Vegetarian Pleasure: Making Better-For-You Comfort Food

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Vegetarianism, when practiced correctly, is one of the healthiest and most sustainable ways to eat, but for people who are just considering cutting meat products out of their diets, there’s often a lot of anxiety around missing out, in terms of both nutrition and flavor. Additionally, many people worry that a plant-based diet will be expensive since many regions rely on imported produce in order to meet demand during the off season – which means vegetarianism is often associated with food that is both costly and boring, even though neither is necessarily true.

How will you make your favorite comfort foods without meat? While it’s entirely possible – easy, even – certain popular culture representations of vegetarian and vegan food have made it harder for people to make these healthy changes, and a lack of structural support for plant-based eating further compounds the problem. If you’re determined to change your diet, the reality is that it can in fact be done easily and without breaking the bank. 

To make delicious vegetarian meals, all you need is a little know-how and creativity and those experienced with this way of eating are always happy to share their wisdom. 

Know Your Tofus

Tofu is one of the most maligned vegetarian foods, but the fact is that it’s gotten an unfairly bad reputation because it’s often cooked incorrectly. Instead, tofu can serve as the basis for or an ingredient in delicious dishes when well-prepared.

The first step to using and enjoying tofu is to know that there are different kinds, and you have to choose the right type for the particular application. Well-seasoned firm tofu, for example, can be used as a meat replacement in chili or sauteed with turmeric, garlic, onions, and other vegetables for a delicious tofu scramble. 

On the other end of the spectrum in terms of texture is silken tofu, which is very soft and creamy. Unlike chewy and chunky firm tofu, silken tofu can be pureed as the foundation for dips, puddings, and other creamy dishes. Learning how to use tofu will help you improvise when creating vegetarian dishes in your own kitchen.

Know The Alternatives

While tofu is a good vegetarian or vegan alternative for some ingredients in your favorite comfort food dishes, it isn’t always enough on its own. Luckily, in recent years, a wide array of accessible meat and dairy alternatives have hit the market, making it easier than ever to create delicious dishes that are nearly indistinguishable from your classic favorites. 

Among the innovations made possible by food science and technology are new plant-based meat products that don’t just imitate the flavor of your favorite dishes but also present similar textures. After all, not everyone wants a veggie burger that is a crumbling mass of beans and vegetables. Though committed vegetarians have accepted such options for a while because they were the only thing available, many people who would otherwise consider consuming a more heavily plant-based diet were unlikely to make the switch. With these new products, though, this group of fence-sitters are more likely to integrate a large percentage of plant-based foods without feeling like they’re making a sacrifice.

Look For Existing Models

With a growing awareness of the social and health benefits of a vegetarian diet, more big names are writing recipes for these dishes or putting vegetarian versions of comfort food on their menus. In fact, just this kind of menu switch recently made headlines when one of the most high-profile restaurants in the country, New York City’s Eleven Madison Park, announced that it would reopen with a new, entirely plant-based menu. While this has caused a lot of controversy, restaurants that choose to serve a vegan-forward approach to food can really inspire home cooks to envision their own weeknight menus differently.

Start Simple

With the above information in hand, do you feel ready to start cooking? Then, the first step is to start simple and work your way up. Additionally, you don’t want to start with your very favorite food because if you get that wrong, it can be hard to convince yourself to try again. Instead, choose a relatively easy vegetarian recipe as a starting place, such as:

  • Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie: Shepherd’s pie is a great first recipe for people who want to try out a vegetarian take on a traditionally meat-centered meal because at the end of the day, it’s hard to make mashed potatoes bad. To convert this dish, you can use an off-the-shelf meat replacement, like a faux beef crumble, but the most popular approach is to make vegetarian shepherd’s pie using lentils. Lentils offer plenty of texture and protein and nicely complement the other vegetables and the potatoes, of course. Depending on whether you’re aiming for a fully vegan option or just a vegetarian one, you can up the “meaty” flavor with a combination of tomato paste and Worcestershire sauce.
  • Swap Clam For Corn Chowder: This one may not be exactly the same as the original, but most fish alternatives still have a significant way to go before they’re as believable as faux beef and chicken products. More importantly, though, corn chowder is delicious on its own and many popular recipes for that dish demand cream, bacon, and other animal-derived ingredients. Coconut milk makes an excellent replacement for cream in our chowder, while proper seasoning with salt and herbs will get you the savory notes you’re craving.
  • Load Up The BBQ: For most people, summer is incomplete without a barbecue, but hardly anyone really wants a tofu dog. Luckily, the available options for your family gatherings have improved enormously in recent years, and there are great options for people at all points on their journey into vegetarianism. In addition to great faux meat hotdogs and bratwursts, you might also consider serving pulled pork made from jackfruit or well-seasoned grilled tempeh. As for your potato salad, remember that tip about silken tofu? Blended up, silken tofu can be swapped for mayo in your side dishes.

The more often you choose plant-based foods over meat and dairy items in your daily life, the more your palate will expand to embrace these foods, but that’s just the beginning of what’s possible. Rather, you’ll also gain a greater appreciation for what certain foods can do. Cashews make beautiful cheese and cream bases, while black beans can convert into delicious meatballs, and tofu fills in for ricotta in your favorite lasagna recipe. Even if you don’t think of yourself as very skilled in the kitchen, though, off-the-shelf solutions can help you achieve delicious results, all without the health and environmental issues linked to eating animal products.

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