Just in time for your Cinco de Mayo celebration – a new post and a slightly unusual twist for John…
I’m an omnivore by nature – I tend to live by Andrew Zimmern’s philosophy on Bizarre Foods “if it looks good, eat it”, and many times I have skipped the whole “if it looks good” part and just moved on to step 2. I have meddled with vegetarian(ish) foods before on multiple occasions, but most of those experiments (with the obvious exception of the Soyrizo tamales posted elsewhere on this blog) have simply been recipes involving cooking nothing but vegetables, which I have discovered was kind of cheating.
I will be the first to admit that I have never done a tremendous amount of research into what truly is and isn’t a “vegetarian friendly” food, which may explain why Amity often edits my post categories to remove “Vegetarian & Vegan” before sending me a terse email explaining why I was wrong. I actually became gun shy about using that category, and was even a little twitchy about using it for this one, but I did my homework this time!
Over the course of the past month or so, I have had a couple of opportunities to casually discuss vegetarian foods with someone who actually lives the lifestyle, and it was those chats that pointed out some of the flaws in my thinking. Perfect example – I had no clue that the rennet used in cheesemaking often comes from animal sources and is considered a no-no for a vegetarian meal. I though all cheese was alike except for how it tasted, so that was a wee bit of a shock and I actually had to read labels for this post instead of just chucking cheese in the basket and moving on. Luckily for me, the habanero cheddar I recently fell in love with at Whole Foods happened to use vegetarian enzymes, so I kinda skated by on that one!
The main ingredient in these two recipes comes from the shelves of one of my favorite stores in the food world – Trader Joes. Now that there is one here in town and I no longer have to travel an hour or more each way just to get my almond butter fix, I can also experiment with the refrigerated and frozen products that I never bought on the long trips due to the risk of melting / spoilage. Two of those things that I recently bought on a whim are the “Beef-Less Strips” and “Beef-Less Ground Beef”. The original intent was to make some sort of Thai dish with the things, but with Cinco de Mayo right around the corner (and after some serious issues finding vegetarian-friendly alternatives to things like red curry paste and fish sauce) I decided it would be much easier just going with a simple pair of Mexican dishes instead.
My first thoughts upon opening the packages of meatless meat was just how much the stuff resembled real meat. The strips pulled apart into very realistic looking meat strips, and the ground beef looked almost exactly like cooked ground beef. The best part – they both held up perfectly to cooking, with the strips even browning in a hot pan just like a piece of beef would. And the taste was pretty impressive too – it wasn’t an exact beef replacement, but it was pretty darn close.
With the packages of “meat” all opened up and filling the counter (I went a little overboard), I grabbed an onion, some pre-made fajita seasoning mix, and two bell peppers for the fajitas, then started pulling random things out of the pantry and spice cabinet for a “from scratch” taco seasoning. Less than 30 minutes later, I was filling tortillas with 100% vegetarian friendly Mexican grub and chowing down.
Was it good enough to make me give up meat entirely? Probably not, but it was good enough to make me want to experiment more with the two beefless beef products and other styles of cooking, and I need to work on getting back in shape, so reducing my already low level of real beef intake can’t hurt. I really want to try the ground beef-less in a pot of rich, red chili and there is a fiery Thai red curry bath in store for some of the strips once I figure out how to replace a few ingredients to keep the dish truly vegetarian. But enough of that – on to the Mexican recipes!