acids but they can only produce eleven. The other nine or "essential" amino acids must come from the foods we eat.
Now, when I became a vegetarian in 1992, I learned from other vegetarians, health food stores, and vegetarian, health, and yoga publications that meat was a complete protein while vegetables were not. The only way I could possibly get all of my nine essential amino acids was to combine my vegetarian sources of proteins to make one "complete" protein--like making sure that the pita bread I dipped into my hummus was whole wheat.
But it turns out that plants, whether they're beans, broccoli, carrots, lettuce or potatoes, contain all of the essential amino acids in various degrees. Simply by eating a variety of whole foods, we get enough protein (and maybe even too much). Our daily requirement of protein is only about 10% of what we eat.
But because protein is such an often misunderstood topic for both meat eaters and vegetarians, I've put together this list that covers a bulk of the various sources of protein that we humans eat--from cheese and beans to meat and mushrooms. I've also included a few foods you'll often find in vegetarian and vegan meals because their texture, fat, or fiber content adds a hearty richness that is often comparable to meat dishes. Most of them are whole foods and some of them are processed because let's be honest, sometimes all you want is to fill your gob with a veggie burger!
Take a look at the list. I hope you're inspired to try something new in your diet. And I especially hope that it turns out delicious...but even if it winds up gross and not at all what you expected, at least you tried. And how satisfying is that?
Cheese, Milk & Dairy Substitutes
Although many vegetarians eat cheese, cheese is not necessarily vegetarian. I was a vegetarian for a very long time before I actually knew this. When cheese is made, a group of enzymes called rennet is added to help the coagulating process. In most cheeses, the rennet comes from the stomach of unweaned animals that chew their cud (calves, kid goats, and lambs).
However, don't despair. There is plenty of vegetarian cheese that contains enzymes from vegetable or microbial sources or are coagulated with vinegar, citric acid or the lactic acid that comes from sour milk (like cream cheese, mascarpone & paneer). You'll have to read labels but you should be able to find many brands and types of vegetarian cheese in the fancy cheese case of your local supermarket. Look for cheeses labeled kosher or organic because they usually specify if the enzymes used are from non-meat sources. However, kosher cheeses may use rennet from animals that are considered to be kosher and are therefore, not vegetarian. If in doubt, contact the manufacturer.
As more and more vegetarian cheeses become available, I choose them over regular cheese. They are delicious and I feel better about what I'm eating. However, my local supermarket does not yet have a vegetarian version of parmesan, so I do occasionally eat Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Speaking of Parmigiano-Reggiano, whenever I list parmesan cheese as an ingredient in my recipes, this is the cheese I use. It is a bit pricey, so you could substitute domestic parmesan cheese (including a vegetarian version if you can find it), or Irish sweet cheese, Pecorino Romano or Grana Padano. I recommend that you avoid the parmesan cheese in a can; it's mostly salt and preservatives.
Vegan cheese is also available. It doesn't contain any dairy but is often made from soy, nuts or rice. The taste and texture are a bit different from regular cheese but it's a good substitute if you don't eat any animal products. You can also use nutritional yeast. It has the tanginess and creaminess of cheese. It works in dishes where you'd expect to find melted cheese or is tasty sprinkled on top of popcorn.
Regarding milk itself, most of us buy pasteurized cow's milk (or occasionally, pasteurized goat's milk) from the grocery store. I'm not a big milk drinker but I do cook with it. I also spend the extra money for the organic brands. Why? I used to think I was lactose intolerant until my husband and I were stationed in Italy. There, I discovered quickly that I could have Italian dairy in all of its forms (including raw cheeses) without getting sick. I decided to do an experiment on myself. I went to the commissary on base and bought regular American milk and an American brand of cheddar cheese. I drank some milk, ate a few bites of cheese, and then doubled over in pain ten minutes later. I concluded that what I probably react to is not the dairy itself but the hormones and other nasties given to the cows supplying the milk. Once I returned to the States, I started eating organic dairy products. They don't give me a stomachache. The non-organic dairy, however, still does.
In some states, it is also legal to buy and sell raw milk. The federal government warns against food-borne illnesses such as e. Coli from raw milk, while proponents of it swear that it has made them and their families healthier--even those family members who couldn't previously ingest pasteurized milk without getting sick. I'll leave it to you to do your research. In the states where raw milk is illegal, it is possible to purchase a herd share in which your investment helps the farmer takes care of your animal and you then receive her milk in return.
