Friday, January 7, 2011

Faux Meat 101 - What to Buy

As I've mentioned in previous blogs, imitation meat products--also known as soy food--are very handy as substitutes for actual animal products in recipes. They can also make the transition into vegetarianism easier, because they do mock the taste of popular meat dishes and are also high in protein and iron, nutrients that newbie vegetarians often miss out on. Plus, they're handy for those rushed days when you don't have time to cook yourself a big meal.

Many people who have never eaten soy, or have only sampled it, have apprehensions about these products. First, they're afraid they're going to taste crappy. As an experiment once, I brought a variety of soy foods into my workplace--which at that time was a newspaper office--and served them to my coworkers as a snack. Everyone was shocked at how tasty the soy foods were, and several meat-loving reporters actually wrote down the brand names and started bringing in soy dinners for their breaks! I heard from one recently that, a few years later, she and her husband are still regularly eating soy chicken at home. In the weeks that followed, several employees approached me excitedly, saying they had just tried a new soy product, or wanting to asking me a question about my own soy preferences. The climatic moment for me was when I fed soy ribs to the editor-in-chief, who had said he had no interest in trying soy food. Keep in mind, western Kentucky is the world's BBQ capital, and after one bite, he immediately dug back in and said, "Who made these?"--having no idea he wasn't even eating meat. Soy foods are definitely yummy, and they're high in protein, iron, and fiber. They're low in calories (usually less than 100 per serving), and the majority of soy products contain no fat or cholesterol. So even meat-eaters could use some healthy soy supplements in their meals from time to time.

Secondly, people seem to not understand what imitation meats there are out there. Most people have heard about a veggie burger by now, but that's it. So with this blog, I'd like to introduce you to...The Basics of Soy Products! I'll guide you on the brands to choose and those to avoid, the flavors, and even a few recipe suggestions.

1.) Soy Chicken
Hello, my name is Alli, and I'm addicted to soy chicken. I love it. I can't help it. Morningstar Farms Chik'n is the absolute best. Just this morning, I had a Chik Patties Original sandwich--made with a faux-chicken patty, lettuce, and mayo on wheat bread. Delicious! Try their Chick'n Tenders or Chick'n Nuggets with your favorite sauce--those are staples in my own diet. Grillers Chik'n Veggie Patties and Italian Herbs Chik Patties are also tasty from Morning Star.

For a softer-textured faux chicken, try Dr. Praeger's Chickenless Nuggets--I like to eat a few of these sometimes with a bunch of hearty vegetables for a well-rounded dinner. Do avoid Boca Foods's faux chicken products, though--they're not as flavorful as Morningstar Farms's, with the exception of their Spicy Chik'n, which comes in either patty or nugget form.

2.) Soy Beef
You must have a stash of soy beef in your freezer at all times if you plan on cooking vegetarian food. I recommend BOCA Foods Ground Crumbles or Morningstar Farms MealStarts Grillers Recipe Crumbles. I use these for chili, rice and beans, stuffed bell peppers, casseroles, Sloppy Joes, and numerous other dishes. Any vegan or vegetarian chef must have these tasty little fake-beef crumbles for cooking. Several times I've included these in my cooking and had people say, "Alli, you put meat in this? Wow, thanks!" Seriously, if I could only recommend one soy product to you--it would be soy ground crumbles. They're flawless and I can name dozens of recipes you can use them in.

3.) Soy Riblets
Delicious. My only complaint is that I can't have just one! Morningstar Farms sells these already soaked in hickory BBQ sauce. I love to eat these with cole slaw, potato salad, and baked beans--it reminds me of the BBQ meals my parents used to fix as a kid.

4.) Soy Breakfasts: Sausage and Bacon
Thanks to Morningstar Farms, I never have to miss that aroma of a warm breakfast being prepared by my dad. When we eat pancakes, hash browns, biscuits, and other breakfast foods, we always have some soy supplements in our meal. Breakfast Patties made with Organic Soy, Hot & Spicy Veggie Sausage Patties, Maple Flavored Sausage Patties, and Veggie Sausage Patties are just some of the options you have to make a soy sausage biscuit with! There's also the scrumptious Veggie Sausage Links, which even meat-eaters really seem to love, and Veggie Bacon Strips. Be cautious with these bacon strips, though--their hard nature makes it easy for them to overcook, but they are excellent when you crumble them in salads or if you eat them drenched in some maple syrup with your breakfast...yum! My boyfriend even eats these "fake meats" for breakfast with me instead of preparing animal products.

5.) Soy Lunchmeat
Smart Deli, usually located in your produce section (as opposed to frozen foods, where most of these vegan options are), makes a variety of soy lunchmeats, including Roast Turkey, Ham, and Bologna. I love the ham, and I often use it as a pizza topping and to make hors d'oeuvres and other finger foods with. Think about the veggie wraps you can make with these tasty faux lunchmeats!

6.) Soy Hamburgers
Hands down, Gardenburger wins this category. Their hamburger options include California Burger, Veggie Medley, Blackbean Chipotle, Sun-Dried Tomato Basil, and my favorite, Portabella. I love grilling out using Gardenburger products. The picture at the top of this blog is a grilled Gardenburger patty, adorned by grilled tomato slices, two hearty grilled portabella caps, melted mozzarella cheese, and fresh lettuce. Makes me hungry just thinking about it! Morningstar also makes a quarter-pounder and a turkey burger, if those are more your flavor.

7.) Soy Hotdogs & Corndogs
Speaking of grilling out, who doesn't love a grilled hotdog, like Lightlife's Smart Dogs? I love eating these with vegetarian chili. Morningstar also makes soy corndogs, which are a good "TV dinner" style product for vegetarians!

So now that I've given you these recommendations, I hope you decide to try some of these fat-free, cholesterol-free meatless options. I'd love to hear everyone's opinions and even some recipe recommendations. After providing you with this "101" familiarity with soybean alternatives, I am going to start publishing more recipes incorporating these products, particularly the ground crumbles.

Dine on, herbivores!

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