The Newly Vegetarian Survival Guide and Lentil “Beef” Recipe

The Newly Vegetarian Survival Guide and Lentil “Beef” Recipe

A few years ago I did something kind of crazy, especially for a self-described foodie and food blogger--I stopped eating land animals. Do y’all remember the Great Straw Debacle of 2017? When everyone stopped using plastic straws? I researched it a bit, and discovered individuals using straws didn’t make a huge impact on the environment, as our plastic problem is a bit more intense than that. So, what could a single person do to reduce their carbon footprint?

The answer is simple--just reduce the amount of meat you eat

I didn’t even mean to stop eating meat entirely. It started with Meatless Monday. Easy enough to accomplish, simply don’t eat meat once a week. And something cool started to happen: I got excited about cooking again. Suddenly I was looking forward to Monday all week.

A plate of steak, mashed potatoes, and green beans totally plant-based
Yes, this is all 100% animal free!

Meatless Monday soon became Meatless Weekdays, and eventually I just didn’t have an appetite for meat at all anymore. I still will have the occasional fish, and when I travel I give myself some room to try the local cuisine, but overall I don’t keep meat in my house and I opt for meat free options when at a restaurant. Is this a slow trek to being fully vegan? Maybe! But it'll be quite slow if that's the case.

Don't worry, I don't press this on anyone nor do I think it's the ideal diet for everyone. But, if you want to make some positive environmental impact, I encourage you to check it out!

However, sometimes you just need a burger. What is the best meat-free burger that actually tastes meaty? Over the past few years I’ve collected my favorite meat-free alternatives and wanted to share them with anyone who wants to help the environment (and our furry friends!) but feel like they “just can’t” give up something tasty. These truly are the best meatless alternatives for new vegetarians!

Vegetarian Tacos
Fully vegetarian tacos from Rascal's in Santa Barbara

Read on for my New Vegetarian Survival Guide and the best meat free alternatives! I’ve even included a recipe for my homemade meat-free alternative.

Please note: this is NOT SPONSORED, just simply a roundup of my favorite meatless meats!

Beef & Burgers - Impossible Burger

I don’t know how to describe the first experience with Impossible. It’s a bit weird, a bit scary, and definitely delicious. I know it’s the most common plant based burger out there right now, but trust me when I say it’s truly the best if you’re looking for a real meaty tasting burger. It even BLEEDS. And it’s not just burgers, you can use it any place you would ground beef. I’ve even made a killer meatloaf that fooled my carnivore friends. Plus, it’s gone down significantly in price since its debut. Definitely top of the list to try!

Hot Dogs - Field Roast Ballpark

Hot dogs were always my favorite cookout treat. Tofu dogs… not so much. Somehow that salty, squelchy, mystery meat-y flavor profile that hot dogs have just seemed to not be able to be replicated by plants. While Field Roast’s Ballparks aren’t perfect, they certainly scratch the itch in a way other plant based meat tubes can’t. It’s my favorite replacement so far, especially charred to the dickens on a grill.

Chicken Patty/Tenders/Nuggets - Gardein Ultimate

I know that Gardein is the entry level fake meat, but trust me when I say that you will never know you’re eating plant protein and not pink sludge (gross...) when you bite into a juicy, crispy piece of Gardein Ultimate. I keep one of each in my freezer and have made copycat chicken sandwiches with spicy mayo that do the trick when I’m craving my favorite fast food fix (Popeye’s, it’s Popeyes). I know that chicken nuggets/patties are pretty easy to do sufficiently in plant based protein, but somehow Gardein hits it out of the park with this particular line.

Hooray Foods - Bacon

This is the hardest animal product to replicate, and I’ve had my heart broken multiple times by lesser plant bacon. But in came Hooray foods and saved the day. I always liked my bacon only slightly crispy, with a bit more chew, and fake bacons always just tasted like pure carbon. Hooray Foods uses tapioca starch to get that same texture and doesn’t go overboard with the liquid smoke. It’s only found at Whole Foods (and more recently Imperfect Produce), but you better believe I make a monthly trek to pick up a package of it to get my BLT cravings on.

And now, onto the recipe! When I don’t want to use an overly processed, store-bought plant-based ground beef, I pull out some lentils and make this Lentil Ground Beef Alternative instead. It’s protein rich and packed with flavor. You won’t even miss the moo, I promise!

Lentil Ground Beef Alternative

  • 1 cup cooked lentils (pro-tip: cook them in a savory veggie stock!)
  • 1 cup mushrooms, diced small
  • ¼ cup diced mushrooms
  • ¼ cup red wine
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tbsp butter (omit if vegan) + 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp vegetarian Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ tsp liquid smoke

In a saute pan over medium heat, melt the butter with the oil. Add the mushrooms, onions, and garlic, and saute until the onion is translucent. 

Pour in the red wine and let reduce a bit, then add the rest of the ingredients.

Use the back of a spoon to crush the lentils a bit, mixing well into the rest of the ingredients.

Remove from heat and use anywhere you’d use ground beef--I like using it in a shepherd’s pie, or adding taco seasoning for tacos!

If you want to use it in place of a burger: add the mix to a bowl and add either breadcrumbs (about ⅓ cup) or cooked quinoa (½ cup) with an egg or egg replacement. Mix until a dough-like texture forms. Form into patties and refrigerate until ready to use. 

First ever totally meatless Thanksgiving!

Friends, what do you think? Have you tried going meatless? Let me know in the comments!