Shares can also be purchased for other milk-producing animals including goats, sheep and camels. That's right: camels. While camel milk is quite expensive (there aren't that many camels in the U.S.), it is available in both raw and pasteurized forms. While I can't confirm this, camel's milk is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties, and many parents of autistic children (including one mother I interviewed for an article) have noticed improvement in their kids when they switched their diets from cow's milk to camel's.
For vegans or people who are allergic to dairy from any animal, there is always soy, flax, almond, rice, chia, hemp, oat, or coconut milk.
The "perfect" vegetarian cheese label from a lovely, crumbly feta cheese found in my supermarket's cheese case.
The fat content of this often-called butter fruit gives food a filling luxuriousness that extends beyond guacamole. Avocados work beautifully as the creamy component in raw food
recipes. Avocados will become bitter if they are cooked too long; however,
quickly grilling them, blending them into gently heated vegetable soups, or adding
them to a cheese or cream sauce a minute before serving brings out a warm and
slightly fruity butteriness. They're also delicious in smoothies, on sandwiches,
in salads, or in vegan desserts. Plus, they nourish the skin...yum, guacamole face!
When I lived in Italy, vendors on the beach selling cold coconut slices would shout, "Coco bello! Mille lire coco bello!" Or, "Beautiful coconut! Fifty cents for beautiful coconut!"
And coconut is beautiful! While it is high in saturated fat, the fat is mostly lauric acid and other medium chain fatty acids. With its antiviral and antibacterial properties, lauric acid has been shown to increase high-density lipoprotein cholesterol or "good cholesterol". Medium chain fatty acids, on the other hand, improve metabolism and can possibly help the body get rid of excess fat. Many nutrition and health organizations (including the Food and Drug Administration), however, advise against consuming too many saturated fats, including coconut.
Yet, coconut is extremely versatile. Not only does it appear in many cuisines including Asian, Indian and Pacific Islander, it is a wonderful dairy substitute for vegans and people with milk allergies.
Coconut milk and coconut cream (made by grating coconut, mixing it with water and then squeezing out the "milk") cook beautifully. I add coconut milk to jasmine or basmati rice, to stewed vegetables or to smoothies. Coconut milk sold in cartons or hermetically-sealed boxes have emulsifiers added to them to keep them homogenized. Coconut milk in cans, however, tends to separate (shake the can before opening) and has a stronger coconut flavor than the boxes. Whenever I make homemade toasted coconut gelato, I find that the coconut milk in the can results in a richer, smoother product than the milk in the box.
In gluten-free baked goods, coconut flour will give your bread or cookies a wonderful richness. With an equal amount of liquid added, coconut flour can replace up to 20% of the regular flour your recipe calls for.
Coconut oil has a higher smoke point and is good for sautéing or making popcorn (and if you're not allergic, it's lovely as a skin and hair moisturizer).
Dried coconut comes in sweetened flakes common in American desserts or unsweetened (which I use in granola, as a coating for seafood, or sprinkled on salads or sandwiches). Try coconut chips. Besides snacking, they are also used to make vegan coconut bacon...that's right: bacon!
Coconut yogurt is also becoming more available; plain coconut yogurt is a good substitute for sour cream.
Coconut water is a bit controversial. Some consider it to be a miracle drink that helps replace potassium and some sodium lost from exercising, while others find it to be an expensive food trend that tastes salty and has no more health benefit than drinking plain water. If you like it, drink it.
Finally, there are whole coconuts themselves. Yes, coconuts can be a bit daunting to break into but you should give it a go at least once. Roll a dish towel into a circle and nestle the coconut into it to prevent slipping. Place the end of the coconut where there are three "eyes" toward you. Feel which eye is the softest and then protect your own eyes by throwing on a pair of goggles or safety glasses. Then, in the soft eye (of the coconut, not you!), insert the end of an icepick or screwdriver (flat head or Phillips--your choice). Gently tap the other end of your pointy device with a mallet or hammer until you're through the eye. Hold the coconut over a bowl and drain out the water. Then, crack the husk with the hammer until you can pull it away from the fruit. You can grate or slice the coconut and use as you wish.
You may be able to avoid all of the work by buying a coconut with the husk partially removed and a score mark to help you open the coconut easier. My supermarket started carrying them but I found the taste to be a bit old and the texture pasty; then again, I'm in Michigan so it's a wonder I get fresh coconut at all!
