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 Meatless Meals Can Be Delicious!

Jun 09, 2023 06:00AM ● By Debra Caffrey

Whether it’s due to rising food costs, environmental reasons or health concerns, more people are turning to plant-based eating or just reducing their meat intake. But whatever the reasons, the myths that vegetarian food is tasteless, boring or not anywhere close to the “real thing” still linger. Even though we’ve always eaten a lot of plant-based food in our house, when my husband went completely vegetarian several years ago, I wasn’t always sure how I would successfully substitute protein for him at every meal. As it turns out, it is not hard or tricky to cook delicious, savory and even “meaty” meatless recipes; it just takes a little bit of forethought and time to play around with things! If you’re still doubtful of how one can maintain big flavor while eating meatless, here are some of my biggest tips for staying satisfied while cooking hearty and tasty plant-based meals:

Focus on Spices and Herbs. True for meat-based meals as well, properly seasoning your food throughout the cooking process, as well as using fresh herbs and different spices can elevate any meal. Spice brings character to all ingredients, creates depth and complexity, and can enliven and brighten your food. Spices are also essential for international cuisine such as Indian or Mediterranean that are typically a welcome home for vegetarianism.

Embrace Umami. Umami is a type of “taste” that is often described as meaty or savory, and it can be an essential key to making meatless meals feel hearty. Umami can be built with ingredients such as miso, nutritional yeast, soy product and mushrooms.

Use High Heat. Grilling, broiling and slow-roasting veggies and meatless proteins like tempeh, tofu and legumes are wonderful techniques for achieving huge flavors and textures. Great char and caramelization equate to high flavor, especially when you maximize the surface area that gets transformed. Anything thrown on the barbecue is undeniably yummy!

Prioritize Your Other Meal Components.  If there’s one thing I can stress about vegetarian cooking, it’s this: the meal will be delicious if you include delicious ingredients! In other words, any burger with melted cheese, crunchy onion, crisp lettuce, and a special sauce is going to taste great whether there’s a meat patty inside or a black bean patty! Focus on the caliber of each item you are cooking with and the end result will be tasty!

Finally, remember that you are not reinventing the wheel. Maintain the integrity of the recipe or dish you’re craving; you’re only exchanging the meat ingredient but everything else can stay the same! Your mother’s spaghetti and meatballs can still be your mother’s spaghetti and meatballs using lentils instead of beef. If you love a good Reuben sandwich, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy one using bacon tempeh in lieu of pastrami. Things don’t have to be complicated or overthought. Food is about memories, love, joy and flavor, and all of this is still possible without the meat!

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