The Veggie Table: Beyond the Portobello Burger

By: Janel Ovrut Funk
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When you make the move to a meatless diet, one of the first things you may miss is that familiar sink-your-teeth-into-it texture you got from beef, chicken and even some fish. Fortunately, there are so many plant-based foods that easily mimic the texture of meat and are versatile enough to be used in a variety of recipes, whether you're craving a burger or anything else.

Mushrooms: Mushrooms have a savory umami flavor, making them a star ingredient in meat-free burgers. I'm not talking about those measly veggie burgers at restaurants that have just one floppy portobello mushroom cap slapped in a burger bun. I'm talking about a thick, filling mushroom burger like the one above (photo courtesy of Oh My Veggies), which also contains lentils and oats.

Eggplant: Salting eggplant slices before cooking draws out some of the vegetable's moisture, helping it lose that spongy texture and bring out a meaty one. Try eggplant slices cooked on the grill and layered with tomato sauce and cheese in an eggplant parmigiana.

Soy: Soy has chameleon-like properties in that it can be transformed to take on different flavors and textures. I prefer soy in its least processed forms, including tofu and tempeh. Tofu, like mushrooms and eggplant, needs to have the water squeezed out of it before it can be grilled or baked to give it that leathery (in a good way) texture.  I use my TofuXpress to squeeze out the extra moisture, but you can also drain a block of tofu between two heavy plates in the kitchen sink. Once you have a drier tofu, you can cut it into thick slices, marinade it in your favorite sauce, and grill or bake it the same way you would cook chicken.

Although tempeh is sold as a compact block, my favorite way to enjoy it is diced into tiny bits or crumbled, much like ground beef. Simply cook your block of tempeh in a steam basket, or steam it in a few tablespoons of water in the microwave until soft. Then flake the tempeh with a fork until it is completely broken up. You can sauté your tempeh crumbles with taco seasonings to make tempeh tacos, or mix in BBQ sauce to make a tempeh sloppy Joe that even meat eaters will devour.

TELL US: What's your favorite way to mimic the texture of meat?

Janel Funk, MS RD LDN, loves experimenting with vegetarian and vegan cooking. Read her food blog, Eat Well with Janel, and follow her on Twitter @DietitianJanel.  Catch up on her previous posts here.

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