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Feb 16, 2011 04:09 PM

vegetarian proteins?

Hi folks. I'm a major cooking enthusiast who's been making an effort over the past few years to eat vegetarian or at least veggie-centric (with a little bit of meat used for flavoring) most of the time. This kind of cooking lends itself really well to pastas, stir fries, stews, etc. and I cook a lot of them. However, sometimes I do just want the more traditional American meal format of a protein with a couple vegetable side dishes, partly because it lets me eat big piles of braised greens. Yum! I do great vegetable side dishes, the problem is finding a protein to go with them. Sometimes I compromise and do an eco-friendly seafood, or just a very small amount of meat. But I'd love to find a way of doing this style meal with all plant-based foods. Any suggestions for tasty vegetarian proteins that would go well with a heap of swiss chard and some roasted potatoes?

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  1. You can do things like fried tofu or quinoa - both of these can be seasoned with whatever. A lot of people who think they don't like tofu end up liking nicely fried tofu. It's pretty good marinated or with some sort of sauce. I also eat a lot of beans and lentils. Roasted chick peas are great. Whatever you like, really. I'm not vegetarian either, but I am a student and this is the most economical way to eat! I usually have red lentils with onion/garlic/celery/fennel/chilies a few times a week at least(as I've posted in another thread, I go through phases where I eat the same thing for months...this is a phase right now). Add a small amount of sausage or grate some parm at the end - not bad! i sometimes have this with roasted potatoes. Just start throwing together things you like and you really can't lose.

    1. Beans and lentils. They are perfect for your cooking interest.

      1 Reply
      1. re: sueatmo

        Absolutely. We eat a bunch of both as well as greens and are not leaning toward vegetarianism but they are just so good.

      2. Agree with other poster. I eat veggie-centric as well, mostly vegan, but with will eat small amounts of turkey/beef about once per month or less and I cook with chicken broth and use only grated parmesan but no other dairy.

        Good options would be freshly grated cheeses for those potatoes, or eggs. I have never liked eggs so I don't eat them, but they are used constantly in veg dishes. Either poached on top of a stuffed tomato/bell pepper, hardboiled and cut up in salads/with greens, cracked into asian or greek soups, scrambled/omelette with veg/turkey bacon and loads of veggies, or in a fritatta! Fritattas are veg staples it seems. They can be stuffed with your favorite greens, onions, bell peppers, etc. and would go great with some roasted potatoes.

        Cannellini beans are a great accompaniment to your "heap of swiss chard," and you could toss both with some olive oil, garlic, chili flakes, parmesan, and pasta/couscous/orzo.

        I never eat processed soy or fake meats. They aren't particularly good for you and if I'm going to eat "meat" I might as well eat real meat. But if those are appealing to you, you can easily replace meat mains with tofu/seitan/TVP directly (i.e. buffalo "chicken" tofu burgers, TVP "ground beef" tacos, grilled BBQ seitan "steak").

        Beans, lentils, nuts, and eggs are probably your best bet, but don't underestimate how much protein is in veggies themselves. Potatoes have fairly high amounts of protein, as does broccoli. And even a bagel with cream cheese has a frighteningly high amount of protein. Sunflower seeds have like 15 grams in a small handful. I found this recipe recently that I've been meaning to try... It looks absolutely delicious and I can't figure out why I haven't made them yet:
        Lots of protein via garbanzos, sunflower seeds, bulgur, and eggs.

        9 Replies
        1. re: nothingswrong

          Thanks for the long post! I'm also not a fan of fake meats for the same reasons you're not. I guess in this case, I'm looking for something that can fill the psychological space left by the absence of a piece of meat on a plate that has a couple veggie sides on it. I already do a lot of beans, lentils, and other legumes in soups and stews but that's a different kind of meal. Cheese on the potatoes and veggies isn't a bad option though. I haven't made a gratin in ages--maybe I need to start re-introducing them. They are delicious.

          I like the cannelinni beans idea too. I have an Italian bean soup that I use them in but that's my only application thus far. I do love to put my braised greens over polenta sometimes--tossing in some beans would make a fantastic complete meal!

          Does anyone have any good marinated tofu or tempeh recipes? I love those things in my stir fries but I haven't branched out a lot in terms of marinades--I've only got a couple in my repetoire. And those things seem like they'd be a good substitute for meat. also, any ideas for portebello mushrooms? They're not a mushroom I've worked with a whole lot but I've heard of people cooking them in ways so that they're good replacements for meat on a plate. Any ideas?

