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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The Other Wheat Meat

Living “High on the Hog” has always meant enjoying the finer things in life, originally in reference to the choicest cuts of meat found on the upper half of the animal, which almost always meant one thing: ham. For many, a holiday just isn’t a proper celebration without a lavish roast on the table to both flaunt and share their prosperity. Such deeply ingrained customs are slowly evolving right alongside the shifting landscape of food preferences, so it was only a matter of time before someone was bold enough to take this tradition to task. I can’t think of any company more qualified to do so than Tofurky.

Makers of the original alternative roast, touting veganism before it was cool, Tofurky hasn’t stopped innovating since that fateful first product launch over 30 years ago. Trussed in genuine butcher’s twine and accordingly crosshatched by the pressure, the Vegetarian Ham Roast plays along to fit the bill, albeit on a much smaller scale. This beige football is said to feed five, but presumably a full feast with additional side dishes could stretch that number if need be.

Sharing many qualities with the classic turkey substitute, this porkless roast thaws out from a frozen state to meet a toasty preheated oven for about 1 1/2 hours of cooking. The biggest difference is that this rendition has no stuffing inside, but exterior embellishment instead. Included in the box is an “Extra Special Beer Glaze;” a thick syrup featuring Hopworks Velvet ESB, with a slightly granular texture owing to the inclusion of coarse, stone ground mustard. Make no mistake, it’s very sweet, first and foremost, but ultimately a good contrast to the saltiness of the roast.

That said, I had other plans for my roast and decided against the glaze, in favor of a more nuanced, herbaceous root beer brine, playing off the complex spices from the soda and contrasting with the savory heft of the roast. Dense, chewy, and quite solid, the texture is best when sliced thinly. No one would mistake it for meat, no doubt about that, but it’s a welcome departure from the standard faux-fowl or straight soybean fare for more festive occasions. Additionally, leftovers are brilliant additions to typically porky dishes, like a simple pot of creamy white beans or split pea soup. Since ham isn’t an entree that I encountered frequently as a child, it resonates more as a flavorful, protein-packed new ingredient than a whole entree for me.

That’s why I was especially excited to play around with the extra slices to make mock chashu, a Japanese form of marinated pork belly. Fanned out atop a bowlful of hot, steaming ramen, the visual and flavorful impact was quite stunning. Even with my otherwise humble assortment of vegetables cobbled together out of the pantry, this meal became an instant, unforgettable hit thanks to that exceptional meatless inclusion.

As further recipe experimentation has proven, this new plant-based ham roast provides more than just an annual comestible experience, but a promising year-round addition to anyone’s daily menu.

Root Beer Brined Ham

1 12-Ounce Bottle (1 1/2 Cups) Sugar-Sweetened Root Beer
1/4 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Black Peppercorns
1 Teaspoon Brown Mustard Seeds
1/2 Teaspoon Whole Allspice Berries
1/2 Teaspoon Whole Cloves
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Thyme
1 Bay Leaf
1 Tofurky Ham Roast

Simply combine all of the ingredients in a medium-sized pan and bring to a vigorous boil. Turn off the heat, cover, and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate and let the roast marinate for at least 12 hours, but ideally 24 or even 48 if you can bare the wait.

To cook, bake the roast in a preheated 350 degree oven for 75 – 90 minutes, until golden brown on the outside and hot all the way through. Meanwhile, set the leftover brine back on the stove and simmer until reduced to a thick, syrupy sauce.

Slice thinly and serve with the root beer reduction on the side.

Makes 5 Servings

Printable Recipe

Chashu

3/4 Cup Water
1 Tablespoon Toasted Sesame Oil
1 Tablespoon Agave Nectar
1 Tablespoon Red Miso Paste
2 Tablespoons Reduced-Sodium Soy Sauce
1/4 Cup Mirin
1 Inch Fresh Ginger, Sliced
2 Cloves Garlic, Sliced
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 Tofurky Ham Roast

Just like the previous preparation, this procedure couldn’t be simpler. Simply combine all of the ingredients in a medium-sized pan and bring to a vigorous boil. Turn off the heat, cover, and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate and let the roast marinate for at least 8 hours.

Slice thinly and add to your favorite bowl of ramen noodles to serve. The warmth of the soup should reheat the slices without any additional cooking necessary.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

Printable Recipe