Edible Seaweed and Spirulina
Edible seaweed (or algae) is high in fiber, protein, and iodine (which can affect the thyroid positively or adversely depending on your condition; if you have thyroid problems, ask your doctor if seaweed is something you should eat).
Kelp is a large brown algae that is often used as a thickener (alginate) or kombu. Kombu is served as a vegetable, snack, or flavoring when it's powdered and dried. It's found in Chinese, Korean and Japanese cooking.
Red algae gives us nori (used to make sushi) and dulse. Wherever the Atlantic Ocean meets a cold climate (like Ireland, Iceland, Canada and the United States), you can find dulse being dried and eaten as a snack food.
Spirulina is cyanobacteria (known as blue-green algae) that is high in both protein and iron. It is often dried into cakes or sold as a powdered supplement.
Because spirulina contains the amino acid phenylalanine and high levels of Vitamin K, it should be avoided by people who have the genetic disorder phenylketonuria or who are taking blood thinners, respectively.
Eggs and Egg Replacers
I love chicken eggs and I eat them several times a week. Eggs can be relatively inexpensive but many vegetarians avoid them because the way laying hens are treated is too great a cost. If you get your eggs at the supermarket, eggs labeled as pasture-raised and organic are the best option at the moment (although you will probably pay more than twice the amount you would for regular eggs).
However, there are other ways to buy eggs from chickens that are treated well. Check out your local farmers market or CSA (Community-supported agriculture) in which you invest in a farmer by buying a share upfront and receiving a portion of the harvest (whether that harvest is eggs, dairy, meat, fruits or vegetables). Also, you may be able to raise your own chickens, even in an urban area, provided the zoning regulations of your community allows it.
Finally, if you live in a rural area, people often advertise eggs at their homes. This is how I get my eggs. If you do this, don't be afraid to look around and ask questions. I found two different egg farmers I swore I would never return to but also two others who treat their birds very well. I've developed a good relationship with my current egg farmer: I enjoy talking with him, watching his chickens run around and eat bugs, and of course, avoiding the inevitable bird poop! Also, the eggs you get from your local farmer could be shades of brown, white, green or blue--funky!
The first farmer that sold me eggs (before she moved away)
always included a few blue eggs with every dozen. They were beautiful and I wish this photo could better capture that gorgeous blue hue.
By the way, try a duck egg if you can. The yolk is about the same size as in a chicken egg
but you get much more white. So if you like egg white omelettes, have to feed a
large group, or want moister cakes and softer cookies, duck eggs are for you.
Quail eggs are also an option. They're tiny with a thick membrane
that makes cracking them difficult but if you soft boil them first,
the shells slips off easily. To me, they taste exactly like chicken eggs.
If you don't or can't eat eggs, there are ways of replacing the eggs in your baked goods:
1) For each egg you want to replace, mix 1 TBS ground flax seed with 3 TBS water.
Let it sit for 10 minutes until it is thick and then use it in your recipe like you would an egg.
2) Commercial powdered egg replacer. Follow the directions on the package.
3) 1/4 cup of fruit purée (applesauce, banana, prunes) or vegetable purée (squash, pumpkin, potatoes) can be substituted for one egg. The downside to using these purées is that your baked goods will retain the flavor of them. I once adapted my cantuccini recipe (vanilla, cinnamon & almond Tuscan biscotti) to a gluten-free, vegan version and used applesauce instead of the eggs. The result was an apple-cinnamon cookie. It was good but tasted nothing like the original recipe!
4) 1/4 cup of soft mashed unflavored tofu can be used to replace one egg.
5) All of the liquid that comes from canned beans (especially chickpeas) is called aquafaba and it acts like egg whites! Use 2 TBS of aquafaba to replace one egg white and 3 TBS to replace the whole egg. Use it in meringues, homemade marshmallows, mayonnaise, dips, and in baked goods. Use the liquid from organic canned beans; they contain just the beans, water, and salt.
Tofu (soft or firm--your preference) is also a good substitute for scrambled eggs. Break up the tofu with a fork, mix with turmeric to replicate the yellow color of eggs, and add salt, pepper and your favorite spices before sautéing in oil.
Quail eggs from the English Market in Cork, Ireland. When I first attempted to use them, the shells sheared off into a powder that was almost sandy. But once I figured out what I was doing wrong, I had a lovely tiny dish of eggs!
