Last weekend I decided to do it…to just try to go 99% vegetarian. Meaning there are only exceptions for holidays and maybe sushi a few times a year. While I am generally a fabulous cook and can make some darn good vegetarian unprocessed stuff myself (lentil loaf, lentil meatballs, chili from dried beans, etc.), my grad student life style means I don’t have a ton of time to prepare food from scratch all the time.
As such, I’ve been buying more vegetarian fake meat products. In order to not eat a metric buttload of calories, I need a lot of protein. Soy products suffice. I’ve also been curiously trying vegan things, just for the sake of trying them, knowing that a vegan lifestyle is generally most sustainable for the environment. Here’s a review of what I’ve tried that was memorable from the past few years up to more recently:
Frozen Meals/Quick Food:
- Kashi frozen meals - Mayan harvest bake, Three Cheese Penne, Spicy Black Bean Enchiladas. The first and the last are better than the middle. Kashi’s frozen meals retain a good texture and taste wholesome and satisfying, with complex flavors you wouldn’t usually find in frozen meals. Only downside is that the instructions for cooking are a bit more complicated than some other frozen meals (2 to 3 step rather than 1 step).
- Sukhi’s Naanwiches, Garden Vegetable – Very good flavor, especially with the naan. Probably best if toaster ovened though. Not super filling.
- Fortune Avenue Vegetarian Potstickers – presteamed, so they’re quick to cook. You can microwave these in a minute and a half. These are my favorite vegetarian potstickers. They don’t taste like meat, but they have a nice rich flavor and good texture and chewy veggies in there!
- Amy’s Tofu Scramble Breakfast Wrap – Avoid! How can something taste so much like cardboard through the entire bite? Bleh.
- Trader Joe’s Black Bean and Cheese Taquitos – These are addictive and surprisingly fairly low calorie. They make a great snack or meal when paired with some salsa to dip them in. A bit dry, but good flavor.
- Trader Joe’s Paneer Tikka Masala – While this has a great flavor and good texture, it’s just not enough to keep me full. I like the green rice with it though, and the tikka masala sauce is good.
- Trader Joe’s Eggplant Parmesan – Good flavor, but not enough in the meal to keep me full. And definitely not enough cheese for an eggplant Parmesan!
- Trader Joe’s Tarte d’Champignon – A flatbread pizza type thing with cheese and mushrooms. Amazing and rich and so good. Bring it to a foodie potluck and people will be amazed. Wait no, bring me one please.
- Gardein Beefless Tips – The *best* beef substitute. Hands down. I’ve used them for many things, from stew to sliced and browned in vegetarian pho.
- Gardein Chick’n Scallopini – a decent chicken substitute. It has a good texture, but the flavor is a bit celery-like. Browns nicely.
- Trader Joe’s Soy Chorizo – uh-maaaay-zing. Same flavor profile as the meaty version but with less fat. Great scrambled with eggs.
- Tofurky Peppered Deli Slices – skip these. Go for the Hickory Smoked and add your own fresh ground pepper.
- Tofurky Hickory Smoked Deli Slices – the best fake meat lunch meat. It has the best texture and a rich flavor and a slight hint of smokiness. Enough protein to be satisfying. I make my sandwiches that I eat on the train out of these!
- Trader Joe’s Chickenless Strips – I didn’t let myself eat chicken strips before. Now I do. These are healthier but also tasty. They also make great sandwiches.
- Gardein Chipotle Lime Chick’n Fingers – yuck. It tasted someone dipped chicken fingers in lemon cleanser. No taste of Chipotle at all. Gardein should retire these or reformulate them. They have a nice texture of crust on the chick’n though.
- Morningstar Farms Bacon Strips – eh. They’ll work in something (like deviled eggs) if you really have a hankering for bacon, but they’re not that great by themselves. Salty for sure. Texture is kind of crunchy, vaguely cardboardy, but none of the chew of meat bacon.
- Morningstar Farms Grillers Veggie Crumbles – these are fine. Nothing to rave about really. They add the meaty texture to whatever you’re cooking (chili, shephard’s pie, veggie sloppy joes) but wouldn’t stand by themselves as much. You could just as soon just get TVP and do the same thing for cheaper.
- Morningstar Farms veggie sausage products – Skip the links and go for the patties. The links don’t have a great texture.The spicy patties are hard to find but particularly good. Better than the fake bacon.
- Whole Foods 365 Brand Veggie Sausage Patties – good flavor, but not low on calorie. Nice spices and seasonings, good texture. A little spicy but not too much for me!
- Trader Joe’s Soy Mozzarella – Trader Joe’s does it again. This soy cheese has a great texture and melts well, without the soy flavor of some vegan cheese substitutes. However, it does contain casein (a milk protein) so it’s not truly vegan. However, it didn’t bother my lactose intolerant tummy.
- Trader Joe’s Soy Creamery Chocolate Chip and Cherry – Love Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia? Lactose intolerant or vegan? This is like crack. No overwhelming soy flavor. You will have to stop yourself from eating the whole dang tub.
- Trader Joe’s Coconut Strawberry frozen dessert – Pretty good. Tangy strawberry flavor, slight hint of coconut, good mouth feel and moderately rich flavor. Different from strawberry ice cream, but in a good way. It’d probably make some good summer cocktails if blended with rum!
- Daiya Vegan Mozzarella/Cheddar Shreds – tastes like processed cheese product. If you like Kraft singles, you’ll probably like this. It melts well, but the Mozzarella and Cheddar kind of taste the same just with different colors. However, works ironically well in scrambled eggs… (I can see some vegans face-palming right now!)
- Pacific Organic Plain Unsweetened Almond Milk – almond milk generally works much better in coffee than soy or rice milk. The latter curdle. Yuck!
- Follow Your Heart Vegan Gourmet Cream Cheese – Bleh. Can the Daiya people make some cream cheese substitute? It’d definitely be better than this. This faux cream cheese has that cardboardy overwhelming soy flavor and texture that I dislike. This will probably sit in my fridge for a long while…maybe better in desserts though.
- Better than Bullion Vegetarian Beef Bullion: kind of flat and honestly doesn’t taste much different than their vegetable bullion (which is still a nice bullion substitute). Salty like a good beef bullion with a fair amount of umami, but adding it to vegetable broth and adding some mushrooms (crimini or porcini) will make the flavor better.
- Nuoc Mam Chay/Vegetarian Fish Sauce – similar funk to fish sauce, similar saltiness, but not fish sauce. But it will do in a pinch for Thai and Vietnamese cooking. Find it at Vietnamese grocery stores.
- Vegetarian Oyster Sauce – oysterless, but still great on broccoli. Stir fry with Gardein’s Beefless Tips and some chopped broccoli and satisfy your broccoli beef craving in no time!
- Amoy-D Curry Paste: Most Thai curry pastes are not vegetarian (most of them contain some shrimp product). However, Amoy-D is. It lacks a bit in the umami depth of the shrimpy curry pastes, but it works fine to make a good curry at home.
- Hummus: Trader Joe’s is the best. Sabra (sold at Costco and Safeway) is okay. It’s easy to make your own though if you have a food processor or blender and some canned garbanzos.
I hope you enjoyed those reviews above and avoid the things I’ve advised you to avoid! Unless you’re desperate, I guess.
As a side note, my mom (one of my greatest inspirations and person who I have to thank for my cooking capabilities) may be making a guest post sometime in the near future, so keep your eyes open for that!