Meat Your Match

I love potatoes. I love meat. But, I don’t consider myself a “meat & potatoes” kind of guy.

Vegetables are my friend. I’d give up my toenails before I let go of pasta.

Variety is the key to a good eating, I think. I can do a meatless meal. I can also plow through a rack of ribs or a sinful steak like nobody’s business.

So, truthfully, I don’t think I’ll ever be a vegetarian. Religion doesn’t keep me from indulging in certain foods, so I’m lucky there. I thank my lucky stars that I’m not allergic to anything except ant bites… mean little suckers. Protein and good fats help me forget about what animals often go through before they make it to my kitchen.

I try to avoid ribeyes and fat-filled cuts of meats. I buy lean ground beef, and I trim my chicken better than Edward Scissorhands ever could. Still, there’s always the question: Could I go without meat?

My partner in cuisine crime and I decided to put ourselves to the test. No meat for at least five days. This isn’t about being trendy, or trying to embark on a new way of life. We know we eat a lot of meat, and we also know that that’s not always a good thing. Meat is also expensive, especially if you want the good stuff.

And, no, this isn’t a paid spot for Ronzoni, Barilla, or Green Giant… though I’d be glad to take their money instead of just giving them mine.

This is a test. I’m having to really think. How do I make up for the textures, flavors, and nutrients that meat provides, while staying true to the challenge?

According to The Vegetarian Resource Group, there are four kinds of vegetarians:
Lacto-Ovo – No meat, fish or fowl. Dairy and egg products are okay.
Ovo – No meat, fish, fowl or dairy products. Eggs are okay.
Lacto – No meat, fish, fowl or eggs. Dairy products are okay.
Vegan – No meat, fish, fowl, eggs, dairy or honey.

We’re going for the Lacto-Ovo category. I don’t feel like an animal has to go through hell to give me cheese, eggs, or honey. Maybe I’m wrong?

We thought about allowing fish, but I’m trying to stay away from that.

So, where does that leave us?

There’s the obvious: tofu. I think back to the vegetarian section of my college dining hall and I see these chalky, pocked, little cubes with colored sides.

Portobello mushrooms seem to always get pegged as “the other meat.”

That’s because they’re dark, and meaty. Plus, they give you protein, fiber, and have few calories. You can marinate and grill a whole cap, and you feel like you some semblance of a steak.
I opted to buy the sliced caps (same price as two whole caps). As I passed them in the produce section, I immediately thought “fajitas.”

This was a hit.

I cooked some red pepper and red onion slices for quite a while. They develop deep, rich flavor and they soften. In the meantime, I gave the ‘shroom slices a squirt of olive oil, a sprinkle of chili powder and cumin, and a shower in lime juice. I browned them until they softened just a bit.

Each corn tortilla (better for you than flour), a scoop of the peppers/onions, a dab of fat-free Greek yogurt (better for you than sour cream), a sprinkle of cheese (see, I couldn’t be vegan), and a squirt of hot sauce.

The body of the portobello tricks your brain into thinking there’s a tender piece of steak in there. The flavor’s there, even if the cow isn’t. You get a piece in each bite. Moooove over, skirt steak.

This was smokey, spicy, light and bright (from the citrus), and creamy (cheese/yogurt).

For a side, I used the same tortillas to make my own chips. Lay ’em out, brush ’em with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and garlic powder, cut into quarters, and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until light brown.

Guacamole (healthy fat from the avocado) gave the chips a place to play. Ole!

Our six ounce portion (three ounces each) came with roughly 60 calories, 6 grams of protein, and 6 grams of fiber. Not nearly as many calories as you’d find in steak. Keep in mind, though, steak would provide a lot more protein.

Night two was a bit more involved.

I went back to my new friend, the lentil. At first, I thought about using lentils for a “meat” sauce. That led me to think about a “meat” ball. I’ve made blackbean patties before, so why can’t a bean (technically a pulse) be used for a meatball?

Lentils are packed with protein. So, this was a no-brainer.

I cooked them the night before. I used a whole package, prepared according to the directions on the bag (just water and the lentils).

