A Twist On Tradition: Savory Meatless Options For Time-honored Recipes
By Patti Bess

Photography by: Rita Maas

There are certain dishes that hold pleasant emotional associations—foods that conjure up memories of family dinners, Sunday brunches or summertime barbecues. These traditional dishes may make us feel nourished in body and soul, but they're often made with hearty portions of meat and fat that we've since tried to limit or replace in our diets.

Finding ways to pass down these traditional foods without the bacon, hamhocks or grease they originally contained is a challenge. In recent years, however, meat alternatives have greatly improved in texture and flavor. They're also versatile enough to be incorporated into the hale and hearty fare of the comfort recipes of yore. Using meat substitutes is also a convenient way to get more soy in your diet, since many are made from soy derivatives. Many health benefits have been attributed to soy, which is also low in saturated fats and high in fiber (see "Soy-full Solutions").

The recipes that follow are dishes you may recognize from childhood—family traditions with a twist, tasty meals without the meat. These substitutes are great vegetarian alternatives—in fact, maybe even better than the originals. But don't tell mom.

Fettucine with Tempeh Bolognese
Serves 6

A meaty bolognese sauce is as much a part of an Italian heritage as pizza or spaghetti. This version is a good introduction to tempeh for those who've never used it.

1 large yellow onion, finely diced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
1 carrot, peeled and grated
4 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
3-4 teaspoon dried thyme
3-4 teaspoon ground fennel seed
1-2 teaspoon dried oregano
1-4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced (or 1-2 teaspoon, dried)
1 8-ounce package marinated tempeh, finely crumbled
3-4 cup dry red wine
1 28-ounce can organic tomato purée
1 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 cup minced fresh basil for garnish
Freshly grated parmesan cheese
12 ounces fettucine

1.In large sauté pan or skillet, sauté onion, celery, carrot and garlic in olive oil until onion is soft and slightly browned.

2.Add thyme, fennel seed, oregano, salt and rosemary. Stir in crumbled tempeh, and sauté for 5 additional minutes.

3.Add wine and tomatoes; cover and simmer sauce for 20-30 minutes. Uncover and cook a few more minutes to thicken, adding pepper and fresh basil. Set aside and keep warm.

4.In large pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta until al dente. Drain and toss with sauce. Garnish with fresh parmesan.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 427 calories Fat: 11g % fat calories: 23% Cholesterol: 4mg Carbohydrate: 67g Protein: 19g

Tofu Stuffed Peppers
Serves 4

The texture of the tofu will be more crumbly and meat-like if you freeze it first, then thaw. Drain thawed tofu well—pressing the tofu between paper towels will release extra moisture—so that the flavors in the sauce are not diluted.

3/4 pound tofu, crumbled
4 large green peppers
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped or minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound mushrooms, washed and sliced
2 Roma tomatoes, diced
3/4 teaspoon salt, to taste
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, minced, or 1/4 teaspoon dried
2 teaspoons fresh marjoram, minced or 1 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 14-ounce can stewed tomatoes
1 cup cooked long-grain rice
1 Roma tomato, quartered
1/2 cup water
Freshly ground black pepper
Sour cream to garnish

1. When frozen tofu has thawed completely, drain as described above.

2. With small paring knife, cut out top of each green pepper and scoop out seeds and inner membrane. Set aside.

3. In 8-quart Dutch oven or small stockpot, sauté onions, garlic and tofu in olive oil, about 4-5 minutes.

4. Add mushrooms, salt, oregano, diced tomatoes and marjoram. Sauté for another 3­5 minutes.

5. Add soy sauce, stewed tomatoes and rice. Mix, and remove from heat.

6. Fill each pepper with mixture, pushing down gently with spoon to add more stuffing.

7. Quarter remaining tomato, and wedge each piece into top cavity of each pepper.

8. Place peppers in stockpot, leaving remaining tomato/rice mixture around the peppers.

9. Add water and grated black pepper; cover. Simmer for 20-25 minutes, until peppers are fork-tender but not mushy.

10. To serve, spoon extra sauce over peppers, and garnish with dollop of sour cream. Makes 4 servings as main course, or 8 if halved and presented as a side dish.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 306 calories Fat: 15g % fat calories: 41% Cholesterol: 6mg Carbohydrate: 35g Protein: 13g

Better Baked Beans
Serves 8-10

This dish brings back memories of picnics and family reunions. Cook in a large stockpot using a heat resister to maintain a low temperature, or in a crockpot. This recipe takes very little preparation time.

1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 package vegetarian bacon strips, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 package soy links or 10 ounces seitan, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 16-ounce cans vegetarian baked beans
1 16-ounce can lima beans or garbanzo beans, drained
1 16-ounce can kidney beans
1 cup ketchup
2 teaspoons liquid smoke
3 tablespoons white or apple cider vinegar
2-4 tablespoons brown sugar

1. Sauté onion in large skillet. Add bacon and soy links, and continue to sauté for an additional 3-4 minutes. Set aside to cool.

2. Transfer onions, bacon and soy links to a crockpot. Add beans, ketchup, liquid smoke, vinegar and sugar, and cook on high for about three hours, stirring occasionally. Or simmer, using a heat resister, if necessary, for 1-2 hours in large stockpot.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 354 calories Fat: 3g % fat calories: 7% Cholesterol: 0mg Carbohydrate: 60g Protein: 23g

Vegetable Kabobs With Seitan
Serves 6-8

Shish kabobs, traditional favorites usually made with sirloin steak, can be easily adapted. Quality metal skewers with notches are worth the extra cost; these will keep food from twisting every time you turn the kabobs on the grill.

1 package seitan, rinsed and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 bell peppers; use a variety of colors, cut into 1-1/2-inch pieces
1/2 pound mushrooms, rinsed
2-3 firm Roma tomatoes, quartered
2-3 small summer squash, cut into 3/4-inch-thick pieces
2-3 small onions or 1 medium red onion, quartered and layers separated
Pineapple chunks

1. Put seitan and all cut vegetables in large plastic container with tight-fitting lid. Add herb marinade (see recipe) and refrigerate for 6-12 hours, turning the container upside down or stirring every few hours so marinade soaks through vegetables.

2. Thread on metal skewers, making several skewers with seitan, peppers and onion. Make several other skewers with mushrooms, squash, tomatoes and pineapple. Both kabob types will grill in about the same amount of time.

3. Grill, turning occasionally, for 4-12 minutes.


1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, minced
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon honey or brown sugar
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
Salt and fresh-ground pepper

1. Place all ingredients in blender or food processor and mix.

2. Using a nonreactive bowl, pour over vegetables to marinate. Makes 1 cup.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 176 calories Fat: 8g % fat calories: 40% Cholesterol: 0mg Carbohydrate: 12g Protein: 16g

Tempeh and Potato Sausages
Serves 4

Eggs without sausage? Try this delicious option at the next family breakfast. They are simple to make as well as low in fat.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus additional oil for frying
8 ounces tempeh, finely crumbled
1 small russet potato, grated
3 green onions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons cornstarch or
1/4 cup unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon hickory smoke
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/3 teaspoon ground pepper
2 teaspoons tamari sauce
Sea salt to taste

1.Preheat extra oil in large skillet.

2.In large bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well with your hands. Form mixture into eight 3/4-inch-thick patties.

3.Cook sausage patties over medium heat on both sides until browned.

4.Serve warm with eggs, any style.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 218 calories Fat: 10g % fat calories: 42% Cholesterol: 0mg Carbohydrate: 21g Protein: 11g Patti Bess, a freelance writer whose work has appeared in many national publications, is the author of Vegetarian Barbecue (NTC Contemporary Publishing).