How to Make Meat Based Meals Vegetarian

Go with familiar flavors & looks in vegetarianizing meat based meals

Fiona Morgan, Artist, Cook

Guest post by Aussie Fiona Morgan, who is working on an art/veg cookbook of meatless meals.

Check out her blog, Spaces Between the Gaps, and website, Where Fish Sing for beautiful art and meatless recipes.

The sample recipes have been lifted from her blog, tested, tasted (yum!), photographed and posted on Savvy Veg.

Links to the original recipes are included so you can go see Fiona’s delightful fantastical paintings. Love the mushroom painting inspired by a Russian Orthodox Church!

Creating Vegetarian Versions of Familiar Meals:

Sometimes you want to create a vegetarian version of a familiar meat based meal. And non-vegetarians who have to cook a meatless or vegetarian meal are often stumped about how to get past the mentality of ‘meat and three veg minus the meat’.

The bad news is that sometimes it’s just not possible. Trying to make a vegetarian version of a baked fish, for example, is just setting yourself up for failure.

However, there are many meat based meals that can be successfully adapted for vegetarians so that everyone at the table can eat the same familiar thing.

I have veg versions of spaghetti bolognese, carbonara, stroganoff, lasagna, ramen, chillie con carne, burgers, and chowder that are all usually meat dependent meals, and that my non-veg friends are more than happy to chow down on.

Let Me Make Some Suggestions:

Ditch the idea of a Western style dish. There are tasty veg sausages, veggie burgers, lentil loaves (instead of meatloaf), and meat substitute products such as TVP (use instead of mince) and various mock meats usually gluten based, BUT… it is most difficult to make a substitution success of a meat and three veg style meal.

The real variety of meatless meals is in ethnic cuisines that have a long history of meatless dishes already. Oriental, Indian, Mexican, Italian etc. Go cornicopia.

Depending on the cuisine, if you want to use a substitute for meat in a recipe you’ve found, either tofu (Oriental) or beans (South American, Indian) will generally work very very well. Sometimes an appropriate cheese is great (Greek, Italian, Indian).

I think because the meat is not the center of many of these dishes, it is a lot easier to replace or remove it than in Western style hunk-of-steak-and-unidentified-greenery-on-the-side meals.

Recipes that are defined by a flavoured sauce or soup base are the easiest to adapt. It’s a matter of recreating the taste of the sauce using plant ingredients (see the tips on umami for help here) and then finding an ingredient that gives a suitable satisfying mouth feel (texture, chunkiness, density) to replace the meat. Also, almost anything with minced meat is a breeze.

For instance, minced meat is often easy to switch for lentils or TVP, beans or even finely diced mixed vegetables (menu and recipe at the end folks). Pork mince can be replaced by diced tempeh or diced shitake mushrooms.

Tofu, in it’s many forms is an easy switch for chicken pieces. Also, chickpeas/garbanzo beans or egg can be used for chicken.

Depending on the cuisine, beef and lamb can be replaced by large mushroom chunks and wine (another menu and recipe at the end), or sometimes kidney beans and potato or even beetroot!

The trick with the heavy meat flavours is to take care of the umami. Add extra herbs, spices, fats and stock.

Seafood I usually switch out for tofu or egg, taking care to replace any brinyness with a little bit of seaweed or extra salt.

Sometimes you want a chewy texture in big chunks and this is where cheese, boiled eggs or gluten products are useful.

For a salty replacement, remember cheese, capers, olives, or a marinated tofu.

With all these substitutions, remember that taking the meat out often also takes out the source of much of the flavour.

Remember to add in extra flavour to account for this. My umami guide walks you through getting superb deep flavour in your veg meals.

I hope I’ve given you some ideas to take away and try. Basically, unless you are trying to vegetarianize a slab of meat on a plate or something like a meatlovers pizza, it’s easy to make tasty substitutions for meat based meals that everyone will enjoy.

Looking for a Bit More Guidance?

Here are two sample menus - the substitutions (and taste testing!) are already done.

Lentil Spaghetti Sauce

First is an Italian based meal where the minced meat has been switched out for lentils. I’ve had meat lovers eat this and not realise they were eating lentils until the very last mouthful. And then they didn’t care!

Italian Menu (vegan):

  • Garlic Bread: French baguette sliced and slathered with butter, veggie spread or olive oil mixed with fresh minced garlic, baked until the butter melts, the garlic is slightly golden, and the bread is toasty around the edges.
  • Simple Green Salad of lettuce, tomato and cucumber.
  • Lentil Spaghetti Bolognese (vegan)

Borscht Beet Soup

How About a Russian Menu for Dinner? Traditional beef is switched for umami ingredients (carrot, butter and extra beetroot) in borscht soup, and in stroganoff, with mushrooms and wine.

Russian Menu (vegetarian) – serve with noodles, rice or any grain:

About WhereFishSing:
Artist and long time vegetarian Fiona Morgan is on a mission to show people how easy and tasty plant based food can be with her food meets art project. Check out her blog for all the umami filled recipes and artwork and follow the creation of the artvegecookbook.

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One Response to “How to Make Meat Based Meals Vegetarian”

  1. I think one of the points of vegan cooking is to make a dish so satisfying the no one even misses the meat. All those processed meat dishes don’t do anyone any favors after the initial transition. It’s no surprise people can’t maintain a vegetarian and need to include fish when the bulk of their diet consists of veggie burgers. I say, up the natural whole ingredients and get enough calories. That way cravings will be a thing of the past.

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