January is a time when many of us consider resolutions, often enacted for a short time before reverting back to regular habits. To support these important changes, Age of Union will be starting an article series, based on the Acts of Union found in the book, Age of Union. Even small daily choices we make can contribute to positive change that will benefit the planet. These Acts of Union are small changes that have big impacts in the long term. The first in this series will explore incorporating meat alternatives into your diet.
Given that the benefits of limiting meat intake are very well understood, both for overall health and for the health of the planet and the impact on the climate, introducing meat alternatives as a permanent dietary change could be seen as an opportunity to learn and try new foods. This doesn’t need to be an immediate drastic overhaul of eating habits, but could instead be a gradual, perhaps permanent shift into 2022 and beyond. This article will help you better understand:
The power of plant based protein
Tempeh preparation tips
Lentil seasoning suggestions
For life-long consumers of meat products, converting to a vegan or vegetarian diet requires planning, so let’s consider some high protein meat alternatives to explore.
Powerful Protein Meat Alternatives
Many people are familiar with perhaps the most recognizable meat alternative, tofu. Other meat alternatives are available on grocery store shelves and in restaurants, but I’ll focus on two which are less familiar than the most commonly available options. Both are also naturally very high in protein, which is critical.
Why is protein so important?
As anyone who is physically active or has studied nutrition can attest, combining high protein foods with whole grain, complex carbohydrates, and plant derived unsaturated fats (eg. nuts, avocados, olive oil, olives, etc) results in a better fuel source for the human body. Here I’ll look at some of the most powerful, high protein meat alternatives out there, as well as some of the ways to prepare them that will make you want to bring them back as recurring favorites.
Tempeh is a close relative of tofu, with the most significant difference being that it is whole fermented soybeans, typically formed into a square shape, tofu of course is a solid white cake constituted from liquified fermented soybeans. Tofu is available in a range of textures, and is certainly adaptable; soft tofu is excellent in smoothies while firm or extra firm tofu can be cubed, eaten raw or cooked. Although tempeh doesn’t have this adaptability, it has a soft but dense texture which is enjoyable when cubed or thinly sliced. Tempeh acquires a nice crispness when sautéed on low heat in oil (olive, canola, or sesame are great options) and similarly to tofu, absorbs marinades and sauces wonderfully. Health food stores and healthy grocers even stock tempeh bacon, which is thinly sliced tempeh seasoned to loosely resemble bacon. This resemblance is only in shape, as needless to say the taste and texture of tempeh are quite unique.
When discussing texture, the sponginess of tofu can be extremely divisive even among some vegans and vegetarians, however tempeh doesn’t suffer from this characteristic. It’s firm texture, in particular when lightly crisped and served over greens, rice, or quinoa, tossed with a generous amount of sauce is heavenly!
Lentils can suffer from misrepresentation based solely on how they are prepared, again with texture more than taste often a major factor. Anyone who has experienced dry or flavourless lentils in soups or vegan dishes will know this all too well. Soaking or simmering lentils (even when straight from a can) in well seasoned stock or sauce makes a world of difference. Lentils benefit from generous flavour enhancement, so don’t hold back. Spices like curry, cumin, coriander, ginger, all offer a fantastic boost. Adding coconut milk when simmering also offers richness to lentils, which stock alone doesn’t do. Tomato sauces offer a tanginess that offsets the natural flavour of lentils, and lentils can offer an alternative to ground meat that might otherwise be found in pasta sauces or chili.
Lentils are extremely high in protein and brilliantly adaptable when generously flavoured. Consider adding tortilla crisps or corn chips as a side dish for a bit of extra crunch, which can be a boost if you’re unsure about the texture of lentils.
When seeking to optimize the nutritional benefits of tempeh and lentils, combining them with whole grains (rice, quinoa, etc) in the same meal further boosts these benefits by providing your body with even more essential amino acids. This is especially important to remember when reducing meat consumption.
By recognizing how adaptable high protein plant based meat alternatives are, it can be both enjoyable and interesting to discover ways that best suit them to personal taste. The necessity for a greater shift towards a plant based diet cannot be overstated, so give these two options a try, and chime in with any tips or tricks that have helped you discover a love for high protein plant based meat alternatives.
Article by Jordan King
Jordan King is a writer, curator and handles Communications for Age of Union. She grew up in Nelson, BC, Canada where she learned an appreciation for vegetarian and vegan cooking from an early age.
Photo 1 by Junglkeepers
Photo 2 to 4 by Stock Photo