Well, RUABelle and I are 26 days into our 46 day Lenten vegetarian challenge. Yeah, I thought it was 40 days too. Apparently you’re not supposed to count the Sundays. Go figure. We haven’t come off of Lent on Sundays, even though a certain somebody has been begging for a cheeseburger. I’m not even Catholic, so I consider this a test of self-control and I don’t want to fall off the wagon.
It hasn’t been as painful as I worried, but I am pretty tired of soup and caesar salads. I thought it might be a good time to give you all “The Carnivore’s Guide to Meatless Products” in case any of y’all want to attempt this in the future.
First the misses:
Nothing we’ve eaten has been horrendous, but some have been worse than others. Our main complaints have been an overly strong soy taste in some products and the consistency and mouth feel of some of the meat substitutes.
One of the first things we tried was a chipotle tempeh salad from Wild Oats deli section. It got a resounding “eh” from both of us. Like many things we’ve tried, it was better on a tortilla chip to give it some texture.
We’ve cooked with quite a few of the “Smart” line of products from LiteLines. Some were definitely better than others. Smart Pepperoni-not so much. We added it to a fresh tomato pasta sauce to try to conceal the soy taste, but it was like eating matchbooks. It was to real pepperoni what Arbys is to real roast beef.
Morningstar breakfast links were a item of disagreement. I was fine with them, but then again I was eating them with pancakes so the syrup masked some of the flavor. RUABelle thought they were too mushy.
Smart BBQ shredded vegetable protein (I could have definitely done without the subtitle) was another we disagreed on. While it’s no Mothership, I thought it tasted just about like any other grocery store bbq I’ve ever scooped out of a tub. It helped that I toasted the hamburger buns so that the soggy wheat germ or whatever the heck it was didn’t soak through the bun as quickly. The sauce was not overpowering, but the whole schmeer was kinda stringy and disconcertingly unidentifiable. The package was supposed to have three servings in the pouch, but it barely made two small sandwiches. I’ll wait until after Easter and get me some real bbq. (that Hutch owes me.)
The last miss was the Smart Taco product. I had high hopes for this since I figured I like bean burritos anyway, so how bad could it be? The answer is pretty darn bad. Maybe the problem was that we made soft tacos in whole wheat tortillas, but on the whole it was like something from a “Survivor” eating competition. We decided it might be passable as an element of nachos with some nice crispy lettuce on top to overcome the mealiness.
So now the good news. There are two things that we look for in a successful vegetarian product. Of course we care about how it tastes. Is it good on its own or is it good at mimicking whatever it is supposed to be a substitute for? Secondly, we have what we call “The DogDoc Test.” Would it fool our good friend who is a 99.9% carnivore? Now that he’s reading this, he’ll probably never come over for dinner again. The winners below passed both of these conditions.
First and foremost was something that you should order the next time you go out to eat at PF Chang’s. Get the vegetarian lettuce wraps! I think they may even be a buck or two cheaper than the chicken wraps, but I defy you to tell the difference once you’ve put on that rockin’ chile sauce they make tableside. The chicken is normally shredded anyway, so the tofu is a perfectly acceptable sub.
Several folks have recommended Morningstar Tofu Corn Dogs to us. They were all correct. Now, I wouldn’t microwave them, but if you take the time to bake them in the oven (or God forbid deep fry them), they are every bit as good as your typical Sonic Drive-in carnival midway fare.
Boca Breakfast Patties don’t taste as good as some of the sagey farm-fresh sausage that we can get in the small groceries around Sewanee, but it’s at least as good as what Jimmy Dean foists upon us as mass-produced pork tubes. We’ve had trouble finding this particular brand anywhere we shop, but when we can get it, we enjoy it.
Smart Bacon tasted pretty much like Baco’s. Because that’s pretty much what Baco’s are. With bacon possibly being God’s perfect food, Smart’s a got a tough row to hoe. But crumbled on top of a salad or as part of a nice BLT with some really good L and T, it gets the job done.
A surprise to me was the Smart Soy Cheese Substitute. I was unaware we were even giving up dairy during Lent, but it somehow made the way into our grocery cart. It’s at least as tasty as most other American cheese slices that you’d put on top of a sandwich, so if you’re willing to aim low you can at least hit a Shetland Pony every now and then.
Our staple food has been the Smart Ground product. I have to ask RUABelle to leave the room when I start cooking with it, because it comes in a tube and looks a lot like that stuff from the “Products from Uranus” commercial which was either in “Kentucky Fried Movie” or “The Groove Tube.” It has the texture and aroma of refried beans when you first start working with it, but once you get it broken apart and cooking in a skillet with a little olive oil, it could actually pass as ground beef. It’s downright tolerable, especially when you use it in pasta sauces or mix it with some bread crumbs to make a “meatloaf” or some “meatballs” which you can torque up a little bit with spices.
So in conclusion, we’re making it work. It’s not been fun, but we know that it’s been good for us. I’ve lost a lot of weight and RUABelle is noticing that she feels a lot more toned in certain parts of her body which has apparently been storing up lard for the past few years. Who knew that’s where you were supposed to store it? And dang, we’re regular now. I was about a month behind on back issues of “Entertainment Weekly” before Lent began, but now I’m completely caught up and halfway through Anna Karenina. Don’t try to call my cell phone at 7:00 am, 9:30 am or 10:00 pm. I’ll be indisposed.