In 2020, I want to prepare more plant-based meals at home. Factors like health and sustainable agriculture play a role but my desire for more culinary options is a HUGE driver. As the primary cook for a family of five, I am pretty much chickened out. On average, we have chicken three nights a week – that’s a whopping 156 dinners in a year! However, not everyone in the family is as adventurous as I am at trying new foods. Just the other night, one of my kiddos stirred the chicken tortilla soup to inspect the ingredients, questioning the black beans—ugh. In order to make this transition, I need help, so the plant-based transition is not too extreme. But I feel a little overwhelmed about where to start and I know I’m not alone. So, I sat down with Campbell R&D Chef, Omar Rivera, with questions on how to start. This month, we feature part one in a two-part series on cooking with plant-based ingredients that focuses on substitutions for animal protein. Here’s what I learned about preparing plant-based dishes at home.
Williams: Plant-based ingredients can feel unfamiliar to a lot of families. I want the transition to be smooth, without the “in-house food inspector” (AKA my 8-year-old daughter) noticing too many changes. How do you recommend people start experimenting with this trend without going too far out of their comfort zone, too quickly?
Rivera: It’s a good idea to start slow and incorporate a small portion of a meat alternative like mushrooms, beans and jackfruit in place of your traditional animal protein. Certain plant-based foods mimic the flavor and texture of a given animal protein better. Start by substituting about ¼ of the meat with a plant-based ingredient.
Williams: When switching to more plant-based foods are there ingredients that work better to substitute for certain animal proteins than others?
Rivera: Yes. You need to consider the taste, texture and mouthfeel of the animal protein and then pair it with a suitable plant-based ingredient. For example, I like to use a variety of mushrooms like portobello, shiitake, and porcini because when cooked, they not only deliver the firm and chewy texture associated with beef but also the umami flavor profile. A very simple mushroom recipe you can make at home is a blended burger, just finely chop the mushrooms, sauté to remove the extra moisture and then combine with some ground beef and form into umami-rich patties.
Williams: That makes sense. Clearly, I am very interested in substitutes or ingredients that pair well with chicken! What plant foods do you recommend?
Rivera: When it comes to shredded chicken or pork, jackfruit is a great substitute. To prepare jackfruit, season as desired and toss with olive oil, then roast until golden brown. Pair jackfruit with legumes to provide more protein.
Cooked, white quinoa can also be a good choice when replacing a portion of ground chicken in a recipe. Toast the quinoa before boiling for an earthy flavor that masks the bitter aftertaste that cooked quinoa tends to have. Then substitute for a portion of ground chicken.
If you want to mimic a chicken or fish cutlet, tofu is a great substitute. You want to start by pressing a block of extra firm tofu for a couple hours between two heavy objects such as cutting boards. This will get rid of some of the water within the tofu, making the texture chewy and the tofu more compact. You can then take the pressed tofu block and slice it into cutlets, marinate it in a flavorful liquid, and then grill, sauté, stir-fry, or even bread and fry as you would a piece of chicken or fish.
Williams: I need to take a step back regarding jackfruit. I know firsthand that jackfruit can be intimidating, especially when you see it in the produce aisle. But I think that is ripe jackfruit intended to be eaten as fruit because of its sweetness. Where do I find the version you are talking about in the store?
Rivera: Most times, the fresh jackfruits you see in the produce aisle are ripe and ready to eat as a fruit. Ripe jackfruit has a soft and sticky texture and a very sweet flavor with subtle notes of mango, pineapple, and banana. When it comes to cooking with jackfruit, it is best to use unripe and unseasoned fruit. Young jackfruit has a very stringy texture and barely any flavor, making it a great blank canvas for any type of dish, as it takes on whichever flavor you season it with. Young jackfruit usually comes canned or in pouches and can be found in the canned fruit and vegetable aisle of the grocery store or in specialty Asian markets. Make sure the jackfruit comes in either water or brine as the one packaged in syrup will be way too sweet.
I love making jackfruit tortilla soup. I make it by adding roasted jackfruit, corn, roasted poblano peppers, diced tomato, cumin, chili powder, black beans, and red quinoa to a pot of simmering Swanson® Vegetable broth. I then finish it with a squeeze of fresh lime juice, chopped cilantro, and crushed Late July® tortilla chips.
Williams: Just when I think I have seen it all, I find fishless canned tuna in the marketplace! What plant-based substitute would be ideal for seafood?
Rivera: Tempeh can be a great substitute for seafood because of its flaky, chewy texture. How you season tempeh can have a big impact on mimicking the seafood flavor. Bring out a seafood-like flavor from tempeh by marinating in a mixture of kombu, which is edible kelp, or seaweed, lemon juice and Old Bay® seasoning.
Another great substitute for seafood is lion’s mane mushrooms. Lion’s mane mushrooms have a sweet and savory flavor and a stringy and very meaty texture when sautéed, very reminiscent of crab and lobster.
Whether your clients are just starting out with plant-based cooking at home or looking for new ideas, we hope these substitutions for animal proteins will inspire them to explore the delicious diversity provided by plant-based ingredients!
Omar’s BioChef Omar Rivera is a Research & Development Chef for the Campbell’s Culinary Innovation Hub. He demonstrates and supports the delivery of culinary impact across the Meals and Beverages organization. He also supports culinary enterprise initiatives such as TrendPulse, which leverages culinary observations and insights to drive innovation across the portfolio. Previously Chef Omar was a chef contractor and culinary co-op with Campbell, working on new product and recipe inspirations across the Meals and Beverages and Campbell Snacks divisions. He is also a Lead Chef for Constellation Culinary Group in Philadelphia. Omar graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, with a Bachelor of Professional Studies degree in culinary science and an associate of occupational studies degree in baking and pastry arts.
Kate’s BioKate received her bachelor's degree in dietetics from the University of Delaware and completed her dietetic internship at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. She has over ten years of experience in a variety of nutrition-related practice areas including clinical nutrition, weight management counseling, health and wellness and nutrition education. Kate has worked as a nutrition consultant to the Campbell Soup Company since 2005.