Getting Ready with Meat & Dairy Alternatives

Posted on Friday, March 25, 2011 in
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As I mentioned in my introductory article, Dr Vegetable Will See You Now, I will be sharing recipes and tips that I'm learning as my family and I transition to a plant-based eating plan.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to implementing change

  1. Change is swift and complete
  2. Change occurs gradually over time

While either could be true and useful, I would recommend that if you do not have a pressing health issue, you make your transition as stress-free as possible. You don't need to throw out all the unhealthy food in your pantry, but if you choose to do that, take the time to donate any usable items to your local food bank or shelter. In the thread of gradual change, as you run out of things, purchase plant-based alternatives.

Let's Go to the Grocery Store

My first tip: Go to your local grocery store with fresh eyes and extra time. We are all creatures of habit and if you're like me, you know exactly where things are in your grocery store. You go in, get what you need and get out as quickly as possible. When you give yourself time, you can make this trip an adventure to see what treasures you can find.

You may have heard to shop the perimeter of the store, as interior aisles are all less healthy, prepared, processed and packaged options.This is true for the most part.

The produce section is where you will spend a great deal of time choosing your fruits and vegetables, however you will also venture into the aisles containing ethnic foods, grains, pastas, dried and canned beans, rices, frozen fruits and dairy and meat substitutes.

This is why the first trip to the grocery store should be a way for you to familiarize yourself with what is available, not necessarily to purchase. Go aisle by aisle.

As you wander through the store, look at items you wouldn't normally use. One day, I found Tapenade. It was a great addition to our pasta dinner. I also found tomato paste in a tube – no more wasting half the can for only 2 tablespoons. You too may be pleasantly surprised with what you find. You don't need to buy a bunch of exotic items on this trip. Just learn where things are located, so when you need something you'll know where to get it.

Something to keep in mind when cooking plant-based is that your plate will not look the same. I am used to the plate having three areas; meat, green veggie and a complex carbohydrate. More often than not, when I present a vegetarian plate, it has no division. It is a unit or combination of all the various parts.

Dairy Substitutes: Alternatives to common milk-based products. Meat Substitutes: Soy is not your only alternative for meat.
  • Nut, Seed & Soy Milks
  • Earth Balance Spreads
  • Tofutti
  • Daiya Cheese
  • So Delicious
  • Almond Dream
  • Seitien
  • TVP
  • Portobello
  • Tempeh
  • Quorn
  • Beans and Grains

Dairy Substitutes

The availability of milk substitutes has risen over the years. While you can usually always find soy milk at your local grocer, you can also normally find almond, rice, hemp and coconut milks. Soy, almond, coconut, even flax are often located in the refrigerated section, while these and many others nut/seed, rice milks are located in the natural or alternative areas.

To make buttermilk, use 1 tbsp lemon juice (or apple cider or white vinegar) to one cup of unsweetened non-dairy milk such as soy or rice milk. Nut milks do not work well as a buttermilk substitute.

Tip: ALWAYS make sure your soy milk is organic, or you will be consuming genetically modified soy.

Butter alternatives - Use a non-hydrogenated, non-dairy substitute such as Earth Balance or Smart Balance. You can also use coconut oil which is solid at room temperature or shortening. I like the Spectrum brand. When using shortening, use only ¾ cup of shortening for every 1 cup of butter.

To make heavy cream, use soy creamer (unsweetened and unflavored) or coconut milk found in cans in the Asian aisle as direct substitutes.

Tip: To add creaminess or thickness to a soup, broth or gravy, puree a can of white beans with some of the broth & then stir the puree back into the soup.

Another option is to combine rice milk with some arrowroot in a small cup to make a paste and then stir into the hot soup, simmering until the soup thickens.

Ice cream has a wide variety of alternatives. These usually come in pint-size containers. Almond Dream makes a number of flavors and is my personal favorite. Living Harvest makes hemp ice cream called Tempt which is also good. There are soy-based, rice-based and even coconut-based ice cream. Turtle Mountain makes a brand called So Delicious with a variety of flavors. Larger grocery chains may have these in the freezer section, other wise you'll probably have to go to the health food store.

Soy-based sour cream and cream cheese is the only substitute I have found thus far for these creams. Tofutti is one brand and I am sure others are out there. Check the Tofutti website for a retailer near you.

Soy, Coconut and Almond yogurts are all available now. Silk, Almond Dream and So Delicious all make yogurts. You should be able to locate these in the larger grocers or health food stores in the refrigerated section.

I like Daiya brand cheese alternatives made from a blend of oils and comes in cheddar, mozzarella, and monterey jack flavors. You can find Daiya at health food stores and also some chain stores, like Krogers. There are also rice- or soy-based cheeses which are found in most grocery stores. Experiment with flavors that you like and textures. Not all substitutes melt, but if using in sandwiches, you may not need them to melt. For ricotta or feta cheese, you can crumble firm tofu & add the seasonings for ricotta or feta.

Eggs are not dairy, but I thought I would include it here. When replacing eggs in a baked item, replace it with 1/4 cup of applesauce, pumpkin, yogurt or silken tofu. Another option is to mix 1 Tbsp. ground flax or chia seeds with 3 Tbsp. water or nut milk. Egg replacer powder found in health food stores works similar.

For a scrambled egg, you can used crumbled firm tofu, seasoned with a little tumeric to turn it a lovely yellow color. Add in some veggies and breakfast is ready.

Meat Substitutes

Replacing Ground Beef or Turkey is easier than you think. In meat sauces, chili or stews, you can use diced portabello mushrooms or textured vegetable protein (TVP). If using the portabellos, you may need to allow them to sweat out some of their liquid before adding to your dish. TVP is a dry granule-type substitute made from soy and can be found in the bulk section of health food stores.

Burger patty alternatives are abundant. There are many companies that make alternative burgers. Garden Burger and Morning Star Farms are two brands. A variety of flavors are available, so experiment until you find one you like. Portobello mushrooms make a great substitute for burgers, especially if you marinate them beforehand. Another option is to make your own burgers by combination rice and beans with seasonings, or using home made seitan (a wheat-gluten protein).

I was surprised to find Chicken or Turkey substitutes. If drained and pressed, cubed tofu can be used in place of chicken in stir-frys, pad-thai or any asian-themed dishes. Seiten is a meat- like substitute made from wheat gluten. Quorn is a company that makes faux chicken breasts, tenders and nuggets, as well as burgers, roasts and specialty dishes. Tofurky makes sausages, deli meats, and turkey-type roast. Gardein is yet another option.

Next Time

Spring is here, and there is no better time to begin cooking with seasonal, local produce. Next time I will share what produce is available in early Spring and recipes featuring those items.

Laura Biehler
Guest Contributor

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