Allow me to set the stage! My wife has decided it is time to be healthier, and while I begrudge the fact that she is right, I agree. In doing so, we want to reduce the amount of meat (of all types) we consume and increase the consumption of fruits, veggies and other healthier stuff. Now, that said - she doesn't cook all that much and I grew up on meat and potatoes so I have been reading online about meat substitutes and what not, so that I don't have to change too much (because frankly I like meat...), The one site I have gleaned the most out of, in terms of ideas was here. And yes, the link is for people who are or who are planning to go vegan. I just found the variety of suggestions in one place a great jumping off point for this question/discussion.
Now all that said, does anyone have any insights or tricks for making this change. What spices, sauces, etc. would you recommend I add to my cupboard, or is there anything I should be aware that may not come up on several google searches?
Meat substitutes - a word of warning for someone attempting to replace meat in one fell swoop...
I'll leave everyone else to come up with viable meat alternatives, if that's what you actually require, but as someone who once did this & failed miserably, a word of warning.
Don't expect meat substitutes to give you the same flavour or texture satisfaction as meat.
If you expect them to, then your new regime will fail in a month.
You have to 'embrace the vegetable' rather than 'fake the meat'.
Only then will you succeed.
I thought I was doing really well, when I tried this - I was using soy meat & being reasonably satisfied with the texture replacement. For flavour you really have to drown soy-meat in big sauces, but the texture is OK.
I was availing myself of my local Gujarati vegetarian restaurant for my curry 'fix' with no meat at all - that was working very well.
The fall came when someone in an effort to 'help' made me nut cutlets for dinner... canned nut cutlets... like some kind of vegan Spam, sliced & fried.
My attempt at vegetarianism ended that day.
I think I described it as having the flavour & texture of conti-board, an imitation wood wall covering popular in the 1970s.
This, of course, is not actually an answer to the question, but it is something the "new vegetarian" is going to have to deal with.
If the intention is to reduce rather than replace meat, then I think you will have a far easier time of it.
My ideal curry used to be sheek kebab followed by keema madras & 3 chapatis. Total meat weight, maybe 3 - 400g or so [at a guess]
In my new regime, that would now be vegetable samosa, followed by a small portion of even the same keema madras, but with palak (sag) paneer & channa masala to fill out the plate, sitting on basmati rice. That probably needs only 1 chapati to eat it with, as it's much more of a 'fork meal' with the rice. Total meat weight probably 60 or 70gm. Satisfaction = 100%.
My other regime change is that I would ring for the old curry from a take-away... I make the new ones from scratch.
Here's my tricks and tips based on 25 years of being a vegetarian and cooking for a spouse who is not:
Hope that helps!
Me and my husband cook almost exclusively vegetarian at home, because he simply doesn't like meat very much in general. For the meat we do buy occasionally we value quality over quantity, which tends to get rather pricey and we simply can't afford much of it. However, I grew up on a lot of meat, so at first it was rather hard to come up with food ideas and in the beginning I, too, tried to substitute the meat in the recipes I knew from home. With time I came to realize, that this will just make it harder for me and everyone else and I learned to love my non-meat meals.
This, however, was already answered in another answer. Instead I'm going to get into detail about the recipes, where meat is more in the front and needs substituting.
What you have to think about when adapting a recipe like this: What is the meat accomplishing in this recipe? Is it because of the texture? Because it gives body to a dish? Because it's the main protein source? Depending on this, you can substitute different things. However, always be aware that the dish changes fundamentally when substituting, so you simply will get a different dish, which is not better or worse than the original but different.
For example: In a chilli con carne the meat has different funcitons. The first is of course taste, but we'll going to forgo that for obvious reasons. The second is texture and that's where we'll substitute. You can use tofu or seitan here, but I tend to simply go with red lentils. They have an amazing texture and the resulting product is really amazing. Not to be confused with a real meat chilli con carne of course, but it really can be an amazing dish by itself!
Another example: Burgers. Here the meat is more in the front. However, what I personally want from a burger patty is the smokeiness and savoryness of the grilled meat. I recently found out that I can get a similar (although of course still very different) experience by substituting the meat patty by a grilled cheese like halloumi. It doesn't get soft when heated but remains rather firm. It is amazing on a burger, I can tell you.
Always remember, that you don't have to remove all the meat from your diet. This tends to make people crave it even more and makes it harder to achieve your goal of eating less meat. Just go step by step. With time you will notice, that it is a very natural transition and you'll realize how much more you appreciate the meat you do eat. When I visit my family now I can't believe how much meat they eat. It just seems strange to me today. But then again, I can really appreciate my fathers cooking, because I hadn't had a really good steak in a long time.
From a commercial/industrial standpoint, there are two sources for TVP that are industry "go-to"'s: CHS Proteins and ADM. In particular, CHS Protein's QR600 line (non-GMO version is QR600N) has the most closest match we've been able to find through sensory evaluations for matching actual meat (cooked from raw ground). If you soak them, spin dry, then mix into the ground meat emulsion -- up to 60% ± your preference -- and season / cook as you would usually, it's actually quite difficult to even differentiate between the original and TVP-included versions. If anything, the TVP actually adds a texturing consistency, improves water retention and emulsification (juicier), etc., and it even qualifies for a heart-health claim according to FDA.
This is a non-vegetarian POV:
Eating healthier is often just as "easy" as eating less. A good meat substitute would be to replace your meat with: Nothing.
Now I don't mean replace all your meat in a dish, just part of it.
Just halve the amount of meat you eat and you're already eating healthier. Halve the amount of potatoes you eat too. Keep veggies at the same amount.
What I have done in the past year is basically substitute my meat intake by half but buy better cuts. You could say my meat substitute would be: buy better meat but less of it.
For instance: instead of eating 2 porkchops (400 grams) I got 1 pork tenderloin (150-200 grams)
In addition to the advice above about not explicitly trying to replace meat, the best advice I can give is to think about two things when cooking vegetarian:
Umami. This is the Number One problem most people have (I'm talking to you, work cafeteria) when cooking vegetarian. Meat gives the umami/savory flavor in a dish, and you can't simply replace it with a meat alternative that has none and call it a day. In my cooking, I'm always looking for sources of umami- some of the best are mushrooms (grill the sh*t out of them, they just get tastier), cheese, nutritional yeast, soy sauce, MSG...
Protein. So much vegetarian food out there is just plain carbs. It's terrible. When I'm cooking I try to have as much protein as possible, so I don't end up being hungry an hour later and eating a bag of chips (health benefits negated). Look for ingredients that can pump up the protein content- chickpeas, lentils, soy meat replacements, eggs, cottage cheese, tofu...
Meat usually combines these two in an easy way, but if you want to replace it, you often need to find these two aspects of the meal from different sources.
Source: vegetarian/pescatarian for ten years, lives with an omnivore with high standards for cooking veg food.
Edit: some recipe suggestions: