A decade ago, this would have been a very different story.
Meat alternatives such as tofu and tempeh were centuries old; frozen "veggie burgers" and the earliest plant-based meats had been on the scene for more than 20 years. Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, now the industry's biggest players, were in their infancies.
But the biggest strides in plant-based meats have been made in the past 10 years, and there's no sign of a slowdown. Bloomberg estimates that plant-based proteins could make up nearly 8% of the global protein market by 2030. And in an article for the New York Times, award-winning chef and food writer J. Kenji López-Alt wrote that "modern vegan meat is among the most important technological leaps I've seen in my career."
Locally, siblings Kale and Aubry Walch opened the nation's first vegan butcher shop in Minneapolis in 2016, and last year published a cookbook that made vegan meat accessible to home chefs. Chef and author Robin Asbell already had been down the DIY road; her "Plant-Based Meats" was published in 2018, furthering the era of meatless eating.
Now grocery freezers are filled with plant-based options, from premade sausages and chicken tenders to bulk packages of meat that look and cook similarly to ground beef. It's easier than ever to add meat to your meatless meal, but not without recalibrating some kitchen habits.
We pored over cookbooks, articles and websites for the best information and advice for cooking with plant-based meats. Here are 10 tips to get you started:
Mind over matter: Experts recommend thinking of plant-based meat not as "fake meat" but as a substitute for it. In addition to the long list of plant-based meat substitutes, don't forget other foods that can pinch hit, such as tofu, tempeh, jackfruit and seitan. Think of meat as an accessory to the meal, not the main attraction.
A new normal: The makeup of uncooked plant-based meat makes it soft and sticky, so keep your fingers wet when working with it. If your recipe is hands-on, like meatballs, be sure the meat is chilled; keep rechilling so the meat holds the desired shape. Speaking of chilling, if you have leftover meat, refreezing it won't change the taste and texture like it does animal meat. Keep it in airtight containers and it will last in the freezer for up to six months.
Easy on the salt: Salt is used in the production of plant-based meats, so if you're following a standard recipe reduce the amount of salt by 1⁄4 teaspoon. (Cookbooks and recipes developed for plant-based meats already take salt content into account.) If you're watching sodium intake, read labels — some brands have more sodium than others.
Flavor, flavor, flavor: Adding seasonings and marinades deepens the flavor and uses of plant-based meats. You can buy flavored meats, but creating your own seasonings allows you to control the ingredients. It's also more practical and economical to buy unseasoned meat in bulk instead of several seasoned varieties.
You can't read about plant-based meat without mentions of umami, the fifth taste. The Japanese word for "delicious" is often described as meaty or savory. Adding umami-rich foods — mushrooms, miso, soy sauce, olives, tomatoes, nutritional yeast — will give your plant-based dishes an extra flavor boost.
Get saucy: An easy entry into using plant-based meats is by choosing recipes with flavorful sauces — spaghetti, chili, enchiladas, teriyaki — or where meat plays a supporting role, such as dips (see recipe below). Plant-based meats release less liquid than their animal counterparts, so expect to use more liquids during cooking.
Get smoky, too: Plant-based meats lend themselves to smoky flavors, although their quick cooking time doesn't allow them to pick up the flavor they would get languishing on a grill or in a smoker. Adding spices and seasonings such as smoked paprika, smoked salt and liquid smoke can fill the smoky gap. Once you're ready to grill, make sure the grates are well-oiled; the fat makeup in plant-based meats makes them more susceptible to sticking. Which brings us to:
Fatten it up: Plant-based meats don't release fats the way animal meats do, so keep heart-healthy oils on hand to help it along. This not only prevents sticking, but also gives the meat a caramelized edge, distributes flavors and helps set the shape — all things that make it taste and feel more familiar.
Don't fear the sear: Plant-based meat is similar to regular meat in that it benefits from a good sear to caramelize the surfaces. Cast iron cookware works well for that grill-like taste (it retains and disperses heat the best); be sure it's hot and well-seasoned to minimize sticking. For other uses, a nonstick pan will be your friend.
Don't overcook the meat: Plant-based or not, that's easier said than done. Visual cues help gauge doneness in traditional meats, but the color of plant-based versions varies by brand. Instead, check for doneness more often, and use a meat thermometer to ensure it's cooked according to the package instructions. America's Test Kitchen also offered a helpful tip: Reverse the cooking order. Start with longer-cooking vegetables and aromatics, and add the meat after they're softened.
Make your own: They say homemade is always best, and one could argue the same holds true for plant-based meat. Cookbooks from both the Herbivorous Butcher and Asbell give blueprints for creating everything from bacon and bologna to turkey rolls and taco meat. This isn't a grab-and-go venture; do your research, scout ingredient sources and grab your sense of adventure before digging in. Then invite us over for dinner.
Meaty Nacho Dip
Makes about 2 cups.
You wouldn't think potatoes and carrots would yield such a creamy dip, but they do. The potatoes are whipped in a blender to release all of their starches, providing a very cheese-like texture that really is a crowd-pleaser. It's also a great dip to keep on hand if you're cooking for anyone with a dairy allergy. Nutritional yeast is widely available at supermarkets and co-ops. Plant-based meats come "raw" in bricks or as frozen, cooked crumbles. Either will work in this recipe. Adapted from "The Complete Plant-Based Cookbook" by America's Test Kitchen.
