Making meaty textures and flavors without animal products isn't as hard as it once was.
Thanks to widely shared recipes and more widely available ingredients, vegan main dishes are evolving at great speed. Plant-based eating now takes cues from the world 'round, both in flavor and technique.
In London, you can find fried "chicken" bites made out of jackfruit that inspired the popular "Leon" cookbook authors to include a similar recipe in their latest book, "Leon Fast Vegan." Although many stores now carry the fresh version of these large, spiky yellowish green fruits, you also can find canned jackfruit that will cut down your kitchen prepe time significantly.
RELATED: Vegan restaurants, food trucks and bakeries in Austin
Rabbit Food Grocery thriving a year after moving to Tarrytown’s all-vegan shopping center
The Beer Plant brings vegan gastropub experience to Austin
Miso, mushrooms and tamari are common ways to add umami flavor to a dish without adding meat, and you'll find all three in the vegan ramen recipe from "Mostly Plants." Amanda Logan, author of "Great Vegan Meals for the Carnivorous Family," uses basket steamers to cook eggplant and then mixes the softened flesh with tofu to create ginger-spiced no-meatballs.
For a Thai-inspired tempeh dish, look no further than the curried satay skewers from "The Yoga Kitchen" author Kimberly Parsons. Tempeh, made with fermented soybeans that are pressed into a cake and usually sliced or cubed, has long been a favorite substitute for meat, and now you can get it from a variety of sources, including the Austin-based Hearty Vegan, whose local tempeh is available at Natural Grocers.
My work colleague Joe Vinsik shared the recipe for a seitan-based jerk chick'n from the vegan grilling manual "VBQ." Making seitan at home with vital wheat gluten, rice flour and nutritional yeast isn't nearly as hard as making tempeh or tofu, and once you master the general technique, you can make seitan and then season it however you like, which is what Vinsik does when cooking meat-free meals for his family.
Vital wheat gluten is also in Robin Asbell's no-meatballs, but unlike the seitan loaf used in the "VBQ" chik'n, the wheat gluten is mixed with chickpea flour and miso-seasoned rice, which creates a ground meat-textured mixture that could be used in any number of dishes.
Tempeh Satay Skewers with Carrot and Edamame Slaw
I love this kind of food — a real sensory overload! Fresh, crisp ingredients that are clean on their own but mouth-wateringly moreish once dressed up with vibrant flavors. You can substitute the peanut butter for cashew butter if you like. And if I were you, I would make a double batch of this satay sauce, because once it's gone, you’ll wish you had more.
— Kimberly Parsons
For the slaw:
1 white radish or daikon (or an additional 2 carrots)
2 to 3 large carrots
1 1/4 cups edamame beans
8 pink radishes, thinly sliced
4 spring onions (scallions), trimmed and thinly sliced
2 cups bean sprouts, washed
1 cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
1 cup mint leaves, roughly chopped
For the dressing:
5 tablespoons sweet chile sauce
5 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
3 tablespoons tamari sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
Freshly squeezed juice of 2 limes
1 teaspoon white and/or black sesame seeds
For the satay:
5 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
1 teaspoon Thai red curry paste
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons tamari sauce
1 tablespoon tamarind paste
1 1/2 pound tempeh or firm tofu, cut into thick batons
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
To make the slaw, peel the daikon and carrots, trim the tops and bases and grate them using a large grater, or for speed and ease pass them through the grater blade of your food processor. Place the grated mixture into ice-cold water while you prepare the rest of the slaw and its dressing.
To make the dressing, put all the ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine.
In a large bowl combine the edamame beans, radishes, spring onions and bean sprouts. Drain and dry the carrots and daikon, then add them to the rest of the salad ingredients. Now add the herbs and dressing and toss to combine. Once the salad is coated in the dressing, set aside in the fridge while you make the almond satay and tempeh skewers.
To make the satay, put the peanut butter, Thai red curry paste, vinegar, tamari sauce, tamarind paste and 5 tablespoons water into a bowl and stir until smooth and well combined.
Heat a grill pan over a high heat. Thread the tempeh onto eight metal skewers and brush with half the satay. Brush the griddle with olive oil and cook the skewers, turning regularly, for 6 to 8 minutes or until golden and charred.
