5 Comforting Foods for New Vegetarians

By: Tami Fertig

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Just ditched meat but still tempted by—ahem—forbidden foods? Don’t give up: it’s Meatless Monday and Vegetarian Awareness Month, after all! To help you out, we asked VT food editor Mary Margaret Chappell for a few healthful veg staples that make the most delicious substitutes (besides beans, which can be added to just about anything). Psst: your omnivorous friends and family will totally dig these foolproof favorites too.

1. Mushrooms
Any juicy mushroom makes a great stand-in for meat, but Chappell prefers plump portobellos: “They don’t turn all small and floppy when cooked, the way other mushrooms do.” She recommends making portobello burgers for “the same sink-your-teeth-in texture that other burgers have.” Or stuff the caps with veggies, greens, grains, and cheese, and roast for a hearty handheld meal. Got button mushrooms? Chop, cook down, and add to pasta sauce or chili (pictured below). Ultimate Vegan Chili

2. Lentils
“You can pretty much take any recipe and plug in the same amount of lentils as ground beef,” says Chappell. She likes French or Puy lentils, which don’t get as mushy as other kinds of lentils. Unlike dried beans, lentils require no soaking and cook super-quickly. Use them to beef up chilis, curries, cabbage rolls, and taco fillings. Or sub them for meat in Mediterranean recipes like moussaka (pictured below), where they go especially well with the herbs and spices. Vegan Moussaka 

3. Tofu
Consider tofu a blank slate—it’ll soak up the flavors of whatever you add to it. For meatiest texture, Chappell presses out the liquid, adds a marinade, and roasts or bakes. (Stir-frying tofu makes it more tender and jiggly inside, which can be an acquired taste.) Go for firm or extra-firm blocks. No time to cook? Look for already-baked, ready-to-eat tofu at any supermarket. Noontime tip: baked tofu sandwiches (pictured below) and TLTs (tofu, lettuce, tomato) make tasty take-along lunches.
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4. Eggplant
Globe or Italian eggplants can be cut into long, meaty cutlets, making them perfect for mouthwatering schnitzel and eggplant Parmesan (pictured below). Look for animal-rennet-free Parmesan such as Organic Valley or Belgioioso Vegetarian Parmesan. For sauces, stews, and casseroles, Chappell opts for Japanese eggplant: “It’s never bitter, and it holds together better than Italian eggplant when cooked.” Choose eggplants that are firm and shiny, a sign that they’re fresh.Eggplant Parmesan

5. Seitan
This protein-packed “wheat meat” has the same super-chewy texture as beef and pork, making it an excellent transitional food. You can buy pre-seasoned seitan, but it’s really not hard to make your own. “VT has the best recipe around, and I’ve experimented with a lot of them,” says Chappell. “You’ll never go back to buying the packaged stuff. It’s cheaper, tastier, and better for you without all the salt!” Planning to serve a seitan roast at your holiday feast? Slice it thinly so there’s more surface area to absorb all the sauce or gravy. Or make pot pie (pictured below)! Mock Chicken Divan Pot Pie

Honorable Mentions:
Cauliflower (for seared cauliflower “steaks”)
Jackfruit (for curries, enchiladas, and taco fillings)
Hearts of Palm (for veg “fish” sticks and “crab” cakes)
Tempeh (for tempeh bolognese, reubens, and tempeh bacon)

What’s your favorite comforting veg ingredient or food? Share in the comments!

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