When I was a little girl, I absolutely loved white rice. I loved it so much that one night, I had a nightmare and woke up crying. When my mom asked me what was wrong, I sobbed, "I just want to know, when I die, is there going to be rice in heaven?" She chuckled and said, "Like you're getting into heaven." Of course, I'm kidding! She promised me that rice would be waiting on the other side.
Rice itself, however, may not be so heavenly. Despite it being gluten-free and the main grain throughout the world, rice contains inorganic arsenic, a carcinogen. While inorganic arsenic is also found in other fruits and vegetables, because rice is grown in flooded fields, it readily absorbs arsenic that is present in the water and soil and then holds onto it in its grains (especially in the outer hulls). Which means that the healthier wholer grain brown rice I've actually come to prefer for its chewy texture tends to contain more arsenic than its white counterpart.
However, the arsenic content of rice varies depending on where it's grown. If it's from the southern-central United States (Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas & Missouri), rice contains more arsenic because much of it is grown on former cotton fields where arsenic-containing pesticides were once used. On the other hand, rice from California, Thailand, Pakistan, and India contains much lower amounts of arsenic.
Foods containing rice (like rice noodles, baby formula and gluten-free foods) could have substantially elevated levels of arsenic; for the smaller bodies of children or for people whose immune systems are already compromised by gluten sensitivity, those levels could be too much. However, rinsing rice several times before cooking can reduce its inorganic arsenic content by 30%.
So, do we all give up rice for good? That's not something I can answer because it depends on what is ultimately acceptable for you and your family. I still eat it; now I'm just more aware of where the rice I buy comes from and I rinse it before cooking.
But let's not leave rice in a paddy of doom-and-gloom. Rice comes in short, medium or long grain. The shorter the grain, the stickier it is. Short grain rice is often used for sweet dishes like rice pudding while medium grain rice is used for risotto or sushi. Long grain rice (like florally fragrant jasmine rice or nutty-buttery basmati rice) is great for steaming or for making horchata, a creamy drink with cinnamon common in Mexico. Red rice, with its hull mostly intact, is also nutty. Antioxidant-rich black rice can be short, medium or long. To me, black rice smells and tastes slightly fruity with only the faintest background taste of licorice. Also, and I would say more importantly, because black rice turns dark purple when cooked, it makes a fun Halloween dish! There is also instant rice which has been precooked and dehydrated. While it cooks much quicker than regular rice, instant is also more expensive, less nutritious, and tastes like, well, not much of anything.
Finally, there is wild rice which is not directly related to regular rice. Sacred to Native Americans around the Great Lakes region, wild rice was harvested in lakes and marshes but is now grown in paddies in Minnesota and California. It triples in size when cooked and takes much longer (up to an hour) to cook than regular rice. The flavor and texture of wild rice is quite hearty, earthy, and some would say overpowering; therefore, it is often mixed with regular rice. This gluten-free grain pairs well with roast birds, wild game and mushrooms.
This photo looks grainy! From right to left: California organic brown & red rice blend, black rice, pearl barley, organic polenta and quinoa.
Besides rice, there are so many other grains to play around with. Grains are the workhorse of a meal. In addition to being the basis for pasta, breads, flatbreads, and both alcoholic and non-alcholic beverages, whole grains work equally well with sweet foods like honey, dried or fresh fruits, vanilla, and cinnamon or with fresh or roasted vegetables, cheeses, nuts, seeds, beans, eggs, meats and gravies.
Grains come from grasses and fall into two general categories: those that are related to wheat and those that are gluten-free.
Grains in the wheat family include: barley, bulgur (cracked wheat), farro (a large chewy Italian grain), freekeh or farik (roasted green wheat common in the Middle East and North Africa), Khorasan wheat (trademarked as Kamut®, this grain must be grown only as a certified organic crop), rye, spelt (hulled wheat grown primarily in Germany and Switzerland), and triticale (a hybrid of rye and wheat).
I'm also including wheatgrass even though it is not the actual grain but the blades of wheat. Consumed fresh as a juice or dehydrated into a powder, wheatgrass is often part of raw food diets. It is high in fiber, minerals (including potassium) and vitamins (including Vitamin K). However, unlike the grain, wheatgrass does not contain a lot of protein (only about 1 gram).
