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  • Writer's pictureEmma M

Vintage Vegetarian: A Review of the Best Meat-Substitutes

Four years ago, I chose to become a pescetarian. Freshly thrown into college, surviving off a meal plan from a crappy dining hall, and all about becoming the next Mother Nature, I thought that it would be the perfect time to achieve my long-term dream of abandoning meat from my diet. I mean I’ll admit, I did have the advantage that I didn’t like the taste of meat to begin with and didn’t trust my dining hall’s meat selection anyway, but it still worked out with perfect timing. Now, I should also confess that I am lactose intolerant, and without the help of my trusty little Lactaid pills, I’d be practically vegan. So, I’ve explored many different avenues of modern restricted diets. Despite the confines that we vegetarian cooks are placed within, I feel that it gives us unfound creativity in our cooking that always makes our time in the kitchen exciting. I like being pushed into having to become innovative with my cooking, and especially after being a broke, diet-restricted college student, I have become an unofficial expert at catering to different dietary restrictions, especially vegetarianism!

But, while today’s food options and markets make it easy to play mad scientist with recipes, recipes of old lacked the options (and apparently dietary restrictions) to make it accessible to all diets. So, I’ve taken some time to do my own research and experiments to see how we can adapt our vintage recipes for modern tastes.

Now, I’m sure that a large group of my fellow chefs enjoy the freedom to eat anything (*just a little jealous*), and maybe totally uninterested in food accommodation. And, some of these recommendations and substitutions may not come to par with the original ingredients. But, I will do everything in my power to make it as good as possible, and hopefully, convince you to try your own experimentation in the kitchen!

I’ll be honest with you, my fellow members of the veggie club, we are at quite a disadvantage when it comes to vintage cooking. I’m sure you have noticed that it feels like every. single. recipe. has some kind of meat element, down to the broth and fat. Well, we are also lucky enough to be in the age of plant-based “meat”, with modern science curing our deepest ailments like wanting to eat a meatball, and bacon, and hamburgers, and chili, and… well, you get the idea. But, not all fake meat is created equally, and some of us may prefer to avoid it altogether. So, here are my recommendations! (Take note fellow chefs: some of these will require some extra TLC to make it fulfill the role of meat in your vintage recipe, but I can help you along the way with some future posts if wanted!)

5) Beans:

Ah beans, beans, the magical food… while this one is gonna be the farthest from our meat-like texture and flavor, but if you have the time, patience, and a small budget, these are your go-to substitute. For my own cooking, I like to mash them and blend them, and from there your bean-brain can go wild! I’ve been hooked recently on mashing chickpeas with some minced onion and plenty of seasoning, and frying them in some oil to make yourself a chickpea “Salsbury steak”

4) Tofu:

My favorite love-hate relationship. Tofu. Tofu is an amazing option to achieve the different textures of protein and meat and is easy to mold into whatever you desire to replicate. With a neutral flavor, tofu can go into any recipe imaginable with enough spices and marinades. However, it is the poster-child of undesirable vegetarian cooking when left unaided, and does cost a pretty penny in the store and kitchen. If you choose to use this I BEG you to make sure you press it before cooking to get rid of it’s moisture. Just trust me on this.

3) Jackfruit

Now, this one has been a recent discovery for me. Jackfruit is the kingpin of the fruit world, being so versatile in how it can be cooked that I've barely even begun to crack the tip of the iceberg. Its texture resembles that of shredded meat, and can be bought as a canned product, refrigerated packets, or just the entire fruit itself, and carries a very mild flavor. I’ve seen recipes that can manipulate this fruit into so many different recipes that it is an absolutely welcome ingredient in our vintage kitchen. (just imagine jackfruit, "crab” cakes, pulled “pork”, chili, “ribs”, and more!)

2) Plant-based meat

I hold plant-based meat near and dear to my heart (and stomach), as it has reunited me with some of my favorite “meats” that I’ve spent far too long trying to replicate (meatballs & Emma 4ever). While it does come with a much higher price tag and is a lot less natural than our other options, it is absolutely worth the splurge for your favorite vintage recipes. There are countless brands and types you can buy, ranging from sausage, “chicken” nuggets, hamburgers, ground “beef”, meatballs, and even more, giving us veggie lovers a moment reunited with what we’ve given up, without any guilt. In my own kitchen, Beyond Meat’s plant-based meatballs have become a staple to my freezer, and a must-have for pasta nights.

1) Portobello Mushrooms

Lastly, but definitely not least, portobello mushrooms are the backbone of my vintage kitchen. Cheap, natural, and flavorful, these mushrooms are the miracle of the produce aisle. Without much time or prep, portobellos will always come through with their meat-like texture and earthy flavors, making them able to handle any sort of meat marinade or spice rub you dream of. They can be shredded, minced, diced, and sliced, and everything in between, making them the perfect meat substitute for all chefs.

I hope these replacements inspire you and motivate you straight into your vintage cookbooks and recipe boxes, and you can join me in our quest to conquer vintage cooking! And, when all else fails and if none of these have inspired you, fret not my dear cooks; I have an entire itinerary of vegetarian (and other diet restrictions) based recipes planned for our journey into the past, and I am here to help you find your inspo-ingredients along the way! If there are more alternatives or diet restriction substitutes you would like to see, please feel free to reach out to me! Till next time, my fellow Era Eaters!

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