Once they cooked (40 minutes or so), I let them cool. Then, I portioned out 32 ounces. The rest went into the fridge for a salad.

I chose to use 32 ounces because I figure that I’d usually use 1-2 lbs. of ground beef for meatballs.

Before sticking them in the fridge, I mashed them up just a bit.

When I got home from work, I added the same kinds of ingredients I’d use to make a real meatball:


2 tbsp. chopped, Italian parsley
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 egg
3 tsp. of Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. onion powder
salt & pepper

I left out bread crumbs, because I didn’t want to add to the calorie count. Lentils aren’t exactly low-calorie.

Mix all the ingredients with your hands, then brown in a non-stick pan drizzled with olive oil.

Every time I rolled the “meat” balls, I added a bit of olive oil. Unlike ground beef, lentils don’t give off natural fat.

These smelled and looked like REAL meatballs. Each side had a good crust. Even with ground beef, I can’t make a round meatball, I don’t know why. The same held true for these.

In the taste category, these “meat” balls did the trick.

The Worcestershire really gave it a deep, meaty flavor. That sauce is notorious for giving meat that little something extra, and it did the trick here.

Side note: read your Worcestershire labels. I’d been using French’s. That brand and Heinz both contain corn syrup. Lea & Perrin’s doesn’t. Food for thought.

The lentils were a smidge of a let down in the texture department. They didn’t stand up like ground beef would. They kind of fell apart when you cut into them. There’s wasn’t anything to chew. That was my partner in cuisine crime’s only complaint, phew.

Overall, I’d say this was a winner of a substitute. I’d do it again. I think they’re okay as leftovers for one day. The crispy crust and overall texture really diminishes after the first day.

For night three, I moved on from the meat substitute state of mind and just went for a meat-free meal. Pizza!

I used a crust from The Fresh Market. One day I’ll let my friend Mary Lu teach me how to make pizza crust from scratch. I promise, ML.

The good thing about pizza is that you don’t always expect meat. Even though I love pepperoni, I’m good with veggies. Pizza is chewy, hearty, and homey. So you really don’t notice the animal’s absence.

To top the crust, I made a quick sauce (see the tip below). On top of that, I used fresh pineapple (small bits), sliced cherry peppers (see my Ingredient Introduction #5 post), thinly sliced red onion, fresh mozzarella, and shredded Parmesan cheese.

This pie puts your tongue in a tug-o-war.

It burns for a second, then basks in the glow from a candy-like pop.


I’ll admit it. Our flesh fast only lasted 3 days.

I didn’t notice a difference in the way I felt. But, I did realize just how much money you can save by leaving out meat for just a few days.

One pack of portobellos: $2.99
One pack of steak: $9-$12

One bag of lentils: less than $2
Two pounds of ground beef: $8-$12

Try giving up pigs, and cows, and chickens (oh my!). I’m sure you’ll find a substitute that meats your appetite.

Tip: Make your own pizza sauce (for 1 pie), fast:


1 6 oz. can of tomato paste (get the good stuff)
2 cloves of garlic, grated
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

Using a whisk, combine the ingredients, then stick them in the fridge while you’re at work or overnight. The flavors will make amore!


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Mary Lu Saylor says:

    This was pure genius! I love the options for the mushrooms and lentils. I will be trying them.
    I tried out a new recipe this week for BBQ chicken pizzas on whole wheat tortillas. Since it was a low cal recipe I thought the chicken looked a little skimpy and cut up some fresh mushrooms about the same size as the meat. I couldn’t tell the difference between the chicken and the mushrooms. Next time adios to the chicken in my book. I used a little pre-made BBQ sauce (I know you would have made your own!), cooked chicken, mushrooms, red onions and just a little smoked Gouda to top it off. Then I got crazy and added chopped avocado. They were easy and delicious.

    Yes, Michael we need to get your crust lesson in!

    1. Ut, oh… You called me Michael-I’m in trouble! šŸ˜‰
      Your pizzas sound great!
      I love bottled BBQ sauce… Sometimes making it from scratch is too much of a pain!

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