By the way, vital wheat gluten (or seitan--that's pronounced say-taan not satan!) is a common meat substitute. You can purchase it as a powder and make your own meat alternatives or buy ready-made versions. As far as the processed wheat gluten products, they vary; I've had vegetarian crab cakes made from gluten that tasted exactly like uncooked bread dough and Italian wheat sausages that were so delicious, I ate two of them back-to-back!
Gluten-free grains are: corn (or maize), millet (yes, it's birdseed but it's people food, too!), sorghum (which is also made into a sweet syrup and can pop like popcorn), and teff (meaning "lost", this Ethiopian grain is very tiny). Millet, sorghum and teff can be used to make gluten-free beer.
Buckwheat (no relation to wheat) is also used in the making of gluten-free beer. Buckwheat is
a pseudo-grain which is actually the seed of a non-grass plant. Other pseudo-grains are amaranth (you can also eat the plant's leaves and pop the seeds like popcorn) and quinoa. Quinoa contains saponins, a bitter soapy-like compound that coats the seed. To be frank, some manufacturers are better than others in removing the coating. I've had both delicious quinoa and some that was truly gross. One way I offset the soapy taste is by sprinkling the quinoa with baking soda, soaking it in water for a few minutes and then rinsing it off (and repeating once or twice, if necessary).
Finally, we come to oats. Are oats gluten-free or not? Yes...and no. What I mean is that oats do not contain many of the proteins found in wheat; however, they do contain avenin which can cause a reaction in the intestines of a person with gluten sensitivity who also happens to be sensitive to this particular protein. Also, oats that are grown in the field next to or in rotation with barley, wheat, or rye crops (or processed in the same plant as these gluten-containing grains) can become contaminated. However, there are oats that are labeled as gluten-free because they are grown and processed where cross-contamination cannot occur.
If you can eat oats, try using rolled oats for homemade granola, oatcakes (biscuits or crackers), cookies, muffins, or the topping of fruit crumbles while using steel-cut (pinhead) oats for your morning porridge. Make an oatmeal smoothie or horchata de avena with cinnamon and sugar. And if you're really daring, there's always haggis or black pudding, a mixture of various parts of a sheep and oats. If you're not that daring but still eat meat, rolled oats are a great way to bulk up your favorite meatloaf recipe.
Jackfruit and Hearts of Palm
Jackfruit is a sweet tropical fruit used in Indian and Asian cooking. Hearts of palm come from the core of palm trees. Hearts of palm and unripened, green jackfruit can be shredded and mixed with spices to resemble lamb or pulled pork and chicken.
You will probably be able to find hearts of palm at your local grocery store near the canned artichokes. Jackfruit may be more difficult to locate; although, it is often sold canned at many Asian and Indian markets as well as on-line. If you buy it on-line, you may pay two to three times as much as you would at a specialty market. Look for jackfruit packed in water and salt (not syrup). For either the jackfruit or hearts of palm, drain and rinse well before using.
Canned jackfruit on the left and cooked and shredded jackfruit on the right. It does look like meat, once it's cooked, doesn't it?
Konnyakku (konjac powder)
Konnyaku is the root of a tropical plant used mostly in Asian cooking (especially in Japanese soups and stews). The root is dried, powdered, mixed with limewater, and then boiled. As it cools, it begins to solidify resulting in a thick texture that makes it a ready meat substitute for vegetarians. Which is great because other than fiber, konnyaku has very little calories, protein, or anything else.
Look for konnyaku noodles packaged in water in the refrigerated or produce sections of your local supermarket. You can also find it in vegan seafood products like scallops, shrimp, and even smoked salmon. By the way, there are also fruit jelly candies that are made from konjac powder but because konjac doesn't melt as easily as other jelly candies, it is considered to be a choking hazard and should probably be avoided.
Beans and peas are amazing. They really are. Some are meaty while others are creamy. My pantry is always stocked with canned pintos, black beans and chickpeas (garbanzo beans or ceci) because after a long day, how easy is it to open a can and make a quick hot bean dip or hummus? I do spend a bit extra and buy organic canned beans. Ingredients in organic beans tend to be just beans, water, and salt, while regular beans often contain corn syrup, calcium chloride (a firming agent), and disodium EDTA (a preservative to prevent discoloration).
I also stock a variety of dried beans (like quick-cooking red or brown lentils). While dried beans are a bit more work than simply opening a can, they are incredibly economical. Plus, I like that dried beans come in interesting or heirloom varieties that can't be usually found canned. Things like mung beans which can be sprouted and added to salads, adzuki beans which can be sweetened into a red bean paste and used in Japanese desserts, or cranberry (borlotti) beans which are my favorites.
