5. Textured vegetable protein (TVP)
TVP rose to prominence when Taco Bell was sued for using it and other “meat extenders” in their ground beef mixture. As if anyone thought that Taco Bell’s products were real meat anyway. TVP comes in dried, breadcrumb-like pieces and it must be reconstituted (rehydrated) before it can be used. It takes on the flavor of whatever you prepare it with, and it makes a great filler in chili!
Classic meat substitute. It took me many years to figure out how to prepare tofu without making me gag, but I think I finally have it figured out. Some restaurants (especially good Asian restaurants) can prepare tofu so that it has almost a “skin” on it, which is delicious. I haven’t yet achieved that level of culinary glory, but I can get a good crisp layer on my stir-fried pieces.
3. Other soy products
Classic vegetarian products; especially recommended for those not quite good with culinary skills. Veggie burgers that are supposed to taste like beef are decent if you grill them and slather them in ketchup and onions. Chicken patties as passable if you prepare them like chicken parm or chicken cordon bleu (with soy ham, of course).
Pronounced “SAY-tan” (not like “Satan”, as much as I’d like for it to be), seitan is essentially just wheat gluten and it is delicious (sorry, Celiac sufferers). It can be prepared just like chicken or beef, although it doesn’t look anything like either of those things, and it has a much heartier texture than tofu. You can also make it from scratch, and it legit looks and feels like a squishy brain. I once made Coq-Au-Vin with seitan I made myself, and it made my house smell like red wine and deliciousness for hours.
Gardein is the only name-brand product I felt was worthy enough to make it onto this list. Made from soy, wheat, and pea proteins as well as vegetables and ancient grains (quinoa, amaranth, millet, and Kamut), it is a complete protein – an attribute constantly sought by preparers of vegetarian cuisine. I don’t know if it’s the way Gardein makes their products or the sauces they include in their ready-made meals, but it is so delicious. Fact: the first time I had Gardein, I had my partner try it to make sure it wasn’t actually chicken. It’s that tasty.
The inclusion of liquid smoke, applewood smoked sea salt, smoked Gouda, or bac’n bits (many brands are actually vegetarian by default) make just about anything taste like it has meat in it. Also, Frontier makes excellent beef-flavored and chicken-flavored broth powders.