Friday, February 22, 2019

Some Meatless Meals

I've been debating whether to make a post like this for awhile. I know there's nothing more annoying than someone going on and on about how they've given up meat, but after talking to Kristina, I decided this was worth a post.

For one thing, I'm not fully meatless, so I think the preach-factor won't be as high. For another, for the longest time the biggest deterrent to cutting meat out of my diet was not knowing how to replace it. I was scared of tofu.

Matt and I aren't eating red meat, chicken, or (most) dairy at home anymore. We still have fish and eggs, and we frequently eat meat when we go out. I don't necessarily feel any healthier having gone this route. I don't have more or less energy; I haven't lost or gained weight. I do feel a little better about my impact on the environment and animals, and I can finally eat the meals I cook without feeling nauseated, which is the most important thing.

I found the video below really helpful in figuring out what kind of tofu I like best and how to cook it.
This post is going to cover two ways I cook tofu and a brief recipe using meatless ground "beef". Also, before I get comments about how eating "too much soy" is bad for you, you should know I did my due diligence before introducing tofu as a staple in our diets. Here are two articles that cite multiple studies that debunk the myths. Basically, the amount of soy we're eating is totally fine; people who tend to get alarmist about "too much soy" haven't brushed up on their reading lately.

Bear in mind, too, that I'm cooking for a two-person household, so one block of tofu is enough for dinner, but if you're feeding more than two people you'd need to adjust.

Cooking Tofu: Prep

I prefer extra firm tofu. Cooked, it has a nice firm texture on the outside but stays soft inside. It doesn't dry out or get crumbly the way I've found super firm can.
When Publix carries it, I prefer this "tofu plus" variety of Nasoya.
To prep it, I drain the container and unbox the tofu onto a paper towel. I let it rest for a few minutes while I preheat the oven/pan, but I don't worry about pressing or draining it.
I usually cut it into 1"x"1 blocks. Any smaller, and they will get a little crispier. Any bigger, and they'll stay softer. It's really down to preference. Some people cut it into "steaks" (thin rectangles instead of cubes), but I like the texture of cubes better.

Cooking Tofu: Stovetop - 10 minutes

Spray a large nonstick pan with cooking spray and preheat it on medium-high heat. (You can probably get away without spray if your nonstick pan is still in good shape but mine is 9 years old and needs a little help.)
You want to put the tofu in when the pan is nice and hot and then leave it alone for at least 5 minutes. If you turn it early, it will stick. I cook the tofu in batches so it's not crowded in the pan. When the edges begin to brown, turn it and cook the other side for another five minutes.

Ideally you'd cook all four sides but I rarely do that. After cooking two, I toss it in the pan randomly for another minute or so, season it to taste (or add whatever sauce I'm using), and then call it done.

Cooking Tofu: Oven - 25 minutes

If I'm feeling lazy and am in less of a rush, I'll bake my tofu. To do this, preheat the oven to 375F. Place your tofu cubes on a parchment-lined baking sheet - no need to spray it!
At the halfway point, the tofu is starting to brown a little bit.
Bake for about 25 minutes, tossing halfway through.
Fully baked.
Serving Tofu:

You can serve pan-fried or baked tofu the way you'd serve any meat, so sometimes we just pair it with baked potatoes or rice and veggies, sometimes we mix it into pasta, or we toss it into a curry (my personal favorite).
Baked tofu in Indian butter chicken sauce
I like to go the "semi-homemade" route and use jarred sauces and steam-in-bag veggies to cut cooking times down.
Pan-fried tofu with rice and broccoli.
Now, for a recipe of a different kind.

Spaghetti Squash Using Beefless Ground 

Preheat the oven to 400F. While it preheats, line a baking sheet with foil (shiny side down) and cut a spaghetti squash lengthwise. It's easiest to cut the ends off to create a flat end and then stand it upright to halve it. Remove the seeds with a spoon.
Liberally oil and salt the inside of the squash and place both halves cut-side-down on the baking sheet. Bake for approximately 30 minutes, depending on the size. It's ready when a fork or sharp knife easily punctures it.
When you remove the squash from the oven, carefully flip it over and let it rest. It will need about ten minutes to cool enough to handle. In the meantime, heat your spaghetti sauce of choice in a skillet or pan until it simmers. Then, pour in your frozen beefless ground a little at a time, folding it into the sauce to coat it fully. Allow the "meat"-sauce to simmer on low-medium while you go back to the squash.
Use a fork to shred the spaghetti squash. You simply run the tines over the inside of the squash from top to bottom; the spaghetti texture will happen naturally!

Finally, here are some brands I'm enjoying. Most vegan "meat" brands aren't gluten free, but we've found Gardein and Beyond Meat both offer some good options. They're in the freezer section of our normal grocery store. We're enjoying Earth Balance for our butter substitute, Follow Your Heart cheeses, Just foods for mayo (I'm interested in trying their egg substitute!), and almond milk in place of cow's milk.

Like I said earlier, we're not planning to go fully vegetarian or vegan, but it's been really easy to make these small changes at home. I was always daunted by tofu and meatless meals; I thought they'd be labor-intensive and hard to shop for. It turns out the opposite is true. Cooking this way is faster and easier than cooking with meat in many ways. It was just a matter of taking the first step.

I hope this post helps anyone who's interested in trying some meat-free meal options but just hasn't known where to start.



  1. I am very interested in trying the tofu! I don't like the Gardein or Beyond Meat meat substitutes, but I do love Earth Balance as a butter sub too. My friend who is vegan said that the Follow Your Heart vegan eggs are really good dupes for regular eggs. But then again she's been vegan for so long I often think she has forgotten what non-vegan foods taste like. Sometimes her recommendations are ... not great, haha! I eat a lot of eggs and would try the vegan eggs but I haven't seen them in any of my grocery stores yet!

    1. So, the Gardein meatless ground has a texture that’s indistinguishable from ground meat. In a sauce, you honestly can’t tell. The first time I made it, Matt forgot we weren’t eating meat! I definitely get how on its own, their stuff isn’t very “meatlike”, but it may be worth trying the ground.

      I’ve heard Just eggs are freaking amazing, but haven’t found them near us. Right now I’m settling for cage free. I also want to try the Impossible Burger, which has just gone gluten free.

  2. Bookmarked this because I do want to try tofu, but funny, I am too hungry to concentrate and read it fully right now, hahaha!

    1. When you cook with it, I'd love to see what you make and what you think!