Transform readily available meat alternatives into delicious vegan family dinners. Redefining Meat For Vegans is a complete guide to healthy & budget-friendly vegan meat substitutes, including techniques, tips, and a roundup of recipes accessible to the beginner home cook.
🎛 Baked or Pan-Fried Crispy Tofu
Tofu is made from condensed, unfermented soy milk that has been processed into solid blocks. It's sold in a variety of textures, from silken to extra firm.
Extra firm tofu is the best type for mimicking meat. It's high in plant-based protein, versatile, firm in texture, and readily absorbs the flavor of marinades and sauces. And so, it comes as no surprise that tofu one of the most widely used vegan meat substitutes.
There is some prep required before using tofu. For recipes that call for sautéing or pan-frying, the tofu needs to be pressed beforehand to remove excess moisture, or it won't become crispy.
🏋🏽 How to Press Tofu
- Use super firm or extra firm sprouted tofu as a vegan meat alternative. These have already been pressed for you, which is a huge timesaver. I use Nasoya or Wildwood brands.
- Use a tofu press. This is a contraption that will press your tofu in about 20 minutes. I use the Tofuture press and it works great.
- Tried-and-true method: Wrap the tofu in layers of paper or kitchen towel. Place the tofu between two cutting boards. Add a weighty fruit bowl on top to press the water out of the tofu for at least 20 minutes or up to one hour. Change the paper towel if they become soaked.
Cut the pressed tofu into the desired shape.
Toss with cornstarch and salt to lightly coat.
Bake, pan-fry, or sauté the tofu until crispy.
Add your crispy tofu to a curry, chili, or soup. Or serve as is with the desired sauce or dressing.
Redefine meat with this easy Cashew Tofu Lettuce Wraps made with crispy tofu cubes.
🧊 Frozen Tofu
The best home-prepared vegan chicken substitute, in my opinion, is previously frozen tofu. Tofu is made from softened bean curds that expand when frozen, creating sponge-like pores. These pores give tofu a chewy, meat-like texture, which is why it is commonly used for redefining meat.
Benefits of freezing tofu:
- It takes less time to press.
- Tofu keeps for longer once frozen while in the freezer.
- Freezing tofu makes it more porous, so it quickly absorbs the flavor of marinades and sauces.
- Thawed tofu releases more moisture, making its surface drier. This means it becomes crispier when pan-fried.
❄️ How to Freeze and Thaw Tofu
- Keep the block of tofu in its original packaging, or transfer to a freezer-safe container. Freeze for at least 24 hours. You can also cut the tofu into rectangles and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet for quicker freezing.
- Transfer the frozen tofu to the refrigerator for at least 8 hours, or until the center is completely thawed.
- Alternatively, microwave the frozen tofu for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the center is thawed.
Even when a recipe does not call for previously frozen tofu, if there is extra firm tofu in the recipe, you can freeze it beforehand for a meatier dish.
Redefine meat by freezing the tofu beforehand for this Crispy Tofu Bowl with Chipotle-Tahini.
🍝 Crumbled Tofu
Crumbling tofu is quick and easy to do. These small crumbles are an ideal substitute for ground meat. I use them for mimicking beef in bolognese, keema, taco meat, burger meat, meatballs, or chilis. For even more meatiness, freeze the tofu beforehand. (See above)
Press the block of extra-firm tofu to remove excess liquid. Use your hands to break the tofu into crumbles, resembling the size of ground meat. Sauté or bake the crumbles in oil to get them crispy before using.
Alternatively, used uncooked crumbles for making burgers.
Try this recipe for Thai Tofu Burgers with Thai Red Curry Dressing. It uses crumbled tofu to make the most delicious patties that hold together perfectly.
For more 'meaty' vegan tofu recipes, visit my Tofu Recipes page.
🥪 Baked or Pan-Fried Tempeh
Tempeh is very different from tofu, even though they are both made from soybeans.
It has an earthy, nutty quality and is higher in protein, making it an ideal meat substitute. It is made by fermenting partially cooked soybeans with a beneficial type of mold (rhizopus). This mold adds nutrients to the tempeh and makes it easier to digest, which means no bloating or gas.
How To Prepare Tempeh
The trick to making the best tasting tempeh is to simmer it for a few minutes beforehand. This removes its slightly bitter aftertaste. It also opens up its pores so it can more readily absorb the flavorful seasonings of sauces and marinades.
Place the sliced tempeh in the marinade. Let sit for at least 20 minutes.
Either bake or pan-fry the marinated tempeh until crispy.
Use in sandwiches, salads, veggie bowls, or serve with a grain of your choice.