• 12 oz. russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
• 1 small carrot, peeled and cut into 1/2-in. dice, about 1/3 cup
• 3 tbsp. vegetable oil, divided
• 1 1/2 tbsp. nutritional yeast (see Note)
• 1 1/2 tsp. vinegar
• 1 tsp. minced canned chipotle in adobo sauce, divided
• 1 1/8 tsp. table salt, divided
• 1/8 tsp. mustard powder
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 1 small red onion, finely chopped, divided
• 1/3 c. red bell pepper
• 1 clove garlic, minced
• 1/8 tsp. ground cumin
• 1/8 tsp. ground coriander
• 4 oz. plant-based beef (see Note)
• 2 oz. grape or cherry tomatoes, chopped
• 1 tbsp. fresh chopped cilantro
Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add potatoes and carrots and cook until tender, about 12 minutes; drain well. Combine cooked vegetables, 1⁄3 cup water, 2 tablespoons oil, nutritional yeast, vinegar, 1⁄2 teaspoon chipotle, 1 teaspoon salt and mustard powder in a blender. Pulse until chopped and combined, about 10 pulses, scraping down sides of the blender as needed. Then process mixture on high speed until very smooth, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add two-thirds of onion, red pepper and remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt and cook until softened and lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in garlic, cumin, coriander and remaining 1⁄2 teaspoon chipotle and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add plant-based beef and cook, breaking up meat with wooden spoon until lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes.
Transfer dip to serving bowl and top with plant-based beef mixture. Sprinkle with tomatoes, cilantro and remaining onion. Serve with tortilla chips.
Italian Sausage Burgers with Broccoli Rabe and Red Peppers
Broccoli rabe probably isn't the first (or even the 10th) vegetable that comes to mind when you picture your favorite burger toppings. That's about to change. Tempered by a quick sauté in a hot pan and a drizzle of sweet agave syrup (or honey if you don't follow a vegan diet), this assertive bitter green becomes a delectable counterpoint to the rich flavors of these Italian sausage–inspired burgers. From "Cooking With Plant-Based Meat," from America's Test Kitchen.
For the Lemon Mayonnaise:
• 1/2 c. plant-based or egg-based mayonnaise
• 1 tsp. grated lemon zest
• 1 clove garlic, minced to paste
For the burgers:
• 12 oz. plant-based ground meat
• 1 small shallot, minced
• 1 1/2 tbsp. Sweet Italian Sausage Seasoning (see below)
• 4 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
• 1 clove garlic, sliced thin
• 4 oz. broccoli rabe, trimmed and cut into 1/2-in. pieces
• 1/4 c. jarred roasted red peppers, rinsed, patted dry and sliced thin
• 1/4 tsp. plus 1/8 tsp. table salt, divided
• Pinch red pepper flakes
• 2 tsp. light agave syrup or honey
• 4 hamburger buns, toasted if desired
To prepare the lemon mayonnaise: Combine mayonnaise, lemon zest, and garlic in bowl. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes or up to 3 days.
To prepare the burgers: Break ground meat into small pieces in large bowl. Add shallot and Italian sausage seasoning and gently knead with your hands until well combined. Using your moistened hands, divide meat mixture into 4 equal portions, then gently shape each portion into a 3 1/2-inch-wide patty. Transfer patties to plate and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes or up to 24 hours.
Heat 2 teaspoons oil and garlic in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until garlic is golden brown and fragrant, 2 to 4 minutes. Add broccoli rabe, peppers, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper flakes and cook, stirring occasionally, until broccoli rabe is tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Off heat, stir in agave syrup. Transfer to bowl and cover to keep warm. Wipe skillet clean with paper towels.
Spread mayonnaise mixture on bun tops; set aside. Sprinkle patties with remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt. Heat remaining 2 teaspoons oil in now-empty skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Transfer patties to skillet and cook until well browned on first side, about 3 minutes. Flip patties and continue to cook until browned on second side and meat registers 130 to 135 degrees, about 2 minutes longer. Serve burgers on buns, topped with broccoli rabe mixture.
Sweet Italian Sausage Seasoning: In a small bowl, combine 1 1/2 teaspoons lightly crushed fennel seeds, 1 teaspoon dried thyme, 3/4 teaspoon sugar, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder and 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 month.
Meatless Meatballs in Marinara Sauce
Serves 4 to 6.
These "meatballs" use plant-based ground meat, and a combination of onions, garlic and tamari, to give them a satisfying chew and robust flavor. Because there's no egg for binding, these are slightly more delicate than other meatballs, so use a light touch when shaping them, and make sure the mixture is very cold. Serve them on their own, covered in marinara sauce, or stuff them into hero rolls for sandwiches. They are also excellent over spaghetti. From Melissa Clark of the New York Times.
• 1/2 c. panko breadcrumbs
• 1/4 c. minced onion
• 1/4 c. chopped parsley leaves and tender stems
• 3 cloves garlic, grated or minced
• 1 tbsp. tamari or soy sauce
• 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
• 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
• 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
• Pinch of red pepper flakes, optional
• 1 1/2 lb. plant-based vegan ground beef (such as Beyond Meat)
• Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
• 3 c. marinara sauce, homemade or store-bought
• Parmesan, for optional garnish
In a large bowl, combine breadcrumbs, onion, parsley, garlic, tamari, salt, pepper, oregano and red-pepper flakes, if using, and mix well. Add plant-based beef, and blend with your hands until well mixed. Cover mixture and chill for at least an hour or up to 24 hours.
Heat the broiler. Form 28 meatballs, each about 1 1/4 inches in diameter. Transfer meatballs to one or two rimmed baking sheets, and drizzle with olive oil.
Broil meatballs until golden and firm, 7 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat marinara sauce in a pot. Serve meatballs with sauce on top, sprinkle with cheese, if using, and drizzle with a little more olive oil.