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Go Veg: Our Favorite Whole Food Swaps

dude, organic corn rocks.

While I'm still an omnivore, I have made massive strides in the past year to decrease my intake of animal products in several ways that are all: a) delicious, b) inexpensive, c) organic, and d) not using processed foods as 'swaps'.

Some of them are fully vegan, others are vegetarian, but all are super tasty. So now when I look at any of the meat-based recipes in my cookbooks or recipe binder, I ask the question: can I swap the meat for something else? Several of my favorite ingredients to trade include:

  • Cauliflower - While it's something I absolutely detest raw, it magically transforms with heat, marinades, 'ricing', and other methods. Ever since I had an appetizer of roasted cauliflower with lemon creme fraiche at a restaurant near my first home in the Rose City, I decided to give it a chance.

  • Tofu - Something that when I was younger I hated the texture of, a decade or so ago I had 'chicken fried tofu' in a hot deli and everything changed, and I began to understand its multitude of uses and preparations. Now I buy organic extra-firm in bulk, y'all.

  • Mushrooms - I've always loved mushrooms ever since my mom stuffed them with little smokies and melted cheese on the holidays, but awoke to it's 'meaty' goodness years ago when I shared a portobello 'steak' at a - get this - steakhouse, and was transformed. After experimenting with the various types thanks to cookbooks like Shroom, as well as experiencing a hella good mushroom-infused dish at a hole in the wall Mexican joint on the coast near our old farm? Bring it on.

  • Delicata and Kabocha Squash - I have very picky tastes about squash. Frankly, a lot of it roasted tastes like arse. Distinct memories of my mother making acorn squash and gagging as I was forced to eat it at dinner. So I gingerly tried kabocha once at a class on mindful eating back in Portland that my old acupuncturist was teaching, and was happily surprised (I never realized that most pumpkin curry, which I love, often uses kubota...). And after planting a mislabeled packet of pumpkin seeds back at the farm a few years ago and ending up with delicata, which I'd never tried? I was in love. Very similar to my favorite root veg, the sweet potato, in taste, it's a perfect part of many Southeast Asian meals, Buddha bowls and Mexican entrees.

  • Garbanzo Beans - Someone explain to me why the veg crowd only refers to them as chickpeas...? Anyhow, something I only knew from the salad bar and hummus is now becoming a staple in our home, especially in the comfort food that is a great rice bowl. I'm still experimenting but it's definitely got me hooked!

I've tried other suggested swaps but they have either unimpressed me with their taste (jackfruit makes me want to gag) or are super duper processed (hello, seitan, soy curls, and 'textured protein' - the latter which in itself has no trustworthiness to its name). You'll never see me buying fake meat. It's truly about incorporating more organic whole foods (not scummy Amazon Whole Foods, btw).

Here are a number of my favorite swaps I've made that taste incredible:

Clockwise from top left:

  • Orange Sesame Tofu - Kick ass sub for Orange Chicken, with a fraction of the calories and way more flavor. I also like to jam in some Swiss Chard, kale or spinach between it and the rice to force more veg into my diet without it - because nothing makes it taste more heavenly than a bit of homemade orange sauce, trust me.

  • Garnet Yam Gnocchi with Pesto - So easy to make and while this isn't a sub for meat, it's so much more than a side dish or pie ingredient. Any root veg will work, including delicata, y'all.

  • Sweet Potato Soft Tacos - A perfect example of a sub for meat that is more flavorful, less expensive, and totally filling!

  • General Tso's Cauliflower - OK so you know how when you get this dish with meat it's usually just a deep-fried piece of something-or-other? Often there's more 'fry' than 'meat' when you get this, and so subbing a nice dipped & breaded piece of cauliflower ends up working really well. It also bakes and air fries exceptionally - and addictively.

  • King Trumpet 'Scallops' - I didn't believe it til I tried it that it would actually taste like a far more expensive scallop (one of my favorite shellfish). I don't seek out food to mimic the taste of another, but this recipe from Shroom was pure magic.

  • Coconut Chickpea Curry - Taking the simple garbanzo bean and using it for curry, or my other favorite peanut butter rice bowl, is kind of a life change. So much cheaper, organic, and filling AF, I can't recommend it highly enough. If you don't think you are a 'curry person' I definitely recommend trying various versions, because I only like a few of the curry flavor profiles at restaurants, and this recipe found on Pinterest changed my mind for sure.

I'll continue to share the vegan and vegetarian additions to our life on this blog and I hope these will help inspire! Sadly, too many articles and TV shows list vegetarian option as these gross bland plates of beans and veg, of sandwiches made with weird looking bread and highly processed (and therefore unhealthy & un-sustainable) fake meats. It doesn't have to be that way. The other night we made a pile of glorious vegan nachos with homemade (cashew-based) cheddar 'cheese' sauce that we ate til we bloated it was so good - okay y'all, I never thought I'd say THAT!

What adoption of vegan and vegetarian meals does for us, beyond lowering our carbon footprint and improving our overall health? It gives us VARIETY we never thought possible...and on a much lower budget. It allows us to experiment with cuisines - something we both love while partnering up in the kitchen (one of our favorite activities) - and learn new techniques. It teaches us about foods we might have otherwise passed on out of sheer ignorance, and it piques our curiosity. It's led me to learn how to make my own condiments, from hoisin to gochujang to mussaman curry paste and more. It's part science experiment as well, in that we see how foods react to different process, to how odd little things like aquafaba (the liquid leftover in a can of chickpeas) can be whipped into meringue, and how frozen blended bananas with a little bit of cacao can cure the common ice cream craving.

When we go out to eat now, while I've found this easier than my husband has, we are holding a lens to the foods we order. And honestly, because few cafes and restaurants care about serving meat that is ethically, humanely and sustainably sourced? It's a rarity that we order those dishes now. Oh and forget about organic when you go out - those eggs are almost always from chickens who never saw the light of day (making it not only inhumane but wildly unhealthy compared to the egg of an unstressed pastured bird). Along with that, the coffee that most baristas make is neither organic nor fair trade, the milk comes from factory farmed cows (or highly processed, chemical-laden non-dairy sources), all wrapped up in a plastic-lined paper cup with fossil-fuel based plastic lid. Ew. I can't change the entire world but I can ask questions and hope business owners will start to think about the impact of their decisions. So that's what I do. And in the meantime, I take accountability for what I put into my own body - both inside AND outside my home.

It's not easy, but it's so damn worth it. I am a butcher's wife, and we are both proud to say we are 80% vegetarian. When we do eat meat, we know the farmers who raised happy, healthy, organically-fed and humanely slaughtered meat (and yes, there IS a difference - having raised chooks myself for meat, their lives with us are night and day compared to anything you'll find in a grocery store - including 95% of what's offered at a co-op or other 'natural' shop...when you raise your own animals to eat, your approach is incredibly different, far more mindful, and more often than not honors the life you are taking rather than pisses all over it).

“Thousands of people who say they love animals sit down once or twice a day and enjoy the flesh of creatures who have been utterly deprived of everything that could make their lives worth living, and who endured the awful suffering and the terror of the abattoirs.”  ~ Jane Goodall


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