I also recommend growing your own beans. While fresh green beans are delicious and can be blanched and frozen to enjoy throughout the winter, growing beans specifically to dry is extremely easy. Not only are beans prolific (growing low to the ground or up a pole), they just dry directly on the plant. Once they look gnarled and completely dead, just pop the pods off the plant, open them and shake out the dried beans into glass jars and store in your cupboard. Plus, when I grow my own beans, I can try out varieties that usually aren't sold in the grocery store.
Dried beans from my 2015 garden: pinto beans, Cherokee Trail of Tears black beans, cranberry beans & a tiny but succesful test batch of chickpeas which I "fooled" into thinking they were near the Mediterranean rather than in cool Michigan by growing them in a large black pot that held onto every ounce of sunshine!
Let's not forget the peanut. Well, I did, for quite a long time. I was never a fan of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich because to me, it was too sweet. Even without the jelly, the peanut butter itself with all of that sugar or corn syrup added made my teeth itch. Then I discovered peanut butter made with just peanuts and wow, what a difference. I also use peanut butter in savory dishes (great in Thai and African food) and I also make my own habanero peanut butter from scratch. For a quick breakfast, I also really like crunchy peanut butter on wheat toast topped with unsweetened dried coconut, toasted sesame seeds, and a light drizzle of honey (honey enhances the peanut butter with a natural sweetness rather than overpower it).
Mammals, poultry, fish, seafood, amphibians, reptiles and insects: the world of animal protein is indeed vast.
When selecting meat, try to get your best option at the moment. For me, that means buying meat that is organic, cage-free, free-range, pasture-raised, and sustainable. For others, it may be hunting, fishing or collecting insects from the yard. It may mean bartering (like you give me a massage for two of my chickens that have stopped laying eggs). Maybe it's ordering a side of beef from a local farmer and filling your deep freezer for a year. Or it may be as simple as deciding to feed yourself and your family one good quality cut of meat rather than a lot of cheaply processed or unhealthy cuts.
Whatever your best option is at the moment, do that.
If you eat fish and seafood, one thing that I do recommend to take a fish and seafood guide with you when you go to the market. Taking into consideration how fish populations are farmed or caught, as well as their effect on personal health and that of the environment, this guide lets you know which seafood is the best and which should be avoided. You can get Monterey Bay Aquarium's guide www.seafoodwatch.org, the Environmental Defense Fund's guide seafood.edf.org or various other guides on the Internet.
My supermarket has recently started carrying canned tuna fish that is sustainably caught. It costs twice as much as regular tuna but it's worth it. It doesn't smell as fishy as the other brands and T. Rex swears that it has a cleaner, more delicious taste. The Kosher section of my market also now offers sustainably caught sardines.
Analogues. Sounds a little clinical, doesn't it? But that's exactly what veggie patties are: they're analogous to meat. And if you're a vegetarian, especially a new vegetarian, sometimes you get a hankering for a hunk of meat--or at least its chewy texture and seasonings. I'm not ashamed to admit that to this day when I smell barbecue, bacon, or Italian sausages, my response is almost primal. That's when I munch on an analogue and it works.
As we're becoming more aware of food allergies and sensitivities, meat analogues are no longer just limited to those made from soybeans. Other options include products made from mycoprotein, quinoa, walnuts, brown rice, black beans, vital wheat gluten and all sorts of vegetables.
Go ahead, eat the analogues. Just remember that while they'll satisfy those cravings, they're still processed foods.
Mushrooms and Mycoprotein
Each variety of mushroom has an unique taste and texture that can easily take the place of meat in any dish. In the Two Versions, Same Techniques, Mostly Same Ingredients ™ section, many of the Veggie Versions use mushrooms.
The mushrooms I use most often are:
Portobello (or Portabello, Portobella, Portabella): However you spell them, these large mushrooms (3 inches or bigger in diameter) have become the hamburger substitute in many restaurants. They can be marinated and grilled, smoked and pressed, or sliced into wedges and deep-fried like French fries. I like them stuffed with potatoes, artichokes, and feta cheese and then baked.
