"But what do you eat?" must be the question that all vegetarians have faced from concerned meat-eaters. Guys, we're fine. We've got access to awesome, varied, colourful and delicious diets - we just don't bother with the meat thing. Most of the time we're quite happy to create our own dishes from beans, pulses and vegetables, but occasionally we find an awesome omnivorous recipe and want to switch out the meat for something else. That's when meat substitutes come into their own. I know not all veggies are convinced by them, but I love the occasional Quorn chilli or seitan pie. Here are just a few of your options.
Ah, Quorn, the classic meat substitute. It's a mycoprotein, or type of fungi, made with thin layers to give it a meaty texture and appearance. It's hugely popular and there's a massive range of burgers, sausages, pies and more. Be selective - I wouldn't bother with their ready meals or deli-style products, and their standard burgers are pretty grey and disappointing. Their new Chef's Selection range, however, has ace sausages and chilli and lime burgers with plenty of texture and flavour. And
Use it for: Quorn mince makes excellent vegetarian chilli, while Quorn pieces are good for stir-fry or fajitas.
Seitan is wheat protein, but you may know it as "mock duck". It's probably as close to the texture of meat as you're going to find. It absorbs flavour well and is fantastic in stir-frys and stews. You can make your own (a bit of a faff, but does mean you can add herbs and spices to flavour it) or buy it from health food shops. And yes, it does sound like "satan" which makes it enormously fun to ask for.
Use it for: any of our top ten savoury pies.
Use it for: scrambled tofu, crispy Japanese spiced tofu, ramen.
Tempeh - made from cooked soya beans - is very similar to tofu, but it's firmer, earthier and dry. It's also less processed than tofu, so healthier for you.
Use it for: any of the tofu recipes, or to make vegetarian satay sticks, or fry it up with spices to make croutons for soup.
Back in the bad old days before the arrival of Quorn, TVP (textured vegetable protein) was what we all used as a meat substitute. It's better known as soya mince, although it comes in all shapes and sizes now.
Use it for: any of the Quorn recipes, or in lasagne, shepherd's pie or spaghetti bolognese.
Meet The Alternative. I've thrown this in out of curiosity - anyone tried it yet? It's deliberately made to look and taste like real meat, and I suspect is aimed at carnivores doing Meat Free Mondays rather than vegetarians. It's made of soya but the beef and chicken pieces look so real that I felt weird even picking them up off the shelf.
Use it for: any of our Quorn or pie recipes.
Halloumi, aka magic cheese. It's salty, tangy, doesn't melt, and throwing it on the barbecue or under the grill gives it a crisp, golden exterior and warm centre. Check it's marked vegetarian or rennet-free - most are, but it's worth double checking.
Use it for: barbecue skewers, put it in a bun instead of a burger, batter it and make your own version of fish and chips (or courgette fries).