Gone are the days of a meagre plate of bland steamed vegetables as the only “choice” for vegetarian guests at restaurants or weddings! Today, vegetarians can take their pick from a wide selection of imaginative, flavourful and ample choices, where the thought, attention and quality put into their plates is on par with omnivorous options.
To make these dishes even heartier and more substantial, chefs and home cooks alike have a number of meat substitutes at their disposal, most notably tofu and seitan. These ingredients feature prominently on restaurant menus, taking meals for vegetarians and vegetable enthusiasts alike up a notch. These ingredients can also help recent vegetarian converts “beef up” their meals, so to speak, while acclimatizing to the lifestyle transition.
Tofu, also known as bean curd, is a soybean-based protein, created from dried, ground, filtered and boiled soybeans, that was invented in China around two thousand years ago. This versatile meat alternative is:
- relatively easy to find
Health food stores, specialty gourmet shops, Asian markets and even the local grocery store are likely to carry it.
Tofu is available in silken, soft and firm forms, each serving a different purpose. Silky tofu adds creaminess, and is excellent in soups (particularly miso) while the consistency of firm tofu makes a great substitute for eggs and meat.
When buying tofu, select organic formulations if possible, avoiding those that are genetically modified (GMO). When cooking, tofu absorbs the flavours of the sauces and marinades with which it is cooked.
Seitan, which goes by the nickname “wheat meat,” is made from the protein part of the wheat seed and is commonly known as wheat gluten.
Its history dates back to seventh-century Buddhist monks who were looking for a meat alternative besides tofu, and thus also goes by the name “Buddha’s Food.” This high-protein meat substitute has a texture that is similar to meat, and is therefore ideal for the vegetarian dishes that mimic meat-based ones.
It can be grilled, roasted or stir-fried, and is considered the easiest meat substitute to customize and make at home. Slightly more elusive than tofu, seitan can often be found in the refrigerated section of health food stores.