To serve, place a portion of slaw onto each plate and then top with two skewers. Drizzle the remaining satay sauce over the plates and serve. Serves 4.
— From "The Yoga Kitchen Plan: A Seven-Day Vegetarian Lifestyle Plan with Over 70 Recipes" by Kimberly Parsons (Quadrille, $24.99)
I don’t know too many people who steam their eggplant, but I am telling you, if you haven’t, you are missing out. Steamed eggplant is soft and creamy without any of the oil usually required to cook this thirsty vegetable. Blended and mixed with a mountain of Asian flavors, these no-meatballs are delicious and ridiculously good for you. Serve with Asian greens or noodles.
— Amanda Logan
For the no-meatballs:
1 large eggplant, cut into cubes
1 cup cooked rice
1/4 cup rolled oats
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1-inch piece ginger, finely grated
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons tamari
10 ounces firm tofu, coarsely grated
2 scallions, whites finely sliced
1 (8-ounce) can water chestnuts, drained and chopped well
1/4 to 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 to 3 tablespoons sunflower or peanut oil to fry
For the teriyaki sauce:
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1/4 cup mirin
1/4 cup tamari or soy sauce
1 to 2 tablespoons raw sugar
1/4 cup water
Teriyaki sauce, for serving
To steam the eggplant, add 3 inches of water to a saucepan and place the eggplant cubes in a steamer (I use two stacked basket steamers). Pop the steamer on top of the saucepan, being sure the water doesn’t touch the underside, and bring the water to a simmer over high heat. Reduce the heat and steam the eggplant for 10 minutes or until soft. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.
When the eggplant is cooled, transfer it to a food processor and pulse into a paste texture. Add the cooked rice, rolled oats, garlic, ginger, sesame oil and tamari and pulse until the mixture comes together but is still textured.
Transfer the eggplant mixture to a large bowl and add the grated tofu, sliced scallions, water chestnuts and panko breadcrumbs. Use a large spoon to combine the mixture; test it to make sure it will hold together and add more breadcrumbs if needed. Line a large tray (one that will fit into your fridge) with wax or parchment paper and with clean hands roll the mixture into golf ball-size balls. Place them on the lined tray and into the fridge, covered, for at least 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, to make the teriyaki sauce, combine the grated ginger, mirin, tamari, sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring the sauce to a boil before reducing the heat and simmering for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
To cook the no-meatballs, heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat and fry the balls in batches of 6 to 8 for around 6 minutes each. Place the cooked no-meatballs in a warm oven, 200 degrees, while you cook the remaining balls. Serve with teriyaki sauce. Serves 4.
— From "Great Vegan Meals for the Carnivorous Family: 75 Delicious Dishes for Herbivores, Carnivores and Everyone in Between" by Amanda Logan (Page Street Publishing, $21.99)
Vegan Ramen Soup with Tofu
So many ramen recipes use chicken broth and pork to build flavor. In our vegan version, we use vegetable broth along with mushrooms, miso paste and soy sauce, which gives this soup that savory umami flavor you crave in a bowl of Asian noodles. We add tons of vegetables and bite-size pieces of tofu along with those yummy ramen noodles to make this soup flavorful and satisfying.
— Tracy Pollan
1 (12- to 14-ounce) package extra-firm organic tofu, drained, patted dry, and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 package ramen noodles (about 10 ounces)
2 tablespoons white miso paste
3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce or tamari
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 small yellow onion, coarsely chopped
2 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced into 1/4-inch-thick strips
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
6 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
3 carrots, cut into slices on the diagonal
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced, green and white parts separated
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound baby bok choy, trimmed and leaves separated (if not available, use regular bok choy, cut into 3-inch pieces)
3 ounces baby spinach
Sriracha or hot chile sauce (optional)
Set a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange the tofu in a single layer on the baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, flipping once halfway through. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the noodles according to the directions on the package. Drain and rinse under cold water. Set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together the miso paste and soy sauce (or tamari) and set aside.
In a large stockpot over medium heat, heat the olive and sesame oils until shimmering. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes. Add the shiitake mushrooms, garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Add 1 cup of the broth and, with a wooden spoon, scrape the bottom of the pan to incorporate the browned bits. Add the carrots and the scallion whites and cook for 3 minutes. Stir in the remaining 5 cups of broth and 2 cups of water. Add the miso-soy sauce mixture and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and mix well.