For a summer barbecue or picnic, redefine meat with this Vegan Rib Sandwich with Street Corn.
🍛 Crumbled Tempeh
Crumbled tempeh is a great for burgers, bolognese, soups, stews, chilis, or 'meat' sauces.
Either pan-fry the crumbles in oil, or bake them until crispy before using.
Redefine meat with this Tempeh Lentil Stew with Potatoes made with crispy tempeh crumbles.
For making burgers, do not bake or pan-fry the tempeh crumbles beforehand. Add them directly to a food processor with the other patty ingredients and pulse until combined.
Try these Sun-Dried Tomato Tempeh Burgers on my website.
For more delicious tempeh dinners, visit my Tempeh Recipes page.
🥩 Cauliflower Steaks
Why do we call this particular cut of cauliflower a 'steak'? I can’t say I know for sure, but the way the cauliflower is cut lengthwise down the middle, it almost has the shape of a classic veal chop, with the harder central core mimicking the bone. Cut the steaks on the thicker side. Thicker steaks hold together much better than thinner ones, plus they have a “meatier” texture.
It's the satisfying and meaty quality of thick cauliflower steaks that makes them a popular vegan meat alternative.
How to Cut Cauliflower Steaks
Use a large cauliflower. Trim the stem of the cauliflower, while keeping the head intact. Hold the cauliflower with its base (stem end) on a cutting board. With a sharp knife, make one cut through the center to divide the cauliflower in half. Cut each half into 1-¼-inch-thick slices. There should be 3 or 4 “steaks” in total.
Try these easy Crispy Cauliflower Steaks with Pesto Pasta for a satisfying dinner.
Find more easy vegan pasta dinners on my Pasta Recipes pages.
🌰 Walnut Meat
Loaded with heart healthy fats, raw walnut meat has a satisfying mouthfeel, as well as a crumbly texture, making it an ideal ground meat substitute. In addition, it's easily customizable for a variety of cuisines, simply by adjusting the seasonings.
Use a food processor to pulse the walnuts until coarsely ground. Be careful not to pulse too much or you'll end up with walnut flour! Combine with finely diced mushrooms, or crumbled tofu or tempeh. Add your choice of seasonings. Sir-fry or bake until golden brown.
Use walnut meat in burritos, tacos, meat sauces, chilis, pasta sauces, soups, or stews.
Redefine meat with this Oil-Free Walnut Meat with Green Peas recipe on my Instagram page.
🐔 Soy Curls
Soy curls are made of non-GMO whole soybeans that are typically processed without chemicals and packaged with neither additives nor preservatives.
Soy curls are high in protein and have a texture very similar to chicken. They’re tasteless on their own but easily absorb the flavors of sauces and marinades. They’re my kids’ favorite vegan meat.
Soy curls can be found in some health food stores and Asian markets. While they’re still not widely available at mainstream supermarkets, you’re pretty much guaranteed to find them on Amazon. The brand I buy is Butler, and it’s non-GMO, grown without chemical pesticides, and free from additives or preservatives.
How To Prepare Soy Curls
Before using, soak the soy curls in a large bowl with enough warm water to cover by about 1-½ inches for 10 minutes. (Do not soak for longer than 10 minutes or they will lose their texture.) Pour them into a colander to drain and then place them back in the bowl.
Sprinkle the soy curls cornstarch and salt. Use your hands to gently toss them until they are evenly coated with the cornstarch. Sauté them in batches in a large skillet until crispy. Or bake them until golden brown.
Add a stir-fry sauce to the skillet and cook until thickened. Or add them to pasta sauces, or salads.
Redefine meat with this highly rated Soy Curls in Creamy Peanut Sauce recipe on my site.
Visit my Asian-Inspired Recipes page for more flavorful soy curl dinner ideas.
It’s the texture and umami flavor of eggplant that makes it so meat-like, which is why eggplant steaks are all the rage these days.
Eggplant broils, bakes, and braises perfectly to become a hearty meat substitute. Marinate your eggplant and use it for making kebabs, steaks, bolognese, bacon, burgers, stir-fries, or even sloppy joes!
Redefine meat with this Asian-Inspired Glazed Eggplant from my Instagram page.
The umami quality of mushrooms, and their chewy texture, makes them a fitting vegan meat alternative. This is especially true of cremini, Portobello, and oyster mushrooms. They easily absorb the flavors from sauces and marinades, and are very satisfying.
How to Use Oyster Mushrooms
Oyster mushrooms are my favorite mushroom meat substitute.
