02 September 2011

TDIV Q&A: What are the best meat substitutes?

What are the best meat substitutes?

Look, I love being a herbivore—and I take serious enjoyment from cooking and, most of all, eating! I can’t think of a single vegetable, fruit, legume or grain of which I wouldn’t think, I really want to eat that…right now. This thorough love long fostered a state of indifference to “meat-replacements.” I can get behind a good tofu scramble—but otherwise my search for a truly superior meat-replacement left me wishing for a grilled portabella on ciabatta with a side of kale. Yum!

Therefore, I had considerable expectations the afternoon I whipped up lunch with Gardein. I had read about Gardein, and the possibilities and a faint glimmer of hope emerged (finally, a meat-replacement I could actually get excited about?) That was nearly two years ago, and still, Gardein consistently blows me away with its awesomeness. Meat-replacement is unworthy a name for the Gardein brand, I am partial to the more dignified, “plant protein.”

Let’s get one thing out of the way—i.e. the “I don’t eat processed soy fake-meats,” argument. To be clear, Gardein isn’t processed food, which is one of the qualities that attracted me to grilling, baking, searing and sautéing with this incredibly yummy brand every chance I get. From Gardein’s FAQ page,
it’s made from [non-gmo] soy, wheat and pea proteins, vegetables and ancient grains (quinoa, amaranth, millet and kamut). gardein is easy to digest and free of cholesterol, trans fats. the majority of gardein foods are also a good source of fiber. gardein is also animal and dairy free… think of how bread or pasta is made: gardein is made using a similar approach. we mix water, flour, veggies, grains, flavors and spices together to create the ‘dough’, form it and bake it in special ovens to give gardein its fibrous look and its meaty mouth-feel.
It’s as processed as a loaf of homemade bread, so we can all relax and move on to the fun part, cooking with Gardein. They make frozen and fresh foods—I far prefer the former. The frozen options from Gardein (I find them at a local chain, Fred Meyers, but they are widely available at Whole Foods, etc.) are much more “flexible” and easier to cook with in a variety of recipes. They make about nine different frozen choices, but here are the four of which I am most fond,

Anything you can do with beef or chicken, Gardein will absolutely answer to the challenge. Here are my favorites—easy is the name of the game for these weekly staples:
  • beefless tips: I let these defrost for about ten minutes, just enough to allow them to chop easily (each chunk into halves or quarters.) I use a cast-iron pan, but a good fry pan will work, and pour a tablespoon or so of safflower oil (this is a great choice for the high temperatures, as it has a higher smoking point) and warm to medium-high heat. Toss in the beefless tips, chopped onions, jalapenos, a smoky BBQ sauce and sauté for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve on a toasted French roll and it makes an exceptional chopped BBQ beef sandwich.
  • seven-grain crispy tenders: these are amazing. Bake at 430 for 15 minutes on each side (this time/temp combo works for baking most of the frozen Gardein products,) on non-stick tin foil (you will thank me) for perfection. At the end of a long day, these are the best for a quick dinner, and the can be put in a bun (I am a fan of Rudi’s) with Vegenaise and pickles, or chopped up and tossed with pasta and tomato sauce. Get creative with them!
  • chick’n scallopini: these works in sandwiches, salads, breaded, fried, etc. The scallopini was first Gardein protein I tried, and it was so chicken-like that I had to keep reading the ingredients to assure myself that I hadn’t made a fowl mistake! I bake these (430 degrees, 15 minutes each side) and they are a flawless meal-starter.
  • ultimate beefless burger: Gardein unlocked the right combination of spices and texture—this burger has satiated many an omnivore (my partner included) and it is without competition (really, I’ve tried them all, and Gardein’s version beats them “hands down.”) Pan seared, or grilled, topped with Daiya pepper jack and it’s the veggie burger to end all veggie burgers.
A note: you may wonder why I didn’t review a series of products from different brands—I considered this, but as our reader question is “which meat-replacements are best,” there is just no contest; Gardein is the paramount choice for those who love eating healthy, flavorful and ethically.

A few extra tips I’ve found helpful in eating Gardein for lunch and dinner 7 days a week—it’s vitally important that whether cooking by pan, grill or oven, ensure you’ve given adequate time for preheating. Otherwise, the texture can get a bit weird. For those that are interested, Gardein is loaded with protein. Two chick’n scallopini patties are close to 40 grams of protein, low in calories and fat.

Use your imagination and don’t be afraid to experiment with everything they offer—the possibilities are nothing short of incredible. It’s all just good stuff.

Nathan Rivas
Nathan is a passionate animal advocate and vegan in the Seattle-area, who lives with a crazed dachshund, an enormous Maine coon and a judgemental short haired black cat. Nathan graduated with a Bachelors of Science (summa cum laude) from Northeastern University. He is preparing for his Masters of Science program in the fall and likes to make jokes that involve the chemical compound arsole (and is totally addicted to gardein).

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/opensourceway