How to Make Meat Alternatives From Scratch

God is a chicken-less nugget

It finally happened: After a lifelong relationship with chicken nuggets, the arrival of Beyond Burgers and meatless crumbles has convinced you to go vegetarian. But as you may well know, fake meats are normally heavily processed and lacking in the health department.

Making your own fake meats is an option, though, and one that you may want to consider if you care about staying alive for as long as possible. As Gloria Clay, vegan chef and blogger at My Kuntry Vegan Kitchen, says, “Meat alternatives are pretty simple.” 

Here are some suggestions…

How to Make Veggie Burgers and Dogs

There are all sorts of ways to make homemade veggie burgers and dogs. Clay suggests mashing together chickpeas (which could be swapped out for black beans), lentils and a small amount of oatmeal to hold the patty or dog together and provide a meaty texture. You can also mix in some chopped vegetables, and spice the mash per this recipe from Clay. Once the patties or dogs are formed, place them in the fridge for 15 minutes to set, then bake them for another 15 minutes or so.

If you want something a little more vegetable-heavy, Adam and Joanne Gallagher of the Inspired Taste cooking blog suggest this recipe. The gist: Start by lightly grinding some vegetables (whatever you like, although Clay says mushrooms are notably meaty) and spices in a food processor. Then, roast the ground vegetables and some black beans at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes each to remove any excess moisture, which would otherwise result in a soggy mash. Next, throw everything back into the food processor, add some breadcrumbs for texture and a couple eggs to bind the mixture. Finally, form the patties (or dogs) and cook them through on a cast iron pan or griddle.

How to Make Fake Meat Crumbles and Chicken-Less Nuggies

Again, there are all sorts of ways to recreate fake ground beef at home. Dana Hunnes, senior dietitian at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, suggests using seitan or super firm tofu. “It’s very chewy and has a somewhat meaty texture,” she says. “I like to spice it up in various ways, and it can be used in tacos instead of chicken or beef.”

For the best results, start by crumbling the seitan or tofu in a large mixing bowl. Then, add some olive oil and spices — garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, smoked paprika and salt and pepper can help replicate the flavor of ground beef. Next, either fry the seitan or tofu in a pan until brown, or bake it in the oven at 350 degrees. If you go the oven route, check it and give it a stir every 10 minutes or so until done. Hunnes does note, however, “It may not have quite the same consistency as a meat alternative product available on the market, since they have all the fancy food-science ingredients at their disposal.” But remember, those ingredients are the ones you want to keep to occasions, anyway.

If seitan and tofu weird you out, you could again turn to lentils for your meat crumble needs. “If you cook or even fry lentils until they’re al dente, then put them in a ‘meat sauce’ in place of meat, they kind of take on the texture of meat crumbles,” Hunnes says.

To make chicken-less nuggets, start by wrapping tofu in a paper towel and pressing it to remove any excess water, then slice it into nugget-sized pieces. In one bowl, make a batter by stirring together flour and water until smooth, but not too thin. In another bowl, mix breadcrumbs and spices — again, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, smoked paprika and salt and pepper are always good choices. Coat the tofu pieces in your batter, then in the breadcrumbs and spice mixture. Finally, bake them for 20 minutes at 375 degrees, flipping them over halfway through. Or, fry them in oil until golden brown. If you want more flavorful nuggets, you can always marinade the tofu beforehand in your preferred sauce and spice mixture.

Hope that helps, and hey… pass me a nug, will you?