cooking lightWhether you are vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, omnivorous, locavorian, or an “clean your plate” eater, there are many times and reasons to reduce meat. Budget, health, environmental concerns, kosher meals, or simply vegetarian company. I’ve been subscribing to Cooking Light for a couple of years now, and truly enjoy the magazine. Unfortunately, their classic and new American cooking is still oriented around a meat with two sides (only 6 of their “40 recipes under 40 minutes” were vegetarian and 3 of those were Mac & Cheese). Obviously, there are some that may not hold up well when tinkered with, but conversion is possible for many. Stock and broth are easy; use vegetable, garlic, or mushroom. Simple substitution options for whole or ground meats include: tofu, eggs, beans and lentils, mushrooms, grains, nuts/seeds, and more complex items like bean burgers. All of the examples below are from the April 2013 issue.

When substituting a vegetarian protein source in a dish, I balance:
1) Seasonings and proteins with complementary flavors
2) Textures
3) Culturally-appropriate options
4) Personal tastes (I’m not a tempeh fan, so I haven’t even talked about it.)
5) Overall protein already available in the meal.

There are some substitutions that simply lead to a seriously boring meal. Tofu, for example, is bland enough that trading it for chicken braised in wine and rosemary will do neither the tofu nor the rosemary a good service. Instead, consider what vegetarian proteins cultures that use wine and rosemary eat in addition to chicken. Eggs, white beans, and risotto all pop into my mind. In meal where you have other protein sources in side, appetizer, or dessert, barley or rice risotto might be a lovely option while a quick meal without other protein sources might work best with poached eggs.

On the other hand, pressed tofu would be a great choice in Hoison-Glazed Steak with Sesame Vegetables. The sauce would complement the tofu nicely, and pressed tofu would offer a slightly heartier texture to support the grilling. Pressed tofu would also probably work quite nicely with the Roasted Salmon with Soy-Marmalade Glaze. In both of these recipes, the sauce offers a dominant savory flavor that tofu lacks. Allowing the tofu extra time to marinate in the sauce, or using another marinade, can add extra flavor. Culture leads again: the classic Asian combination of soy-based fermented sauces and tofu points the way to tofu as an viable option for both recipes.

Other ideas (be sure to rename them before serving!):
1. Substitute kidney beans for steak in the Warm Potato and Steak Salad.
2. Trade toasted pine nuts for bacon in the BLT Salad with Eggs Sunny Side Up.
3. Swap black bean (and cheese?)-stuffed corn tortillas for chicken in the Chicken with Quick Chile Verde
4. Skip the pancetta altogether in the Pizza Arrabiata, or use some briney black olives
5. Sub in mushrooms for steak in the Bistro Steak with Red Wine Sauce (start out the meal with a bowl of hearty bean soup)
6. Use chickpeas instead of tuna in the Tuna Salad Nicoise
7. Poach eggs instead of mussels in Mussels in Smoky Poblano-Cilantro Broth
8. Try a black bean burger instead of steak in Steak Sandwiches with Fresh Herb Topping
9. Use ground nuts and cooked quinoa mixed with an egg to make “meatballs” for Barbecue Turkey Meatballs
10. Trade in extra mushrooms and lentils for the beef in Beef and Mushroom Stroganoff

Happy Substitution!