Healthy & budget-friendly vegan meat substitutes that redefine meat for vegans. These readily available meat alternatives are easily transformed into delicious vegan family dinners. Includes 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.
🧊 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.
One delicious way to enjoy previously frozen tofu is to coat it in batter and coconut flakes, or breadcrumbs, before pan-frying. Check out this Breaded Coconut Tofu Steak recipe on my Instagram page.
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 recipe on my website.
🍝 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.
Redefine meat with this recipe for Thai Tofu Burgers with Thai Red Curry Dressing on my website. It uses crumbled tofu to make the most delicious burgers that hold together perfectly. Another of my favorite recipes using crumbled tofu is this Tofu Bolognese on my Instagram 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.
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.
Redefine meat with this Vegan Rib Sandwich with Street Corn recipe.
🍛 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 recipe on my website. Or use them to make a meat sauce for loaded sweet potatoes.
For making burgers, do not bake or pan-fry the 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.
🥩 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.
Redefine meat with this Crispy Cauliflower Steaks & Pesto Pasta recipe on my website.
🌰 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 Walnut Meat & Potatoes 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.
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 Soy Curls in Creamy Peanut Sauce with Garlicky Broccoli recipe on my website.
It’s the texture and umami flavor of eggplant that makes it so meat-like. 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!
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 vegan Oyster Mushroom Noodle Stir-Fry recipe, as well as these Easy Cheesy Vegan Quesadillas, on my website. Both recipes capitalize on the umami quality and the silky, meat-like texture of mushrooms.
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.
Find 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.
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.
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.
This Lentil Chili & Thyme Roasted Corn recipe on my website 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.
Redefine meat with these Easy 6-Ingredient Lentil Burgers on my website.
Find these Lentil Pecan Meatballs on my Instagram page.
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.
Use equal amounts of cooked chickpeas (by volume or weight) for cooked or raw chicken or turkey.
Chickpea tuna is another popular recipe that uses chickpeas, combined with seaweed, as a tuna substitute.
Redefine meat with this Smashed Chickpea Avocado Sandwich on my website.
Find the recipe for these Easy Chickpea Patties 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.
Black beans are also ideal for making vegan burgers, or veggie loaves.
Redefine meat with this Bean Curry with Roasted Potatoes recipe on my website.
Try this Black Bean Corn Burger recipe on my Instagram page.
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.
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 on my website.