The Meat of the Matter

Order a veggie burger at any restaurant and steel yourself for a surprise- Whether or not it’s a good one. What might arrive at your table could be anything from a verdant green mash of chickpeas and spinach, or a “bloody” meat-facsimile so authentic that some carnivores wouldn’t know the difference. The humble vegetarian staple has undergone a stunning evolution in a very short amount of time, thanks to the spread of veganism, but also increased health and environmental concerns. Not everyone wants to eat legume patties when they’re craving beef, which is what makes this latest round of plant-based innovations particularly encouraging. I’ve long said that you don’t need to be vegan to eat vegan, and these more accessible, familiar options make the concept considerably more feasible. I’ve already covered the Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger here, but they’re far from the only players in this game.

Tofurky, proud meatless proponents for over 2 decades, has managed to maintain their space in this competitive market while winning over new fans. Their copious and diverse offerings are a testament to that, providing something for everyone. Now, that includes the staunch meat-eaters among us, thanks to their newly launched line of Do-It-Yourself grinds, approximating the look, texture, and of course, flavor of traditional ground beef and/or pork, depending on your seasoned kit of choice. Today, with grilling season right around the corner, I’m talking burgers.

Molding easily into patties, no additional binders are necessary for sound, solid construction. They hold together beautifully through the entire cooking process, never once threatening to crumble under pressure. Before long, a distinctly meaty aroma will fill the air, but the scent also has a also wheaty aspect, like good old glutenous seitan.

Cooking quickly, it takes only 3 – 5 minutes per side to achieve a nice sear; a satisfying transformation that creates a crisp crust and seals in a juicy, tender interior. Hearty, satisfying, but not fatty nor greasy, this is the midway point between old school and new tech. Beefy without the overwhelming sensation of sinew, it’s an ideal savory, neutral foundation to build upon. You can truly make it your own with herbs and spices, or keep it simple for the classic backyard BBQ experience. It’s not a perfect dupe for the animal it was made to imitate, but I believe it comes close enough to quell a craving, without turning away those repulsed by the reminder of the flesh inspiration.

Best of all, the DIY format allows you to depart from the typical patty path and forge your own culinary adventure. Crumble the grind and cook it with a healthy dose of spice, load it into a crunchy corn tortilla, and taco night will never be the same again. That’s just the tip of the meatless iceberg, as they (might?) say. Think meatloaf, bolognese sauce, stuffed pasta and casseroles galore. Pick out any recipe your stomach desires and simply substitute this plant-based protein in a 1-to-1 ratio for ground beef. Anything meat can do, Tofurky can do better.

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Wave of the Future

If you can blend it, you can milk it. Once defined and dominated by soybeans alone, the very nature of non-dairy drinks is hotly debated by enthusiasts and detractors alike, struggling to find commonalities that might link that vast array of plant-based sources crowding out the antiquated plastic jugs of cow juice. It’s not just the sales figures that are booming, but the unparalleled variety and access that consumers can now enjoy, just as easily opting for an almond, hemp, or oat mustache instead. New blends are still popping up rapidly, before you can even empty your first frothy glass. Now, along with those nutty and beany staples, the lactose intolerant can stock their fridges with banana milk.

Banana Wave presents itself as a game changer seeking to disrupt the industry, but the whole truth is less likely to make real waves. Built upon a foundation of bananas, soymilk, and gluten-free oats, in that order, it’s more like a thin blended smoothie than a true dairy substitute, bearing a viscosity similar to a simple protein shake.

Surprisingly subdued in flavor, the initial impact was less sweet and potent than anticipated, perhaps to placate drinkers that might not be entirely on board with a fruity intrusion. Flax oil, though a welcome change of pace from lower quality canola or safflower, contributes a discordant note and slightly mineral aftertaste. An impressive battery of vitamins and minerals bolster the nutritional profile, proving that it has more to offer than the average watery mammalian formula. Undeniably smooth and creamy, it certain still has its charm. I could see this being a great grab-and-go snack, if only it was packaged in single-serving cartons. Overall, it’s a great concept that hasn’t yet realized its own full potential. I’m looking forward to the day when I see Banana Wave on the shelf, right alongside the heavyweights battling it out for non-dairy dominance, but I don’t think it’s quite ready to roll with the punches just yet.

Cracking the Eggless Code

Through the best of times and the worst of times, wealth and poverty, tofu has always been there. Soft as a pillow around delicate subjects but firm when more support is needed, that trusty soybean block can accommodate the wildest of culinary whims. How many other ingredients can claim such a rich history and vast repertoire of winsome dishes? An indispensable staple beyond just vegan kitchens, tofu has never enjoyed such wide mainstream acceptance before, and yet… Sometimes, simple bean curd won’t quite do. Scrambles, omelets, and fry-ups are top brunch treats, leading both herbivores and omnivores alike still demand more out of their mid-morning meal. Tofu, my dear friend, has finally met its ovoid match.