Button: These are white baby Portobello mushrooms. I've heard them called boring because they're basic--but basic can be delicious! I love them sliced raw in a salad with mixed greens, pomegranate seeds, and lemon vinaigrette. Or, they're terrific browned in a bit of butter and served over toast with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper.
Cremini: These are the baby brown version of Portobello mushrooms. Their flavor is a bit deeper than button mushrooms but not as earthy as their big brothers. They're excellent in Marsala sauce!
Oyster: The flavor is said to be reminiscent of oysters. While that hasn't been my experience, I really like them. My supermarket doesn't always have these almost pearlescent mushrooms, but when it does, I buy a few packages and make barbeque mushroom sandwiches with them.
Shitake: Shitakes are earthy, a little pungent, and kind of like a cheap truffle--yeah, I said it! I add them to stews, soups, mushroom ragu, and Stroganoff or sauté them in butter and serve over hot baked potatoes. The stems of Shitake mushrooms are woody and not good to eat but they add a robust flavor to vegetable or mushroom stock.
Enoki: These are delicate little fairy umbrellas that don't appreciate being stewed for too long. They prefer a gentle heat in a simple vegetable, chicken or miso broth. They're lovely.
Porcini: Also called cèpes, these are more often found dried rather than fresh. They're kind of a sexy mushroom--yes, mushrooms can be sexy! Once reconstituted, they're bold and a bit slippery...and on top of a homemade pizza? Amazing!
Other Mushrooms: Chanterelles, Morels, Maitake, Lobster, Lion's Mane...you can find all sorts of dried and fresh mushrooms at your local supermarket, farmers market, on-line or in specialty shops and catalogs.
You can also try growing your own mushrooms! You can grow them inside on your counter or outside in beds or inoculated in logs. Cultivating mushrooms can be enjoyable and frustrating. I've grown an indoor kit of Oyster mushrooms and an outdoor bed of King Stopharia ones with great success. But my bed of morels and logs that I inoculated with Shitake mushroom spawn produced nothing. By the way, working with mushroom spawn is a bit stinky. Not just earthy. Stinky. Don't worry, you'll clean up nicely and the smell will dissipate...eventually.
King Stropharia Mushrooms
Finally, you can also find meat analogues made with mycoprotein. Mycoprotein is processed from a fermented fungus called Fusarium venenatum. Flavorings are added and the result is a very satisfying and meaty texture. Mycoprotein is my go-to meat substitute. I've only seen it sold under one brand name: Quorn. If you are allergic to molds, however, avoid eating mycoprotein; serious allergic reactions have been reported.
I remember reading a story about a girl who was given a fresh-picked olive to try. As her face scrunched up, everyone around her laughed at the joke. Although a fruit, straight off the tree, olives are bitter. It's only after olives have been cured and fermented when they develop their flavors.
Olives are fermented by soaking in lye or being packed in salt and then brined. California olives, however, use a different process. They are soaked in lye and then in water which has air bubbling into it. This causes the olives to blacken at which point they are canned in a mild brine.
However they're processed, olives are one of my favorites. Olives are multi-talented and these different qualities shine when olives are paired with other foods. Because they're slightly oily, olives are delicious in salads, on pizzas, stuffed into focaccia, eaten with fresh cheeses or with roasted chicken. They're a good companion to other salty foods like capers and feta cheese. Their innate fruitiness works in tandem with dried fruits like raisins, cranberries or apricots or stewed in tomato sauce. Olive's lingering bitterness even goes well with a bite of dark chocolate.
Whatever note is hit, ultimately, the reason the olive is on this list is because it has the ability to make a meal that much more sumptuous and satisfying by its presence.
Unless, of course, you eat it fresh!
Seeds and Nuts
I eat seeds and nuts almost every day. They're versatile in taste and texture, work in both savory dishes and sweet ones, and are great for that little protein boost when the blood sugar starts to waver. Raw Food diets also use various blended nuts to create a creamy base for many recipes and seeds to give unbaked goods a delicious and healthy crunch.
Unless I'm going for something decadent like cashews roasted with honey, I usually buy raw seeds and nuts without any added oil, salt, or preservatives. Then, I lightly toast them in a dry pan on medium heat while shaking the pan to prevent burning. Once the nuts are cooled, I store them in glass jars in the freezer (use plastic lids instead of the metal ones which get way too cold). I always have sesame seeds (both white and black), pepitos (raw pumpkin seeds), flax seeds (also called linseeds), hemp seeds, poppy seeds, almonds, walnuts and pine nuts on hand. Nuts like hazelnuts and pecans I usually buy for specific recipes while cashews and pistachios I buy for a rich snack. Whichever seeds or nuts you prefer, once you open the bag, store them in the refrigerator or freezer because their high oil content will help them go rancid quickly--and nothing ruins the taste of your meal like biting into a rotten nut.