Raise the heat to bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low, stir in the bok choy, spinach and tofu, and simmer for 15 minutes.
Divide the noodles among four to six individual serving bowls, top with the soup, tofu and vegetables, and garnish with the scallion greens. Serve with sriracha (or hot chile sauce) on the side, if desired. Serves 4 to 6.
— From "Mostly Plants: 101 Delicious Flexitarian Recipes from the Pollan Family" by Tracy Pollan, Dana Pollan and Lori Pollan (Harper Wave, $29.99)
Jackfruit Fried "Chicken"
We use a plant-based buttermilk and traditional spiced crumb for these incredibly irresistible crunchy patties. I first tried fried jackfruit “wings” at Biff’s Jack Shack in London, where they serve jackfruit deep-fried around a sugarcane “bone.” These are inspired by those incredible creations, but simplified for home cooking. We batch-cook jackfruit to use in a variety of recipes, but you can use canned jackfruit. Choose an oil with a high smoke point, such as sunflower oil, for this recipe.
To make this into fried jackfruit “chicken” burgers, shape into 4 to 6 larger patties about 1/2-inch thick. Gently pan-fry in about 1/4 inch oil for 5 minutes on each side. As they are bigger, they will be much more fragile, so use 2 large spatulas to flip them gently when the bottom is golden. To make these into nuggets suitable for kids, halve the size of each patty. When making the crumb, omit the cayenne and paprika and halve the amount of mustard and salt in the flour mix. Cook as instructed.
— Rebecca Seal
6 tablespoons rice flour
6 tablespoons ground flaxseeds
1 cup water
2 cups (about 16 ounces) cooked batched jackfruit (drained, if using canned)
Neutral cooking oil, for frying
For the crumb coating:
1 cup unsweetened dairy-free milk
2 teaspoons vegan apple cider vinegar
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
2 teaspoons sweet smoked paprika
2 teaspoons dry mustard
2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt, crumbled until fine
Freshly ground black pepper
Mexican slaw or miso-sesame slaw
Vegan hot sauce
Garlicky vegan aioli or vegan chipotle mayo
In a small bowl, mix together the rice flour, flaxseeds and water and let soak for 5 minutes. Strain the thickened liquid through a strainer, pressing the solids with the back of a spoon and reserving the liquid. Discard the solids. Mix the liquid with the shredded jackfruit and set aside.
Pour the milk and vinegar into a large, shallow bowl. In a separate large, shallow bowl, stir together the flour, cornstarch, cayenne, if using, paprika, dry mustard, garlic powder and sea salt. Season with plenty of pepper.
Heat about 1/2 inch of oil in a large, deep saucepan over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, divide the jackfruit mixture into 12, then shape into patties by squeezing the flesh firmly until even and neat.
When the oil is shimmering hot (375 degrees), begin triple dipping the jackfruit. Hold one patty in your hand and spoon over the milk mixture, then gently roll it in the spiced flour. Repeat the wetting and rolling process twice again, making sure each patty is well covered in batter with no fruit visible.
Carefully lower 3 or 4 patties at a time into the hot oil. (Don’t overcrowd the pan, because this will reduce the temperature of the oil and make the patties greasy and soggy.) Cook for about 3 minutes on each side, until golden and crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon, letting the excess oil drain back into the pan. Drain on paper towels and keep warm while you cook the rest of the patties.
Serve with fries, hot sauce, mayo, and slaw. Serves 4.
— From "Leon Fast Vegan" by Rebecca Seal, Chantal Symons and John Vincent (Conran, $29.99)
BBQ Jerk Chik’n
If you love jerk chicken and you love barbecue chicken, you’re going to fall head over heels for this dish. We took the flavor of the Caribbean and the sweet barbecue sauce of the south and combined them to give you the best of both worlds. You’re going to get hot and savory flavors from the jerk rub and brown sugar and spice from the barbecue sauce in every bite of these seitan chik’n strips. This has turned into one of our favorite grilling foods. Serve as an entree or slice into strips and put them over salads, or in a wrap.