Follow Your Heart originally rose to fame over four decades ago, pioneering the vegan options for dressings and sandwich spreads, and continues to innovate to this day. The VeganEgg breaks new ground as the only complete whole egg replacer that actually behaves like an egg in both savory and sweet applications.

Tear into the dry mix and you’ll immediately be hit with a wave of familiar sulfurous aroma, the distinct calling card of kala namak. Whisking easily and smoothly into cold water, there’s no need to break out the heavy artillery (or blender) for assistance. The raw mixture may appear awfully thin at first, perhaps even alarmingly so, but all doubts will be instantly erased the minute that golden batter hits a hot skillet. Granted, it takes longer to cook than actual eggs, clocking in at 6 – 8 minutes for a single scramble, it does indeed form soft curds with a slightly bouncy yet creamy texture, easily yielding to the bite. Very mild in flavor, despite the initial aroma, it stays true to form as a good neutral base to build upon.

And build I did. Shakshuka calls for poaching eggs directly in spicy tomato sauce, a classic Middle Eastern preparation difficult to come by with vegan needs. The VeganEgg couldn’t quite hold its form in a pleasing round shape, but firmed up triumphantly in the bubbling red stew. Don’t expect anything as decadent as a rich, runny center, but the overall package is so satisfying, you won’t miss it one bit.

Reviving another previous eggy favorite, Chinese egg drop soup was next on my hit list. Thin ribbons of VeganEgg swim peacefully among the scallions in this simple broth, a flawless dupe for any takeout temptation. Its simplicity makes it the ideal comfort food, enjoyed in sickness and in health, effortlessly converted with a one-for-one swap from the original omnivorous formula.

For greater culinary ambitions, though, I’m delighted to report that tamagoyaki is finally back on the menu again! Lightly sweetened, slowly cooked in a square frying pan, and painstakingly rolled into a savory layered omelet, it’s an essential Japanese dish that can be eaten solo or sliced thin to top nigiri sushi. I haven’t quite mastered the technique, but with such promising initial results, you can bet it’s a recipe I’ll be revisiting, and soon.

But wait- What about dessert, you may ask? Though my approach to baking has never required a straight replacement for eggs, there are definitely a few recipes that don’t quite translate without that essential structure or flavor. Creamy custards such a flan are a perfect example; absolutely doable without any ovoid additions, but not quite the same, and rarely as easy to replicate. The VeganEgg makes the conversion effortless, and adds just the right subtle tasting notes without dominating the dish.

With that immense hurdle cleared, now there’s simply no excuse to reach for any animal products.

Easy Flan for Two

2 Tablespoons Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
2 Tablespoons Follow Your Heart VeganEgg
1/2 Cup Cold Water
1/2 Cup Non-Dairy Milk
1/4 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Finely Grated Orange Zest

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees and lightly grease two 4-ounce ramekins. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of brown sugar into the bottom of each ramekin and set aside.

In a large bowl, thoroughly whisk together the VeganEgg and cold water until completely smooth. Make sure there are no lumps remaining before proceeding. Add in the non-dairy milk, vanilla, and zest, and whisk again to combine.

Distribute the liquid mixture equally between the two ramekins, and place them in a larger baking dish. Place this in the oven and pour hot water into the larger dish to reach just about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. This will create a water bath to more gently cook the custards, and prevent them from cracking as they bake.

Bake for 45 – 60 minutes, until set around the sides and top, but still wobbly much like a cheesecake. Let cool completely before moving to the fridge. Chill for at least 2 hours or up to overnight. To serve, invert the flans on individual plates, and enjoy!

Makes 2 Servings

Printable Recipe

NuGo On the Go

The idea of going “back to school” has taken on a new meaning. Mere months after graduating, I find myself returning to campus bright and early each morning once again, eager to learn about the latest in photo technology. Now the difference is that instead of heading into the classroom, I plunge into the stacks of rental lenses in the equipment room, trying furtively to teach myself the intricate codes to their order and maintenance. These lessons are quite possibly even more difficult than those I grappled with as an undergrad, and while the days are long, the hours seem to evaporate in an instant. It’s the most I can do keep my head above water in the flood of paperwork, let alone steal away a full 30 minutes for a lunch break. After just a few hours in this position, I came to realize how little I appreciated those assiduous lab techs in my days as a student.

