Realistic (some say too realistic) vegan meats now mimic everything from hamburgers and hot dogs to sausages, steaks, turkey slices and chicken nuggets. People in Maine and across the nation are eating more of these plant-based proteins than ever before.

And guess what? Many who like animal-based meats are finding out they like vegan meats, too. Data from Nielsen revealed that between 2017 and 2018, retail sales of plant-based meat in the United States grew 23 percent. Market research firm Mintel reports that 80 percent of millennials eat vegan meat.

With so many vegan meats to choose from now, which are the best? And how should we handle them in our kitchens?

For answers, I turned to the local experts – Maine vegans – to find out which brands they recommend and how they cook with them. Two brands, it turns out, command the greatest popularity here: Gardein and Beyond Meat. Also, it seems that consumers of vegan meat aren’t especially brand loyal: they pick and choose, looking for what they like best from different vegan meat companies.

“My husband and I are equal opportunity,” said Tia Blackistone of Milford. “When we crave spicy chicken we get Boca or Quorn brand. MorningStar ones are good, too. We like the Dollar Tree veggie patties. We love Gardein and MorningStar for nuggets.”

MorningStar, which is owned by Kellogg’s, announced in March that it would convert all its vegetarian meats (containing egg or dairy) to vegan. Gardein’s robust line of meats are all-vegan and include turkey cutlets, chicken wings, ground beef, breakfast sausage, burgers and crab cakes.

Another take-away from the experts is that vegan meats, which typically come frozen or ready-to-eat in the refrigerated case, are simple to cook, requiring little more than heating. And unsurprisingly, vegans use the plant-based meats in ways that aren’t too different from how meat-eaters cook with them – grilling, pan-frying, sauteing, adding to sauce, etc.

Blackistone said she either pan fries or air fries vegan meat. Jennifer Miner of Unity prefers the grill.

“We like everything Gardein,” Miner said. “And the Beyond Meat burgers and sausages. We also love the spicy Quorn chicken patties.”

In June, select KFC fast food outlets in Britain tested a vegan chicken patty made by Quorn. It sold out in four days and boosted sales at the restaurants that sold it by 500 percent. Quorn also sells vegan chicken strips, fish sticks and Buffalo nuggets.

Michelle Goldman Winterberg of Standish always keeps Quorn chicken patties in her freezer. “I usually bake (them) in the toaster oven,” she said, “or just microwave if I can’t wait.”

Thomas Winton of Portland is a fan of Beyond Meat, which recently released a version of ground beef for making meatballs and meatloaf. Beyond Meat also sells vegan chicken strips.

“The Beyond Sausages are a staple on our grill now,” Winton said, “They’re absolutely delicious.”

In addition to grilling the sausages, Winton slices and sautés them to add to pizzas, calzones, stuffed shells and pasta sauce. He likes Maine-made Little Lad’s veggie burgers and Trader Joe’s soy chorizo, too, which he sautés to add to burritos and other Mexican-style dishes.

Biddeford resident Meghan Milan is not a big fan of vegan meat herself, but she cooks the Beyond Burgers on a grill pan for her omnivore husband, who she says “prefers them over beef burgers,” while Samara Kupferberg of Portland said her favorite vegan meat is the hot Italian Beyond Sausage cooked on the grill. Kupferberg also enjoys Dr. Praeger’s Buffalo chicken tenders, which she dips in Daiya brand ranch dressing.

When he first went vegan, Stephan-Minh Martin of Westbrook “lived off the Tofurky faux chicken like three times a week.” Since then he’s learned to cook and eat more beans and grains. Vegan meats, however, remain a part of his diet.

“We love the Gardein products, especially the meatballs, which I add to my daughter’s lunch when I make my potato sunflower sauces,” Martin said. “But I personally don’t crave them like I did the first three years (after) going vegan. Now it’s like a treat when I go to Bueno Loco (in Falmouth) and a get a seitan bean burrito.”

Having so many choices is a great problem to have, whether or not you’re a vegan.

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at

[email protected] 

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

Sunday Afternoon Grillers, from the soon-to-be-released cookbook, “The Best Veggie Burgers on the Planet.” Photo courtesy of Fair Winds Press

Meaty Sunday Afternoon Grillers

This recipe is from the upcoming “The Best Veggie Burgers on the Planet,” by Joni Marie Newman. The book is scheduled for release on Aug. 6 by Fair Winds Press, an imprint of Quatro Publishing Group. It sells for $22.99.

Yield: 6 to 8 patties

2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil

1 cup (96 g) TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein) granules

1 cup (235 ml) boiling vegetable broth or water

8 ounces (227 g) mushrooms, roughly chopped

1 white onion, roughly chopped

2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

1 cup (144 g) vital wheat gluten flour

¼ cup (30 g) nutritional yeast

¼ cup (60 ml) tamari or soy sauce

6 ounces (170 g) tomato paste

1 cup (96 g) diced scallion

Preheat the oil in a flat-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat.

In a heat-safe bowl, pour boiling broth over the TVP granules, cover, and let sit for 10 minutes.

While the TVP is reconstituting, add the mushrooms, onion, and garlic to the pan. Sauté for 5 to 6 minutes, or until fragrant and beginning to brown.

In a food processor, combine the sautéed mushroom mixture, reconstituted TVP, gluten flour, nutritional yeast, tamari and tomato paste. Process until well combined and “meaty” looking.

Transfer to a bowl and mix in the scallion. Form into 6 to 8 patties.

You can bake fry or grill these. To grill, use a lower flame, oil the grill, and slow cook them for about 10 minutes per side. BE PATIENT! Don’t flip them too early or they will stick, and you won’t get those sought-after grill marks.

These also freeze well.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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