          1. re: Lady_Tenar

            Marinate portabellos in balsamic, garlic, rosemary sprigs and some kosher salt,and grill or broil. I like the idea of the portebello parm recipe I think I got from Giadia. I make my own tomato sauce and kind of do my own thing, but her recioe is a good starting off point. Have you ever made your own veggie burgers or lentil loaf. Seitan tempeh and tofu provide endless options but an easy place to start is a stir-fry. I know you said you wanted separate components but this may be an easy way for you to acquaint yourself with with them. What are some flavors you like?

            1. re: enbell

              I already do a lot of stir fries and I've come up with some good Asian-style marinades. What I want to branch out into is soy products "separate component" style. I pretty much like all flavors. There really isn't anything I don't like. Usually I'm quite happy with stir fries, stews, curries etc. and I'm good at making them. They're part of the reason that my life as a "flexitarian" has stayed very tasty! It's just once in a while I like a more traditional "American-style" meal formula. Sometimes I just want to make a big pan of kale or snow peas or whatever, not incorporated into a complete dish. And I've got a limited number of non-meat proteins in my repetoire to pair them with, largely because I do so many Asian and European-style dishes. Those are what I'm looking for now.

              And no, I haven't ever made veggie burgers or lentil loaf. Sounds intriguing.

              1. re: Lady_Tenar

                definitely try homemade veggie burgers! there are tons of recipes for them; they can be made of almost anything in simple proportions of beans/legumes, usually an egg as binder, and shredded/chopped/small veggies if you want them in there. i don't do well with large amounts of beans, so i try to find recipes that are mostly veggie-based. but you can use them as burgers (on bun w/ all the fixings) or as patties to eat like a steak.

                lentil, veggie, and nut loaves are pretty hit-or-miss i think. some of them are just disgusting in terms of texture and consistency. they'll be nice on the outside but raw and gross inside. experiment or search for good recipes.

                as for marinades, my personal preference for whatever reason is always BBQ sauce. i think it's because i spent many years as a strict vegetarian, then several as a vegan, where BBQ is obsolete. now, i find myself craving BBQ sauce with many things--mostly potato wedges and vegan burritos (i make with rice, veg cheese, and medleys of roasted veggies). i could eat them every day.

                i know i'm venturing into super unhealthy territory here, but i've had some good breaded fried tofu which really hits the spot when i'm wanting an "american-style" formulaic dinner. i know i sound like a 10 year old but they're good dipped in ranch dressing with a side of roasted broccoli (could eat a whole head of it!) or any other green veggie. i'm a carboholic too, so always have a side of grains, potatoes, or garlic bread.

                have you ever tried making falafel? those are fairly simple and high in protein. can be put into pita or eaten as is with a nice yogurt dip.

                in fact, lots of mediterranean foods are easily adaptable to vegetarians. i'm from a big meat-eating greek family and the only one who ever went veg. but lots of greek recipes (as well as middle-eastern) easily sub garbanzos in long-braised sauces instead of pieces of meat, or eggplant, mushrooms, or squash in place of beef or lamb.

                portobellos turn very meaty when grilled. marinade them in a dressing similar to what enbell suggested; you can alternate herbs. same goes for bell peppers, eggplant, zucchini, and squash, or a combination. i like doing a grilled veggie panini of any combo of these veggies with fresh basil, spinach, and cheese. pesto, sundried tomato pesto, or vinaigrette makes a good topping and can be eaten with any side of green veggies.

                something else i hadn't thought of is mac'n'cheese. always goes well with a big plate of greens, and can be doctored up to include your choice of bacon/meat, or i've even seen ground nuts added as thickener to cheese sauces to add protein.

                there is a delicious greek dip called skordalia. it's always made with garlic and olive oil, but the rest of the ingredients vary regionally. my family always made it with boiled potatoes, oil, garlic (1/2 roasted/boiled, 1/2 raw), lemon, and almonds/walnuts. you basically grind it all up in a food processor. it's the most delicious thing in the world and full of protein; you can eat it on toasted baguettes, or as a pasta sauce or condiment for your veggies.

                sorry these are so long. i'm very hungry.

                1. re: nothingswrong

                  I have lots of stewy and casserole recipes too, but I'm still hunting for the perfect veggie patty. Here's one I tried the other day that's pretty good:

                  I'm not wild about the lime-mayonnaise topping, but the burgurs are spicy and tasty.

                  1. re: nothingswrong

                    I've never tried marinating tofu in barbecue sauce or any western-style sauces. Sounds like a great idea though--exactly the kind of thing I'm looking for. I love the breaded fried tofu idea too. It's the "10-year-old" in me that I'm really trying to please with this idea anyway!

