When you are spending your hard-earned cash on a meal in a vegetarian restaurant, you may be afraid to risk ordering an entree featuring ingredients you haven’t tried. But those scary sounding ingredients are really just special preparations of foods you know and love.
Here are a few frequent-fliers on vegetarian restaurant menus everywhere, along with some information on how they’re made, their texture, and their taste. Armed with this handy information, you can order that tofu wrap or grilled seitan sandwich with confidence that you’ll enjoy your meal.Learn more about them at vegan options near me .
Tofu is made from soybeans, the same bean you see growing in thousands of fields across the American Midwest. The beans are ground up and boiled to make soy milk. From here, the process is almost identical to cheese production, so much so that some of the same additives are used in both processes. Either a salt or a weak acid is added that makes the soy milk turn to curds. The curds are then pressed into blocks, the extra milk is drained off, and it is packaged.
Tofu has a texture similar to ricotta cheese or feta cheese. Like cheese, tofu doesn’t need to be cooked before it is eaten. It doesn’t have much flavor of its own, though, and readily absorbs flavors from the oils, spices and vegetables with which it is prepared. It’s especially good marinated and grilled with vegetables and is frequently served this way alone or on sandwiches in vegetarian restaurants.
Tempeh is similar to tofu but much firmer, more like a hard cheese. It is also made from soybeans, but rather than just using the milk, the entire bean is cooked and ground, pressed into molds and allowed to ferment for 24 to 36 hours. The result is a blocky, product with a texture similar to cheddar or mozzarella cheese. It can be used fresh or stored for future use by freezing or drying.
Tempeh does have a flavor of its own that is nutty and slightly meaty. It takes marinades well. It is almost always served cooked as it substitutes for meat in many dishes. Grated on a cheese grater, it resembles ground beef for tacos or chili. Sliced tempeh fries well, and tempeh bacon is a particularly popular breakfast option on many vegetarian restaurant brunch menus.
Unlike tofu and tempeh, seitan is made from wheat gluten. Basic wheat flour, the same stuff you use to bake cookies, is made into dough, which is then washed until the starch dissolves. The starch is rinsed away, leaving only the stretchy wheat gluten.
Seitan is always cooked before eaten. While tofu and tempeh resemble cheeses, seitan has a stretchy, stringy texture that is extremely similar to poultry. Some vegetarians don’t like seitan because it reminds them too much of meat. It has very little flavor of its own but it keeps marinade flavorings even better than meat. Vegetarian restaurants often feature grilled seitan and it is an especially popular sandwich filling. Now that you know what these common meat substitutes are, try one the next time you stop at a vegetarian restaurant. You won’t be disappointed.