I’ve been a bit obsessed with ground beef subs. Why? Because ground beef is such a big part of the typical American diet and so to have a ‘go-to’ whole foods substitute to use in traditional recipes is a big bonus with the crowd I work with–namely people who switch suddenly to a plant-based diet for health reasons. You have to be willing to swap out ingredients depending on whether your diner is gluten sensitive, has an allergy to mushrooms or nuts, or is avoiding soy due to an estrogenic cancer. At my plant-based comfort food class, I’ll be providing more specific recipes. But for the moment, I will tell you some of the components I use when concocting a substitute for ground beef that will hold its own when used in recipes like hamburger helper, chili, sloppy joes and spaghetti bolognese.
Nothing beats a half cup of raw soaked walnuts, ground up in your food processor. Add a half cup of dried shitake mushrooms (grind these up, too), 8 oz. of drained and briefly frozen and crumbled tofu, and a half cup of bulgur wheat. Of these, all but the walnuts will act like a sponge and soak up liquid. I like to rub my tofu in spices–because recognizing bits of tofu is a real buzzkill for picky eaters. I usually use something like a tablespoon of low-sodium soy sauce, a little beer or red wine, and maybe some coffee. To that, I might add smoked paprika, chili powder, ground fennel seed, freshly ground black pepper, oregano, cumin or blackening spices. Once the tofu is coated, you can mix in the other ingredients. Note that if you are using bulgur and dried mushrooms, you’ll need to add extra liquid to keep the recipe in balance. This could take the form of tomatoes or sauce when making chili or beer when making sloppy joes. In the hamburger helper above, I used a combination of chopped tomatoes, tomato sauce and red wine.
Here’s a quick guide to swapping out ingredients based on your sensitivities.
Can’t do nuts? Do bulgur wheat
Can’t do tofu? Do navy beans, baked at 250 for 30 minutes in the oven
Can’t do mushrooms? Do well-rinsed ground up jackfruit or thoroughly squeezed ground up Butler soy curls.
The point is that the ground beef subs in your grocery store freezer case are highly-processed and filled with weird ingredients–including animal ingredients like egg whites. They’re also expensive! You can mimic the texture of ground beef quite well all on your own. When you’ve found the perfect blend, make a bunch and freeze it. That way your happy helper will be just as quick as the irradiated stuff that comes in the box.