Times like these call for emergency sustenance; packable and compact, shelf-stable and easy to eat, healthy but of course, above all else, delicious.

The field of energy bars certainly has exploded over the past decade, expanding into a dizzying array of flavors, macro-nutrient combinations, and special dietary considerations. A blessing and a curse to those in need of quick snacks on the go, it’s difficult to discern when you’re actually picking up a cookie bar or sidewalk chalk dressed up in a shiny Mylar wrapper.

NuGo is a brand that’s been on the scene for ages, diversifying its offerings along different lines to accommodate shifting eater demographics. While their more old-school products contain milk and some admittedly questionable ingredients, their vegan NuGo Slim bars are more than enough to sustain the discerning herbivore. The company was kind enough to share a taste of their new Chocolate Mint and Toasted Coconut bars with me, and both were fine fodder for these busy days on the job.

Dressed in a cloak of dark chocolate, each one gives off the impression of a candy bar, but at half the sweetness, bear no threat of inducing a sugar coma. Although slightly dry, the texture is soft, with an easy bite that is not difficult to swallow- No pun intended. Imagine a very firm cookie dough binding together crispy rice cereal, and you’d come pretty close to the heart of these chocolate-covered protein bombs.

For those in need of a midday wake-up call, the mint option is the one for you. Sharp like spearmint rather than the more standard peppermint, it’s not messing around, leading with a fresh, bright punch of mint right from the first bite. Coconut, on the other hand, takes somewhat of a backseat to the chocolate, but still sings loud and clear with a comfortingly nutty resonance.

Though I can’t say either has instantly risen through the ranks to reach a new personal favorite, both are a boon to busy, hungry eaters of all stripes, with very impressive nutritional stats to boot. I’m certainly happy to have them on standby in my camera bag, ready in a flash when it’s time to go back to school all over again.

Hip To Be Shared

Puffed snacks represent the pinnacle of junk food innovation and technology. No matter how hard you try, there’s simply no way to replicate that characteristically light, airy, yet impossibly crisp texture at home; trust me, I’ve gone through the ringer in my own kitchen, to no avail. Coated in powdered cheese of varying fluorescence hues, the salty morsels have been staining fingers since the 1930s but never gained much traction among the nutritionally conscious. That should come as no surprise, since questionable oils and highly processed dairy ingredients have long been the “best” that these salty treats could offer.

Hippeas is a new company set to change all that, turning away from the traditional corn base and towards one composed of everyone’s favorite legume: the chickpea.

Much more substantial than your typical puffed snack, each kernel boasts a sturdy, satisfying crunch, backed by impressive protein and fiber values. Unlike the Styrofoam whips of yore, one serving really will do… Although the tempting flavors might convince you keep munching.

Six unique seasonings offer a different taste for every craving. Cheese is the gold standard, the essential foundation of the puffed snack hierarchy, so the Vegan White Cheddar has very high expectations to live up to. While the overall effect doesn’t disappoint, it doesn’t entirely deliver either. Evoking the flavor profile of creamy mac and cheese, it will certainly scratch that savory itch, but an incongruous sweetness detracts from the experience. Simply put, they’re highly enjoyable, but would never fool an omnivore.

Where Hippeas shine is in their more creative offerings that make no allusions to imitation. Delicious within their own right as a completely unique snack, the Far Out Fajita was the stand-out winner by my account. Cumin and coriander ring clearest out of the seasoning melange, imparting a Tex-Mex vibe. Further munching evoked the flavors of crunchy falafel, which made me think they would pair brilliantly with a bold tahini dip.

Pepper Power presents a strong showing for the most basic option. Thoroughly flecked with ground black pepper, each bite provides a nice balance of spice and salt, creating a subtle warmth that doesn’t overwhelm. By contrast, Sriracha Sunshine takes a bolder approach, but falls far short of its scoville target. The initial taste is of vinegar, with a timid heat following quietly, slow to build up steam. Excess sweetness brings down the spice considerably for these morsels, but in the case of Happenin’ Hickory, that same quality creates a pleasing balance. Accented with tomato, onion, and garlic, the overall effect delivers the impression of barbecue sauce more than pure hickory smoke, but is highly munchable nonetheless.

For those with a sweet tooth, Hippeas has something for you, too! The taste of Maple Haze rings true for pancake syrup with subtle buttery undertones. Take a bag with you to the theater next time; I think they’d make delightful alternative to caramel corn.

The full line of Hippeas aren’t perfect across the board, but one thing is for sure: They’ve mastered the elusive ways of the puff, and taken the “junk” out of this particular junk food favorite. There’s a whole lot to savor if you stick with the top hits.