When I served this vegan Basil “Chicken” to meat-eating guests the other day, they were blown away when I told them there was no meat or fish in the dish. “How did you do it?” they asked.
While turning a meat dish into a vegan alternative will always involve trade-offs, by choosing the right dish and getting creative with your choice of ingredients you can create a similar dish that’s just as delicious as the original. When considering how to substitute your ingredients, keep in mind that the goal is to reproduce the texture, taste and flavor of the meat.
The texture of ground meat is fairly easy to mimic using firm tofu that’s been frozen, thawed and thoroughly washed. The process creates a crumbly vegetarian meat that’s very similar in texture to ground meat.
Getting the taste and flavor right is a bit more of a challenge. Without the chicken or fish sauce, the dish lacks ingredients rich in amino acids that stimulate the umami taste receptors on your tongue. This is what normally gives meat and fish its savory taste. While no vegetable is going to taste exactly like chicken, mushrooms have the meatiest flavor and when browned, the Maillard reaction accentuates this similarity.
For the fish sauce, I’ve found that the closest vegan substitute is shiro shoyu(白しょうゆ) “white soy sauce”. It’s a Japanese soy sauce that’s light amber in color, has a fairly neutral flavor, and provides a boatload of umami. It’s not going to have the same aroma as fish sauce, but if you plug your nose and dab some on your tongue you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference. It can be difficult to find in the US, but I’ve seen it at Mitsuwa and it’s also available online.
Stir-fried along with plenty of garlic, onions and basil, these ingredients produce a delicious meat-free dish that’s more than just a second-rate substitute for the real thing.
Vegan Basil “Chicken”
Turn a meat dish into a vegan alternative by choosing your ingredients wisely for a similar dish that is equally delicious as the original. Food blogger Marc Matsumoto explains how to mimic the flavor, texture, and taste in a full post on the Fresh Tastes blog.
- 396 grams (14 ounces) firm tofu
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 100 grams (2.6 ounces) shiitake mushrooms, finely minced
- 2-3 large cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1-2 Thai bird chilies (to taste)
- 1/2 red bell pepper, sliced thin
- 1/2 small onion, sliced thin
- 1 teaspoons unrefined sugar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons white soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
- 25 grams Holy basil (or sweet basil if you can’t find it)
- Freeze, thaw and wash the tofu. See the post on vegetarian ground meat for the detailed process.
- Heat a pan over medium-high heat until hot. Add the oil and then add the mushrooms and garlic, sautéing until most of the moisture has evaporated and the mixture is very crumbly (about 10 minutes).
- Add the chili peppers, bell peppers, and onions and stir-fry until the onions and bell peppers are almost cooked.
- Add the vegan ground meat and stir-fry until the tofu has slightly browned.
- Add the sugar, white soy sauce and dark soy sauce, and continue stir-frying until all the liquid has been absorbed and the mixture is an even tan color.
- Finish by adding the basil and frying until bright green.
Yield: 2 servings
Marc Matsumoto is a culinary consultant and recipe repairman who shares his passion for good food through his website norecipes.com. For Marc, food is a life long journey of exploration, discovery and experimentation and he shares his escapades through his blog in the hopes that he inspires others to find their own culinary adventures. Marc’s been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and has made multiple appearances on NPR and the Food Network.