Speaking of ruining the taste, if you eat flax seeds, you may occasionally come across a phenomenon I like to call "fishy flax". Flax seeds are high in the omega-3 fatty acids found in plant oils but sometimes, I'll bite into one and those omega-3s will taste just like fish. I wondered if I was crazy the first time it happened, but my mom and husband have also experienced the same thing. It doesn't happen often and it's easy to get over the taste from one seed. But what I do avoid is flax flour; once flax seed is ground and mixed, that fish flavor can permeate the whole thing...I learned this the hard way when every flax cracker in a box tasted exactly like fish!
Other seeds that are becoming more readily available at supermarkets are chia and hemp seeds.
Chia seeds are actually even higher in omega-3s than flax. They can be used in smoothies, baked goods, or made into a gelatin-like substance which you can either eat, thicken your food with, or grow on a piece of terra cotta shaped like an animal (you know what I'm talking about).
Hemp seeds are rich in omega-3s, 6s and 9s. Yes, hemp is a member of the cannabis family. No, it is not marijuana. While both hemp and marijuana contain the psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the THC in hemp is negligible.
If you eat hemp seeds, will you get high? Despite valid attempts on my part by adding an extra tablespoon of hemp seeds to my morning oatmeal, it's never happened to me. Yes, I'm joking! Will you test positive for a drug test after eating hemp seeds? Unless you're eating a literal ton of them, probably not. But if you're worried about it, then forego the hemp seeds--and it goes with saying, hemp milk as well.
I will say one thing for hemp: because it provides a lot of protein, when I include it in my food (great on salads, too), I feel fuller longer. Hemp seeds taste a bit moist and green but toasting them brings out a rounded, delicious nutty flavor.
Soybeans and Soy Products
Let's get it out of the way: soy is controversial.
It's an excellent source of protein but much of it is genetically-modified and our bodies can only digest it if it's cooked. It's a common allergen but it's added to baby formula. It causes cancer and it doesn't cause cancer. It lowers cholesterol and it doesn't lower cholesterol. You get the idea.
As for me, I really, really enjoy tofu. But I rarely eat it because soy also happens to be a plant-based estrogen (called phytoestrogen). While researchers debate whether soy affects the body's hormone levels, all I know is my own experience. In the past, I've had issues with hormones and blood clots. When I've eaten a lot of soy in a short amount of time--say, two or three meals a day for a week--my body has been directly affected. We'll leave it there and leave it to you to determine if soy should be a part of your diet.
Fermenting soy produces soy sauce, tempeh (made from whole soybeans, it's a bit mushroomy, freezes well, and can be easily grated), natto (stringy texture, pungent aroma), miso (a salty, sometimes sweet, paste used in soups, sauces and pickles) and fermented bean paste.
Soy milk comes from soybeans soaked in water, ground, cooked, and filtered. Boiling soy milk and coagulating it with salt or acid produces curds. When these curds are pressed into a block they become tofu. Fresh tofu can be silken or soft which is most often used for desserts, smoothies, or as a scrambled eggs substitute; or firm or extra-firm varieties which have a meatier texture (delicious sautéed or deep-fried, the outside becomes crunchy and the inside is moist and a bit springy). You can also find tofu marinated or dried.
Another by-product of making soy milk is tofu skin. Before the coagulant is added to the boiling soy milk, a skin forms on top which is then skimmed. The skin can be dried and rehydrated or layered fresh to form tofu chicken which holds its shape; it is then fried like chicken.
There is also edamame or immature soybeans still in the pod. Edamame are boiled or steamed and often served with salt. You can find them frozen or canned in your supermarket. You may also be able to buy them fresh in the produce section; however, cook them first--edamame should not be eaten raw.
Textured vegetable or soy protein (TVP®) is made from soy flour that has had the fat removed. It is cooked and then dried. Once it's rehydrated, it can be made into meat analogues or added to actual ground meat to bulk it up.
Soy protein isolate (highly refined soy with a minimum of 90% soy protein) is often the main component in many brands of processed meat analogues.