Mystery meat, no more. A descendant of Medieval meat patties from around 400 CE, the concept of meatloaf truly rose to mainstream popularity in the late 1800s, to remain an indispensable American entree for generations to come. As a thrifty way to stretch a humble protein and feed a family, it’s an accessible, affordable way for everyone to eat well. Of course, the original couldn’t be farther from a healthy choice. Build upon a foundation of cheap ground beef, bound together with beaten egg, and baked into a leaden brick, I stayed far away from meatloaf as a kid. In fact, I never even ate it until going vegan. Ever since then, I’ve been on a quest to make it better, rich enough to win over omnivores and picky eaters alike.
Even if you didn’t grow up loving meatloaf, my umami-bomb vegan version will become a fast favorite. To create a meatless replica, it takes a delicate balance of carefully layered flavors and textures. Made with a combination of authentically meaty alternative grounds and humble chickpeas, the formula allows the incredibly beefy flavor and texture to shine through, while making up the bulk with cheaper beans. Enhanced by deeply savory Sugimoto shiitake mushrooms, no one will miss the animal products, if anyone notices they’re absent at all.
Achieving the ideal texture is all about technique. Start by using a loaf pan to get a consistent rectangular shape and press the crumbles together gently, without smashing them down into a solid meat brick. Then, after pre-baking to set up, the whole thing is removed and transferred to a sheet pan, allowing the sides to brown and the whole thing to breathe. Otherwise, it simply steams, rather than roasts, creating an unpleasant mushy consistency all the way through. If you’ve ever suffered through a pasty lump of mystery meat, you know how badly it can all go wrong- But the solution is just that simple.
Beyond the obvious flavors that will hook you after the first bite, there are plenty of reasons to add this recipe into regular meal rotation. It’s great right away, hot out of the oven, but the leftovers are quite possibly even better. That’s because the umami quotient of Sugimoto shiitake multiplies over time. Make the most of this secret ingredient by preparing the loaf well in advance. Cover and refrigerate for a week or freeze the slices for up to 6 months. While you’re at it, you might as well double the quantities to stock up on meals for later.
When it comes to pairing side dishes to round out the dinner plate, you really can’t go wrong. Such an accommodating flavor profile plays nicely with just about any vegetable or starch, but here are some fool-proof ideas for rounding out your plate:
- Mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes, baked potatoes, potato wedges; pretty much any kind of potato
- Buttered noodles, plain pasta, or couscous
- Corn on the cob or creamed corn
- Steamed green beans, asparagus, broccoli, or peas
- Leafy side salad
Love every loaf by tweaking the final finish so you’ll never get bored. Straight ketchup is the standard glaze, but I like a less sweet, punchier version made from tomato sauce, mustard, and date syrup. That’s not to say there are no other options. BBQ sauce is an especially great ready-made topper, adding a spicy, smoky flavor. If you really like it hot, try Buffalo sauce instead. Finally, to accentuate the shiitake, lean into that Asian inspiration with teriyaki, hoisin, or plum sauce.
Also consider making mini meatloaves in muffin cups for consistent single servings and crispier edges all around. In case you want to make a half batch, this is the solution to a flat, skimpy loaf that barely fills a traditional rectangular pan. Plus, if you’re catering to diverse tastes, you can glaze each one differently to appease all preferences.
It turns out you don’t even need to like meat to love meatloaf. Anything beef can do, plants can do better- Especially with Sugimoto shiitake mushrooms in the mix.