In wandering through the aisles of Capers, Choices and even Save-On Foods, we may be surprised to observe the proliferation of veggie “meats” that have found a secure place in supermarket coolers and freezers. We discover “ground round”, nuggets, and deli slices made from plant protein and without a trace of animal ingredients. Our company barbecue is likely to feature veggie burgers as well as beef burgers, and sometimes as many of our co-workers are lined up for the plant alternative as for the meat-based version. School hot dog sales, sidewalk carts, and vendors at baseball games often can provide veggie dogs, when asked.
Clearly, along with all the vegetarians, an immense segment of the general population is adopting a semi-vegetarian diet, though they don’t necessarily want to label themselves with the “V” word. Vegetarian or not, their diets are shifting towards plant foods for a myriad of reasons: most for reasons of personal health; others because of environmental concerns, for example they don’t want to contribute to groundwater contamination that results from massive factory farm operations; and still others because they can’t bear the cruelty to animals that goes on in such operations and in slaughterhouses.
Why, then, do all these people choose to eat products that are coming closer and closer to resemble “meat”? In pondering this question, for myself as well as for others, I’ve arrived at an answer that makes good, logical sense. When you stop and think about it, sausages, wieners, and meatballs are quite different from the muscles of an animal. For example, the sausage or hot dog manufacturer takes some combination of muscle, organs, by-products, binders, spices, and various other ingredients such as preservatives, and combines them in a mixer. This mixture is then stuffed into a casing and the result is a product with which we are all now familiar. What follows, logically, is that a sausage or a wiener can be made from beef, pork, or turkey, or–perhaps better still–it could be made from vegetable protein. With the latter, we end up with an easy-to use product, high in beneficial plant protein, yet with no cholesterol, and little or no saturated fat. We don’t take a bite from the cow to get “ground round”; many processes have taken place to create the end product that displayed at the supermarket. Instead, we can take ingredients from lower on the food chain (that are in fact the sources of animal protein), and use soy, pea, or grain protein to produce a similar, easy to use product, with has far more health benefits, and fewer of the environmental or animal-related problems. The veggie “meats” are traditional in form, yet the appearance is the same, and the result can be used in familiar ways in recipes, meals and menus.
If you’d like to explore some of the most delectable veggie “meats”, here are a few possibilities. Next time you go out for dinner, try one of the vegetarian-style Chinese restaurants (in Vancouver, Po Kong). Ask for vegetarian cutlets with orange sauce or a sizzling vegetarian “steak” in black pepper sauce, or the lightly seasoned chicken, prawn or shrimp alternatives.
Many of the veggie “meats are made of soy or gluten, and thus not suitable for those with related food sensitivities, however a search of store coolers will reveal patties and burgers that are based on rice or other gluten-free grains.
For products that are so new they have barely hit the market, try Gardein Beef or Chicken (in the recipe below). These have just been added to the menus of restaurants such as Montri’s Thai Restaurant, Greens and Gourmet, The Naam, Grouse Mountain Bistro, and Hon’s Chinese Restaurant. Yves Potvin, founder of Yves Veggie Cuisine, was trained as a chef and seems to have a genius for replicating the taste, texture and mouth feel of old time favorite foods, and a sympathy for those with busy lifestyles and very little time to devote to cooking. Any time now Gardein Beef or Chicken will come to Caper’s and Choices, and it’s likely to create a summer trend of guessing games at summer barbecues and picnics: Which is the Gardein beef or chicken, and which is an animal product?
Vegetarian Chick’n Chili Lime Salad
This Vietnamese or Thai-inspired salad includes Gardein strips, a truly amazing product made from soy, wheat, and pea flour. (The sweetener used is not honey so it is actually a vegan product.) If you like, you can replace the vegetarian Chick’n Strips with 2 packages of vegetarian chicken-type burgers (4 burgers), cut in 1 cm (1/2-inch) strips.
3 cups Gardein Vegetarian Honey Garlic Chick’n Strips
3 cups Napa cabbage, shredded or chopped
1 carrot, julienne (cut in small strips)
1 cucumber, sliced thin
1/2 small red onion, diced small
1 bunch mint, chopped
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
dry roasted peanuts, crushed
1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
2 1/2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoon sweet chili sauce
In a large bowl, combine vegetables and herbs. Whisk together dressing, or shake it together in a small jar, and toss with other ingredients. Over medium heat in pan, sauté vegetarian “chick’n” in olive oil until brown on both sides, and toss into salad. Garnish each serving with crushed peanuts.
Makes 6 cups; to serve 4 people (or 2 hungry ones as an entree).
Vesanto Melina is a registered dietitian, speaker and consultant based near Vancouver 604 882-6782. www.nutrispeak.com. She will be conducting a food and nutrition workshop at Hollyhock June 4 to 7.