Are You a "Wannabe" Vegetarian?

Many people new to vegetarianism miss meat a lot. People like me. When dinnertime rolls around we almost wish we were still eating it.

We miss the way meat looks, the way it smells, its hearty taste, its special texture. We were reared to enjoy meat at dinner, and when we arrive at the table to find the "meat corner" of the dinner plate empty, the meal seems incomplete.

As a result, some of us "fall off the wagon" and go back to what seems like the least offensive meat: poultry. We pretend that chicken is a vegetable, thus regressing to the consumption of food products we would just as soon omit from our diets. We want to be vegetarians, yet we also want our new meals to seem like the ones we used to eat B.E. (Before Enlightenment). We want to sink our teeth into something that resembles the texture of meat, something that looks, smells,and masticates the way meat does.

So we search for substitutes, but the search is not always fruitful. Rummaging through the refrigerated chests of local health food stores and supermarkets for a package of something that may turn out to be edible, or examining the shelves for a can of something labeled "vegetarian" that might be worth taking a chance on, often proves unrewarding. Too many of these prepared meat-free entrees, I found to my dismay, either turn out to resemble wallpaper paste or are so hot they burn the tongue. Moreover, they are often devoid of any meaty flavor.

Plenty of people who want to avoid meat can't face another dish of beans and rice or tofu stir-fry. They're looking for something high in protein that will serve as a credible meat substitute. They remain "vergetarians"—people on the verge of becoming vegetarians—until they find satisfying meat analogs. Meat clones. Faux meat. Or, in computer terms, Virtual Meat.

Looking for That Meaty Flavor

If you are in this quandary, I wrote this book for you.

You remember when meat used to be what cookbooks called "the star of the meal." You recall when the traditional question "What's for dinner?" used to be answered by a reply like "pork chops" or "roast beef," not by "turtle beans" or "cheesy rice" or "noodles and sauce." You're still wavering on your decision to become a vegetarian because you're searching for entrees that might credibly take the place of this focus for the evening repast.

You've come to the right place.

Keeping It Simple

Cooking with this book isn't difficult. People looking for good, meaty-tasting vegetarian food aren't interested in spending hours creating elaborate meals. They're too busy for that. They want to be able to whip up delicious meals in the little time they have at the end of the work day. A recent study shows that most cooks spend only 30 minutes preparing a meal; I think we all feel that's about the amount of time we can give to it. Like most people, although I want to eat well, I have other things to do in my life besides cooking. I know from experience that people with nine-to-five jobs can't spare more than an hour or so for cooking a meal and, except for special occasions, much prefer keeping preparation time below that.

Today's cooks also want to avoid having to use a lot of strange, unfamiliar, and foreign ingredients. They prefer to rely primarily on recognizable and traditional ingredients they would buy anyway. The recipes in this book are based mostly on ingredients you're already cooking with.

I created the recipes in this book to help people make the transition into vegetarianism, a transition that isn't always easy. Like me, you've no doubt shrunk from the idea of basing your protein intake on something that doesn't seem meat-like. Who wants a diet built entirely around tofu or beans? Not I.

So what could we eat instead of meat? Traditional eaters who think tofu is the only alternative also believe that soy foods must be the last resort of effete oddballs. People with that attitude won't make a successful transition into vegetarianism until they discover that one soy product, when imaginatively prepared and combined with the right ingredients, can easily be made to look, smell, and taste as good as meat used to taste to them.

This book reveals to traditional eaters how to make their vegetarian meals seem much like the meals they are used to eating. They will learn that they can easily prepare vegetarian foods that really seem like meat.

Other Veggie Cookbooks

Among the hundreds of vegetarian cookbooks in your bookstore and on the library shelves, isn't there a comprehensive book of "meatless meat" already available? No. Just check with your bookseller or librarian. Nothing of this type can be bought or borrowed.