                    I love falafel but I'm kind of a purist about it (I've just eaten too much awesome falafel in Israel) so the packaged kind just won't do for me. I make it from scratch occasionally but it's more of a special occasion thing. I really want to try the marinated portobello mushrooms though. Grilling is not an option for me for most of the year but I can always broil, even if it's not quite as good. Are there particular tricks to the technique? I sort of wonder how it works out, since mushrooms have so much water in them--I don't want them to get soggy!

                    The skordalia sounds delicious! I love nuts and am always trying to find new ways to incorporate them into meals. I'll definitely give that a try. Thanks!

                    1. re: Lady_Tenar

                      western-style sauces are amazing! i only realized in more recent years that it was that type of flavor i missed from eating meat a lot. it's very easy to adapt veggie meals to indian or other asian foods, and even to italian food or mexican. but not "american" food. we are some meat eaters over here.

                      i wouldn't eat packaged falafel either. only homemade. but if it will ruin your taste for it, that's ok! i don't dare make certain greek food at home for the same fear.

                      as for the mushrooms--you can try washing them, sprinkling with salt, then letting them sit for about 20 minutes to drain excess moisture. this is done with eggplant and squash and zucchini often to limit sogginess.

                      my mom got me a grill pan for christmas this year that is f*cking awesome. it's super heavy weight, leaves char marks on food, and goes right on the stovetop. it was less than $40 from Costco and makes amazing "grilled" vegetables. i'm very impressed. would be ideal for the shrooms but i like bell peppers and onions on there. mmm!

                      do try the skordalia! i can't believe it didn't jump on the hummus bandwagon a few years back as a pop culture phenomenon sold in grocery stores. maybe it's still our little greek secret :)

                2. re: Lady_Tenar

                  Ma Po Tofu...But that probably doesn't fulfill that psychological protein entree role.

                  I'm not a vegetarian, but one of my good friends is, so I'm always trying to find recipes for the things we used to enjoy eating together when she was still doing meat.. One of the things she said she missed the most was chicken fried steak.

                  So we basically put together a patty of vital wheat gluten, spices and eggs (which she still eats). Dusted with flour, dipped in egg and then coated with panko. Slathered in vegetarian country gravy. Pretty tasty if you ask me.

              2. Meat, fish etc. are the only sources, beside soy, for the complete protein. I'd make sure I added some soy products to the diet so that my intake of protein was well balanced.

                7 Replies
                1. re: todao

                  Where are you getting that? Quinoa is a complete source of protein, as well as a grain. Most legumes like beans, chickpeas, lentils, etc have plenty of protein. Then there are nuts and seeds, and many vegetables and grains have a small amount. Then of course, you can add eggs and dariy products if you eat them. The average American eats too much protein. Soy is healthy and a good source of protein, but many vegans get along fine eating no soy at all. (Some people like to avoid it, and it's often more processed than some people would like).

                  1. re: eireann

                    You are correct that legumes have lots of protein, but they don't have the complete amino acid chain required for our bodies to use the protein. Anyone who chooses a vegetarian should learn about how to assemble meals to meet all of their body's needs. Vegans need to learn a bit more.

                    Our bodies are pretty complicated machines, Very interesting study actually.

                    Learning how to make vegetarian meals that provide everything that a body needs is worth learning, regardless of whether or not you

                    1. re: smtucker

                      Folks, we've removed some posts from this thread that are starting to get deep into medical issues, rather than home cooking. We're not comfortable playing host to those kinds of medical discussions, and would prefer that people turn to medical experts for that sort of advice.

                  2. re: todao

                    I don't pretend to be an expert, but don't dairy products also provide a complete protein? I was under the impression that while vegans do have to be a bit more careful, vegetarians (who eat milk and eggs) are likely getting everything they need.

                    1. re: DGresh

                      Yes, dairy products are complete proteins

                      1. re: DGresh

                        You are correct. The OP is a vegan however, which eliminates eggs and dairy as a protein source in her particular diet.

                        1. re: smtucker

                          The OP is not vegan according to the post, not even fully vegetarian. So eggs are in!
                          And dairy, which is a big help.

                    2. This is my absolute favorite tofu recipe. Wonderful texture and flavor.


                      The cookbook it's in, Viva Vegan, has a few more good tofu recipes too.

                      Here's a recipe for chickpea cutlets:

                      (You might want to look around the recipes on that website for some more ideas).