Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Sluttishly Vegetarian: Meat Substitutes That Don't Taste Of Cardboard

"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.

Poor tofu. It's the butt of so many jokes, but it you cook it right, it's fantastic. Silken tofu can be eaten raw in salads and soups, while the firmer kind is used in cooking. If it's packed in water, press the water out of it first by wrapping it in kitchen roll and a tea towel and leaving something heavy on top for a few hours. This will make it firmer and easier to cook with. It has an incredible ability to absorb flavours, so try marinating it in soy sauce, garlic and ginger before using.

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).

25 comments:

  1. This is a really great round up, thanks Sara. It's inspiring me to be a bit more adventurous with my non-meat options. That 'meet the alternative' looks freaky, even for a meat eater!

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    1. I know, it looks like real meat! It's the texture and the way they've shaped it, I think.

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  2. Someone on Twitter just reminded me of Linda McCartney's range. I find most of it too salty, but her fish-free scampi is decent, and she does fish-free king prawns if you fancy paella or prawn cocktail.



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  3. I love tofu, I go through tofu binges on a regular basis. There is an organic bakery across the road from me that makes their own tofu, miso and tempeh, in Melton Mowbray of all places!

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    1. I feel like there's NOTHING you can't get in Melton Mowbray.

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    2. You can't get a good martini, this makes me sad every day

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  4. *shudders at memories of muck duck*

    Why does it come in a TUBE?

    I actually like TVP. Sometimes I eat Pot Noodles out of choice. I'm not proud of it.

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    1. You can get marinated seitan in jars. Much easier to deal with (psychologically).

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  5. Just avoid the Quorn bacon. Blech!

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    1. Oh yeah. No-one likes fake-on. It's so dry and joyless.

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  6. Linda Mccartney sausage rolls are amazing, they are a real treat for veggies & vegans...and her country pies with chunky chips, mixed veg and vegetable gravy... we have awesome food!

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    1. You're right, the sausage rolls are decent. It's mainly things like the sausages that I can't stand, because they're overloaded with salt.

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  7. I tried the Meet the Alternative sausages - wouldn't recommend them. They tasted weird and had a sort of... talc-y texture.

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    1. Oh god. No one wants to eat food described as 'talc-y'.

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  8. And paneer, its a great alternative on my meat free Tuesdays & Thursdays. Really good in homemade indian sauces and pan fried with a simple tandoori masala and yoghurt marinade.

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    1. Quite right - excellent at picking up Indian flavours, and great in a curry or wrap or vegetable skewer.

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    2. Ever tried subbing in halloumi for paneer in a veg curry? Maybe not authentic, but sooo delicious! Use in small quantities though, it's much saltier!

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    3. Great tip, thank you! I prefer the texture of halloumi to paneer too.

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  9. Halloumi - food of the gods. Tefal do a meat-free range as well, and I actually had a half-decent fake chicken kiev type thing the other day. I despair over sausages though. Linda Mc ones have the appearance of a rusted iron pole and don't taste much better...

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    1. I like the Cauldron sausages, or the new Quorn Chef's Selection ones - proper texture and flavour in both.

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  10. My mum used to give us lumps of dried TVP to suck on (instead of sweets possibly? Or to keep us quiet?) when we were little.

    Is it any wonder that I eat meat now?

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    1. Oh Kate. That reminds me a bit of Caitlin Moran talking about cheese lollies - a lump of cheese on a stick. At least cheese is nice when it's uncooked.

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  11. still limited to tofu for gluten-free veggies though :( or vegans for that matter. I long for the day someone creates a meat substitute not based on wheat/barley malt extract/egg.

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    1. You'd have thought someone would have cornered that market by now, wouldn't you? What a shame. Do you ever read the blog Wheatless and Meatless? It's American, but has recipes and product ideas for GF veggies.

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