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Mastering "Meatless": A Beginner's Guide To Eating Less Meat

Ready to take your first meat-free steps in the kitchen? We have you covered.
Lauren at SideChef
Recipe Editor 📝🍴Chipped dishware, breakfast for any meal, and eye-watering spice levels. Find me on Instagram @bitesbylauren

For many, eating meat is an unconsciously non-negotiable part of the day. Growing up, it was the common centerpiece of both lunch and dinner at my family's table, save for the occasional PB & J or cheesy pasta. When I moved away from the comfort and consistency of home (and someone else cooking for me!), I was shocked to discover that every meal doesn’t need meat to be complete, filling or delicious.

So to help others get to this same realization, I've put together this handy guide to help you avoid some of the hangups, common mistakes, and pitfalls of those new to cutting down. Will I judge you for indulging that steak craving? Of course not - I’ll probably even join you. But from one meat-eater to another, trust me, there’s a whole world of meatless cooking out there that will blow your mind.

Mind Your Mushrooms

When you first cut down on meat in your diet, it’s easy to miss that “meaty” texture. Without further ado, let me direct your attention to the loves of my life, mushrooms. They have a nice “meaty” texture once cooked, they bring umami, AND are great at absorbing any flavor. Look for recipes that feature mushrooms at their center - especially when paired with beans or lentils for a nice protein/carb boost, like this Smoky Mushroom Bolognese with Burrata & Fried Rosemary. Plus, they’re super hard to overcook, which makes them a great ingredient to experiment with.

Pro-Tip: Get some dried Shiitake Mushrooms. You can usually find a bag of these shriveled, shelf-stable beauties at your local grocery store. After 20 minutes of soaking in hot water, they are the perfect texture boost for chilis, stews, and pasta.

Let’s Talk Tofu

Have you ever excitedly bought tofu, cooked it, and gone to dig in - only to find it disappointingly “bland”? You’re not alone. Like certain cuts of meat, tofu can become 100 times better if you give it time to soak up some flavor before cooking it, like this Rosemary Coffee Marinated Tofu.

Pro-Tip: Texture is important. If you want to avoid “mushy” tofu that falls apart the second it hits the pan, here’s what to do: look for the firmest tofu possible at the store (it should be labeled as firm or even extra-firm). Then make sure to “drain” it before cooking. To do this, cut the block in half lengthwise. Place the halves on a towel-covered plate, layer another towel over the piece, and place a heavy object on top (cast iron pan, a cutting board with a couple of cans on it, anything will work). Let the towel absorb the moisture for 20-30 minutes (up to overnight). After this process will end up with tofu that’s much more durable and “chewy”.

You can also look for recipes with other soy-products that have a “meatier” texture, such as tempeh, and soy curls.

Navigating Beans and Lentils

Beans and lentils are the superstars of any vegan, vegetarian, or meat-reducing meal plan because of their high fiber and protein content. Also, they taste amazing, and are so, so versatile. They’re good hot and cold, so any season goes. They’re great in soup, made into dip, thrown into a salad, or just roasted for the perfect salty snack.

Pro-Tip: Dried vs Canned. While some people will insist that dried beans are the only way to go flavor-wise, I personally think that in most recipes the convenience of canned beans is too good to pass up.

Don’t Forget to Season!

If you’re considering cutting down on the meat in your life (or even if you aren’t), consider refreshing your kitchen spices - spices lose a lot of their potency and flavor over time, even if they’ve been stored properly.

Pro-tip: Learn to use salt. Trust me on this one, it will change your life. If you’re nervous about oversalting when you see (to taste), go in small increments, tasting at each step until the flavors in the dish start to “pop”.

Eggs- Not Just For Breakfast

My final piece of advice for those of you trying to cut down on meat, learning to cook, or just looking for a weeknight dinner hack: learn how to cook eggs in a ton of different ways. Serious! With fried, poached, boiled, scrambled, and baked eggs at your disposal, you will be able to reap the benefits that this little protein bomb provides.

Pro-Tip: Put an egg on it! Whether it’s a simple salad recipe with a poached egg on top, some eggs scrambled into that veggie stir fry, or even just a leftover bowl of chili with a lightly fried egg on top, you really can’t go wrong with putting eggs on things. I love these simple Instant Pot Soft Boiled Eggs.

Whether you’re doing it for your wallet, your health, the planet, or all three, you can’t go wrong with cutting down on eating meat. Happy Cooking!

Recipe Editor 📝🍴Chipped dishware, breakfast for any meal, and eye-watering spice levels. Find me on Instagram @bitesbylauren
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