Tasty Takeout at Home

There’s a lot to be said for ready-made frozen meals, even for the avid cook and fresh food fanatic. Having a plan B safely squirreled away, just in case of a dinner emergency, can make the difference between choking down impossibly tough seitan burgers or enjoying something a bit more edible. Well aware of a certain bias against most prepared foods, I will go on the record to say that there is nothing inherently wrong with the classic tv dinner every now and then; it’s the ingredients and the over-processing where these easy options frequently go wrong. Homemade frozen meals of leftovers are fantastic, and the only difference is that you’re still the one doing the legwork to put that food on the table. For the overworked mom, student, busy professional, or anyone who doesn’t spend all of their waking hours in the kitchen, a warm, relatively healthy meal that can be on the table in five minutes or less can be downright miraculous. The key is choosing the right brands to pledge your dinner allegiance to.

New on my radar but hardly newcomers to the freezer aisle, Vegetarian Plus has been cranking out the meatless frozen meals for years now, providing vegan options directly to consumers and to larger institutions that wish to feed them. Featuring easily accessible flavors for even the pickiest palates, while still covering a whole world of exotic cuisines, they’re excellent for serving to a crowd with varied tastes.

Plate provided by Steelite

Take for example, their latest offerings of Indian-inspired entrees. Vegan Chicken Tikka Masala, looking for all the world like curried poultry, rather than its actual soybean fiber and wheat protein construction. Redolent of warm spices and a certain savory scent, the flavor is shockingly on par with some of the better takeout I’ve had. Initially sweet but switching over to spicy in seconds, the spice profile is impressively well-balanced, and on the spicier side for a mainstream meal. Nothing to burn a hole through your tongue, for sure, but lively in flavor and fairly true to its title. I would absolutely purchase this again in the future, and anyone who appreciates Indian food should take a chance on it too.

Defrosting a package of Vegan Lamb Vindaloo on another hungry and somewhat desperate evening, I had no clue what to expect. I’ve never eaten lamb, so I can’t say with any authority how authentic those protein chunks were, but I can tell you that the texture seemed chewier, perhaps gamier as far as imitation meat goes, and more similar to seitan than the previous offering. Somehow the flavor struck me as less rich, and a bit lacking in body compared to the first amazing meal, but rest assured, I had no problem cleaning my plate. Unarguably spicier, those craving a meaty meal with some bite to it would no doubt enjoy this.

Craving greasy but oh so good Chinese takeout? Vegetarian Plus has got you covered there, too. Their Vegan Kung Pao Chicken tastes as though it could have just as easily come from a cardboard carry-out box as your own freezer. Not just an homage to the idea of kung pao, this version goes the whole nine yards; coated in the same shiny, vaguely sticky, semi-sweet and generously salted sauce, it coats the palate richly, perfectly scratching that itch for something a bit indulgent. As “authentic” as American Chinese food goes, this is exactly what I remember chowing down on as a picky omnivore ages ago. Accented by a decent kick of heat, it manages to avoid descending down the sad path of bland Americanized ethnic food, so it may even have a leg up on the competition.

I must admit that what I was most intrigued by, however, was not the offering of a completely ready made and defrostable dinner, but the possibilities presented by their Vegan Shrimp. Packaged with a sweet chili sauce that I didn’t particularly enjoy, the “shrimp” needed only a bit of love to become something even better. Genuinely fishy, they both looked and smelled the part. Sure, the mere concept may sound dubious at best, but they don’t deserve the harsh judgement they’ve so often received. Bouncy between the teeth and relatively bland unadorned, the flavor strikes me as being very similar to the somewhat controversial shirataki noodles. Either you love them or you hate them, so the same could probably be said for these “shrimp.”

Plate provided by Steelite

Lightly pan-fried in a generous dose of garlic I dressed up my imitation crustaceans as a riff on shrimp and grits. Rather than making grits from dried cornmeal, my version is more like a cross between polenta and creamed corn, utilizing fresh, coarsely pureed corn for a brighter, lighter flavor. You certainly don’t need fake shrimp to enjoy it though; a bit of crispy tofu on top would be just as good, if slightly less convenient for the harried cook.

29 thoughts on “Tasty Takeout at Home

  1. Those frozen meals do look pretty good! I’m a big fan of making your own frozen meals from leftovers though – you know exactly what you’re eating, and it’s a great way to keep leftovers from going bad, which they frequently do in our kitchen.

  2. I’ve been curious about those vegan shrimp. Maybe it’s like tofu – you don’t want to eat it straight out of the package, you need to do something with them.

    I’ll have to try your grits recipe. I’ve never made them from fresh corn before, but I’m intrigued.

  3. I love the fresh corn in the grits! The shrimps are a little freaky…too real looking, but definitely make for a beautiful dish!

  4. I love having my freezer stocked for mealtime emergencies, and these tasty treats are something I would be happy to have on hand! The prepared Indian meals sound wonderful, but I’ll admit, I am very much intrigued by the shrimp as well!

  5. Where did you buy the frozen shrimp? I’ve been dying to get my hands on an imitation shrimp for a while but haven’t been able to locate them. All of those meals look fantastic and I’d never have guessed they came out of a freezer!

  6. Mm, I love this take on polenta. Anything creamed corn has my heart. I make a soymilk-based cream of corn soup and it’s so naturally sweet, I’m always in love!..speaking of, this makes me want corn bread now with fresh corn in it.

  7. Okay, so I know this isn’t *really* an amazing coincidence, because I’ve never had the chance to eat anything like this, but just yesterday I bought a jar of Tikka Masala paste (for the first time ever, actually; have only ever eaten it out before) and fried it up with tofu. So yes, not really similar, but the closest comparison to my I could draw. Heaven forbid a post goes by without at least some similarity ;)

  8. Your dishes always look so delicious! I actually was introduced to vegan/vegetarian “meat” through my mother and honestly, I could have that over real meat anyday! Its so good

  9. those dishes look amazing.. esp the kungpao and your corn grits.. i dont much care for the shrimp. but they do make the pictures look great…now i am tempted to cook up some tikka masala and kung pao…mmmm

    1. Wow, you have so many great ideas for using this “shrimp!” I used to love scampi, I can’t believe I missed the boat on that one. Thank for sharing, now I wish I had tons more to play with. Maybe for my next project, I just need to experiment with making my own faux shrimp.

  10. Thanks for the cooking tips, Dawn! I’ve had a package of those vegan frozen shrimp in my freezer for over a month, never finding the time to think about what to do with them. Hannah—whatever you did looks amazing!

  11. It’s always good to know of good frozen meals to keep on hand. You do a great job of actually making that shrimp look appetizing although I don’t really think I could eat it because it looks just like actual shrimp.

  12. I must say I don’t like the shiritaki noodles much and I hear veggie seafood is never very successful (except the bean skin versions which taste nothing like seafood though). Still, I love what you’ve made with these — they all look better than any takeout could be =D

  13. I’ve had a bag of vegan shrimp in my fridge for a couple of months now, only because I couldn’t figure out what to do with it. Shrimp and grits is a perfect idea! (Don’t tell my Southern mother that this idea didn’t occur to me before!)

  14. Ooo I hope we get these in Canada! Though there’s actually a lot of decent faux meat that can be found in Asian grocers. I recently had some fake shrimp that was good, though it didn’t taste fishy.

Leave a Reply