— Nadine Horn
1 tablespoon vegan chicken bouillon (such as Better Than Bouillon brand)
2 cups boiling water
2 cups vital wheat gluten
1 cup brown rice flour
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
1/2 teaspoon ground sea salt
3 tablespoons homemade jerk rub
1 cup barbecue sauce
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
Dissolve the bouillon in the water and whisk until fully combined.
In a large bowl, whisk the gluten, rice flour, nutritional yeast and salt until fully combined. Add 1 cup of the broth and stir. Slowly add more broth as needed until it turns into a stretchy ball of dough. Knead the dough for 2 minutes and roll it into a log.
Place a steamer basket in a large stockpot and fill with water, just under the top of the basket. You don’t want water to touch the seitan dough. Add any remaining broth to the water. Bring to a boil and place the seitan on the basket. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and let steam for 30 minutes.
Remove the seitan from the basket and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Refrigerate for 2 hours. Spread the jerk rub evenly on a flat plate. Slice the chik’n loaf into ½-inch-thick pieces and dip all sides in the rub.
Heat a grill pan or skillet on medium-high heat and brush the oil on the pan. When it’s hot (the chik’n pieces should sizzle when they touch the pan), place the chik’n pieces on the pan and brush the tops with a thick layer of barbecue sauce. Cook for 2 minutes and flip. Brush the upright side with a thick layer of sauce and cook for another 2 minutes. Flip one more time and cook for 1 minute.
— From “VBQ — The Ultimate Vegan Barbecue Cookbook: Over 80 Recipes” by Nadine Horn and Jörg Mayer ($19.95)
Thai Meatballs in Red Curry
These lightly spiced meatballs are full of chewy brown rice and the zing of lemongrass and ginger. Once they take a bath in a creamy, spicy red curry sauce, they become a wildly flavorful celebration of Thai food. You can add any kind of raw chopped vegetable to the curry, from sweet potatoes or carrots to summer squash and bell peppers. Hearty greens, such as kale or collards, would work here, too.
— Robin Asbell
For the meatballs:
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup medium-grain brown rice
Canola oil for greasing
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon minced fresh lemongrass
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon freshly grated lime zest
1 cup water
1/4 cup apple juice
2 tablespoons red miso paste
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
1 1/2 cups vital wheat gluten
1/2 cup chickpea flour
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and stems
For the sauce:
1 (13 1/2-ounce) can coconut milk
1 tablespoon red curry paste
1/2 medium lime, sliced
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 tablespoons tamari soy sauce
4 cups chopped raw vegetables
Make the meatballs: In a small pot over high heat, combine the water and rice, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 40 minutes, or until tender. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Ready a deep roasting pan by lightly greasing it with the canola oil. Tear off a sheet of foil to cover and set aside.
In a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat, warm the coconut oil. Add the onion and sauté, stirring constantly, until it starts to sizzle. Reduce the heat to low and sauté for 5 minutes, or until soft and lightly golden. Add the garlic, lemongrass, ginger and lime zest and sauté, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat. Scrape the contents of the sauté pan into a medium bowl.
Add the water, apple juice, miso and sesame oil to the bowl and stir until well combined, mashing the miso until it is well incorporated. Add the cooked rice to the bowl and stir until well combined.
In a large bowl, stir together the vital wheat gluten, chickpea flour and cilantro. Add the contents of the bowl containing the rice mixture to the dry mixture and stir them together until a dough forms. Once the dough becomes thick, knead it with your hands for 3 minutes, or until it is stringy and elastic.
Using a 1-ounce scoop or a tablespoon, form the dough into balls and roll them between your dampened hands until smooth. Place them in the prepared roasting pan, making sure they do not touch one another. Cover with the foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and keep warm.
Make the sauce: Pour the coconut milk into a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the curry paste, mash it until well combined, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Add the lime slices, brown sugar and tamari and stir. Add the raw vegetables and, cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened to your liking. Add the meatballs to the pot, gently folding them in to ensure they are coated with the sauce. Remove from the heat. Serve hot.
— From "Plant-Based Meats: Hearty, High-Protein Recipes for Vegans, Flexitarians, and Curious Carnivores" by Robin Asbell (Countryman Press, $23.95)