To cut oyster mushrooms:
Redefine meat with this Oyster Mushroom Noodle Stir-Fry on my website.
This recipe capitalize on the umami quality and the silky, meat-like texture of mushrooms.
Cremini and white button mushrooms are often used to make vegan Bourguignon, a dish originating in Burgundy that is traditionally made by simmering chunks of beef in a rich red wine gravy. This dish mimics the creaminess and umami quality of Bourguignon using cashews and miso.
See this recipe for Creamy Miso Mushrooms and Mashed Potatoes on my Instagram page.
🍔 Beans, Lentils & Chickpeas
Not only are lentils very good for you, they also add some much needed texture and protein to vegan meals, which is one of the reasons that they make such a great beef substitute.
Replace 1 pound of ground meat with 2 cups of cooked, drained lentils. Cook the lentil until al dente, so the lentils stay whole and firm.
French green, green, black, and brown lentils work best for redefining meat in chilis, stews, sloppy joes, pasta sauces, and other dishes that typically use ground meat. These varieties of lentils are versatile. You can substitute one for another in most recipes.
This Lentil Chili & Thyme Roasted Corn recipe uses French green lentils for a hearty and satisfying chili.
Lentils hold together well, making them a popular meat substitute for meatloaf (lentil loaf), meatballs, and burgers.
One of the most popular recipes on my website are these Easy 6-Ingredient Lentil Burgers.
Chickpeas are a used for mimicking chicken and turkey meat because of their color and chewiness.
- Combine chickpeas with flour and seasoning, and bake or air-fry to make chickpea meat!
- Blend with breadcrumbs and turn them into burgers or nuggets.
- Combine chickpeas with flour, season, and bake or air-fry to make chickpea meat!
- Add them whole to soups, a stir-fry, or pot pies.
- Chickpea tuna is another popular recipe that uses chickpeas, combined with seaweed, as a tuna substitute.
Use equal amounts of cooked chickpeas (by volume or weight) for cooked or raw chicken or turkey.
See the recipe for these Chickpea Patties With Vegan Cheesy Pasta on my Instagram page.
Use a combination of different types of beans in place of meat in meat-based recipes. Pinto, kidney, black, and red beans all work well in chili or soup. Three bean chilis are meaty and comforting.
Pair smaller beans with larger ones, and use equal amounts of cooked beans (by volume or weight) to replace the meat. Adjust the cooking time as needed, until the beans are just cooked. Beans don’t require as much simmering as meats do.
Redefine meat with this Bean Curry with Roasted Potatoes on my website.
Both black and white beans are also ideal for making vegan burgers, sandwich spreads, or veggie loaves.
Try these Black Bean Corn Burgers on my Instagram page.
One of the most popular recipes on my site is this High-Iron Avocado White Bean Sandwich.
For more protein-packed bean and lentil dinners, visit my Lentil Recipes, and Bean Recipes pages.
Jackfruit is a tropical fruit that can be eaten ripe, or unripe (also called young or green). While ripe jackfruit is sweet and eaten like any fresh fruit, young jackfruit has a different texture and usage than when it is ripe. Additionally, its consistency is similar to pork, and it has a neutral taste. That's why it's the key to making an insanely scrumptious pulled 'pork' sandwich that you won't believe is vegan.
Young jackfruit is typically sold in cans or pouches, and preserved in water, brine or oil. Choose the type preserved in water or brine.
How To Prepare Jackfruit
Try adding young jackfruit to stews, soups, and chilis. It's versatile and readily takes on the flavors of sauces, spices, and marinades.
Jackfruit has a flavor similar to pulled pork, especially when cooked.
Redefine meat with this BBQ Pulled Jackfruit Sandwich.
Saucy jackfruit is also a delectable filling for russets and sweet potatoes. See this oil-free BBQ jackfruit recipe on my Instagram page.
As you can see, there are so many easy-to-use and tasty vegan meat options readily available. Give these recipes a try and find your favorites.
Share your 'redefining meat for vegans' dishes with me on Instagram. It makes my day to see you recreate my recipes.
I would love it if you would ⭐️ rate these recipes and leave a comment. Thank you in advance.
Excellent job Nisha! Proof there is no need to have a slaughtered animal on the plate! Your Bio and More About Me section was so informative and interesting, especially for those who may be just beginning their plant based journey. Thanks and keep up the great work!
Hi Holly, Thank you for taking the time to read this article, and my bio. I'm so glad you found it informative. Have a lovely evening.
Great resource but was surprised that you did not mention TVP
Thank you for reading the article. I didn't include TVP because I have only used it once, and so I am not that well versed in it. Have a great rest of the day.