I would be lying if I say that I don’t miss eating meat sometimes. I love to cook so before I used to whip up steaks and all those bloody stuff. When I decided to quit eating meat, I had a bit of a struggle at times. Man it had been a battle. Good thing that my friends and family were all supportive.
I tried to research why meat is so irresistible for most people. I found out that meat has that taste known as Umami. Umami is the sixth taste after sweet, salty, sour, spicy and bitter. It is the taste of salty-sweet-savory combination. Umami was discovered by this Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda, in 1908. He found the taste from a konbu seaweed normally used to make stocks and broths in Japan (so you see, you can get that umami-meaty taste even if you don’t eat meat).
Longing for the Umami taste is deep rooted in the Paleolithic times where in having enough protein was a bit difficult to come by. Hunting wild animals was precarious and posted dangers to our ancient ancestors. They did discover farming and this brought in grains. But at that time, they did not know which plants are the ones they could eat to acquire the much needed protein. On the other hand, in today’s convenient times, we can attain protein even if we do not consume animals. According to studies we only need about 0.36 grams of protein per pound or about 0.8 grams per kilogram of our weight. This means non meat items can really satisfy our needs. But the question is what if you get tempted with licking and eating that piece of beef or chicken?
There are a wide variation of food which are not animal based. Of course for those who are not pure vegans or are lacto/ lacto-ovo/ ovo – vegetarians they can consume eggs and cheeses to help cut down on the cravings. I’ll start with the ones that are for those who are none pure herbivores.
Cheeses – Cheeses are great sources of that umami taste they lift any dish to give that savory taste. Parmesan cheese can be added to rice and pasta dishes with vegetables to add a bit of oomph. Deeper flavored cheeses like blue cheese and gruyere are great additions to salads and dips. Mozzarella is an excellent cheese to mix with risottos and breads as well as toasts.
Eggs – Eggs can be scrambled and flavored with herbs to give that tasty feel. Make scrambled eggs in butter to fulfill that longing to eat meat. It’s one of those super foods that are quiet versatile.
Ok let’s now go to those that fall purely into the vegetable and fruits section the grocery.
Mushrooms – Mushrooms have been widely used in Chinese, Japanese and Mediterranean cuisines. One of my favorites is Shitake mushrooms. They really do taste meaty and taste “porky”. They texture of this mushroom is excellent. Well actually almost all mushroom do deliver a meaty texture. Another one that I like a lot is the black fungus which is common in Chinese cooking. Portobello are also meaty too.
Tomatoes – Tomatoes when cooked get a heightened umami taste as well as increases the potency of its lycopene. It does have a sweet, sour taste which when added with a little salt or oil really brings out that umami taste.
Tofu – Ok this is one of the vegetarian staples but one can elevate tofu so that its texture would be meatier. You can first marinate it with some herbs like thyme, garlic, chili powder and put some soy sauce too. After that you can fry it to give it a more crunchy texture before you put it in your stews, salad and soups. Frying the tofu really creates an outer shell that gives it a whole different flavor and texture.
Veggie-Meat made from Gluten – This food has been a staple for Buddhist monks. They basically create meat-like dough from kneading flour until it becomes glutinous. They extract the gluten and marinate it to create veggie meat. They are now mixed with herbs and spices, then dried. To reconstitute them they are marinated or brined in water or seasoning. After which they are cooked just like meat in a normally meat dish. You can find this in Asian stores or sections in your nearby grocery.
Green Tea – Who knew green tea can be used for cooking too? Green tea is high in anti-oxidants that help you fight disease and aging. Aside from that this Asian drink can be added to some soups and stocks as well as other recipes to add that Umami taste.
Spices, Spices and more Spices – Adding spices can change your food from dull and boring to oh super oomph amazing! Cumin is a great flavor that brings out a meaty taste in a Mexican Vegetarian Chilly. You can toast cumin seeds too bright out more of its flavor. Another one is the barbecue smoky spice paprika. Sauces become brighter with this flavor. Rosemary also goes on the Umami list. It has that fragrant woodsy taste that lifts a dish up. Thyme is a must for flavorful stocks as well as Bay Leaf.
Fermented Stuff – Asians who were Buddhists learned that fermenting food brings out the Umami taste. Miso and miso soup with Konbu seaweed is a great way to quench that craving. Soy sauce is very Umami-tasting. Merin or rice vinegar and also balsamic vinegar can give your salads life. Fermented fruits and vegetables are great too. Nato, a Japanese fermented dish made of fermented beans that look like canned beans give you that much needed meaty texture without straying out of eating only a plant based diet.
Sea Weeds, Nori and other stuff from the Sea – You can snack on a vegetarian maki or sushi with Nori and avocado. Konbu as we have mentioned is a great way to add umami to your food. Seaweeds can be turned into a salad with some vinegar, tomatoes, onions and a little oil. You can buy Nori chips that you can snack on as well.
Vegetable Flavors – Mirepoix which is the holy trinity of French cooking and Sofrito for the Spanish. Mirepoix is a combination of chopped celery, onions and carrots or some use celery, leeks and onions for a “white” Mirepoix. On the other hand, Sofrito is made up of garlic, onion and tomatoes. They are usually chopped and diced and then sautéed in the beginning of the dish to give it a depth and flavor. They are also used to enhance to taste of stocks and soups. You may use them in rice dishes, pasta and many other food.
There is just so many things that you can use to help you to stay away from the temptation from eating meat. But the most important thing is to remember why you are abstaining from eating meat. Is it for humanitarian purposes? Is it to reduce cholesterol and stay healthy? Ultimately, living life without meat is possible, as long as you discipline yourself. Food that we eat is an acquired taste. You can still enjoy eating even without downing meat.