If you’re interested in adding vegetarian sources of protein to your diet—whether for Meatless Monday, or for every meal, every day—good for you. Literally. Plant proteins such as tofu and seitan are excellent for your budget, your body, and the environment. They’re becoming so popular that you can find these and other options in mainstream supermarkets, usually on the refrigerated shelves in the produce section.
Not sure how to prepare and serve these ingredients? Here’s a primer:
What it is: The best-known alternative protein is made from ground soybeans mixed with water. The mixture is left to solidify, a little like cheese. The amount of water left in the finished product determines whether the texture is “silken” (the softest kind of tofu), “extrafirm” (the most dense), or somewhere in-between.
How it tastes: Tofu is fairly bland but readily absorbs the flavors it is combined with. It can be made sweet as well as savory.
How to prepare it: Panfry it, purée it, bake it, or use it right out of the package, cut into cubes or strips.
What it is: It’s also made from soy, but tempeh, which originated in Indonesia, is made from the whole bean and is firmer, with a spongy texture.
How it tastes: Because it is fermented, it has a nutty, mushroom-like flavor.
How to prepare it: Grate it and use it in place of ground beef, grill it, or slice it thinly and fry it.
What it is: It’s sometimes called “wheat meat,” which gives you a pretty accurate picture. Pronounced SAY-tahn or say-TAHN, it’s made from wheat gluten and is often used in vegan Buddhist cuisine to simulate the texture of duck or chicken. In the United States, you’ll find it in blocks or strips or formed into patties or other meat-like shapes.
How it tastes: Seitan takes on the flavor of the ingredients it’s cooked with.
How to prepare it: Treat it like meat and simmer, bake, or fry.
Hemp and Chia
What they are: Tiny, round chia seeds resemble poppy seeds. Hemp seeds look a little like lentils. Both types of seeds are health powerhouses, packed with protein and other nutrients.
How they taste: Slightly nutty.
How to prepare them: Stir chia into hot cereal or bake them into muffins. Mixed with water, chia turns into a jellylike substance that can thicken sauces or smoothies. Sprinkle hemp seeds into salads.