When you examine vegetarian cookbooks carefully, you discover that they fail to concentrate on meat substitutes. They offer few recipes for high-protein foods that we can view the way we used to think of meat—the entree that we built the rest of the meal around. The failure of such books to present a lot of high-protein meat substitutes means that cooks may omit to prepare the high-protein foods that vegetarians must be sure to include in their diets. Those who don't will find themselves getting tired and weak, losing body mass instead of losing fat. That has happened to friends of mine. I've even read of people being hospitalized when they became vegetarians because they tried to survive on steamed vegetables alone, not realizing that they were omitting essential protein.

Every day I see recipes purporting to be designed for vegetarians that contain no protein. Just today my daily newspaper printed a fine recipe designed for a dinner entrée called Couscous with Pears. It sounded delicious, but it had nothing in it that would furnish protein.

When I read such recipes I don't say to myself  "Where's the meat?" but rather "Where's the protein?" Vegetarian cookbooks that do offer meat substitutes usually skip anything that tastes like traditional meat dishes. Most recipes in those books turn out to be veggie-grain casseroles and stir-fries. Those dishes aren't what I'm looking to put in the meat corner of my dinner plate tonight. A tofu stir-fry, no matter how delicious, doesn't taste like meat; it tastes like tofu stir-fry.

Chances are that the next vegetarian cookbook you pick up will be padded with recipes for salads, soups, breads, and sauces. But you don't need a special vegetarian cookbook in order to find recipes for vegetable soups and vegetable salads; general cookbooks are already full of them. What you need is a set of recipes for the food that's going to be missing from your dinner plate.

This book excludes recipes for salads, soups, breads, and sauces because you can find them in hundreds of standard cookbooks. Just check your copy of Joy of Cooking.

Some vegetarian cookbooks come close to presenting meaty-tasting entrees. Those recipes are often named "bean cakes" or "zucchini loaf," and they make no pretense of tasting like meat. They taste like vegetables.

In contrast, the recipes in this book taste as though they are made with meat.

I'm glad to recommend accompaniments for the meat analogs in this book and in some cases describe their preparation. But the recipes I concentrate on here are newly-created recipes for meat clones, recipes that will help you and your friends think of the entrees as meat.

Why I Wrote This Book

For more than thirty years I looked for a book like this one—until realizing that I myself could create such a book. Since discovering in the 1970s that an operation to remove my gallbladder left me unable to digest meat, I experimented with soy protein to create many meat-free main entrees. I had collected a file full of favorites and I found that I preferred my own creations over the commercial meat substitutes I purchased from health food stores.

Then, I discovered that when they were well prepared, my recipes deceived non-vegetarian guests into believing they were eating meat! That discovery turned out to be a lovely bonus. It reveals to traditional eaters that vegetarian food can seem like what they enjoy eating anyway, and it encourages "vergetarians" to stick to their desire to become real vegetarians.

Until recently—although I have been a successful cook and a published author for more than forty years—it never occurred to me that I could myself fill the large omission of a "meatless meat" cookbook in the book market. Like many other books that fill a need, this one was written by someone who wanted it for herself, as well as for others in the same category.

Health Benefits of TVP

What got me started using textured vegetable protein was the surprisingly strong health benefits of using soy foods, benefits that are well documented by scientific studies. What kept me using it was learning that I could prepare delicious, meaty-tasting entrees with it. And since the discovery that eating low on the food scale helps preserve our earth, this book will appeal to environmentalists who are trying to turn vegetarian for altruistic reasons.

People who are used to eating meat and who have decided, for whatever reason, to cut down on meat or eliminate it from their diets will, in this book, discover many recipes that can help them make an easy and pleasurable transition into meat-free meals. It is easy and pleasurable, because their new diet will seem much like their old one.

I found most of these recipes simple to create. Once I got the hang of the few steps involved in using textured vegetable protein, I began searching my files for the meat dishes I used to enjoy and adapting them for use with TVP.

You can do it, too. You can retrofit many of your old favorites among meat dishes to taste much like the originals. After you've cooked with these recipes, why not try creating your own?