We buy very, very little meat.
Growing up, I didn’t have a no meat diet, but it was close, and honestly, I find a lot of it rather gross. On top of that, it’s expensive – the main reason David didn’t fight our little-meat diet too much. Over the years, he even grew to somewhat appreciate it. Our kids have grown up for the most part with meatless spaghetti, meatless taco salad, etc. so it hasn’t really been something that they miss.
However, there are some dishes that could just use something meaty, and I’m rather anti getting my hands slimy with raw egg, so…
I made up very inexpensive vegan meat substitutes that we love!
What I’ve figured out is that bulgur and lentils make a great “meat” base that can be adapted for different dishes. In the past I have tried plain lentil burgers and plain black bean burgers, which we liked, but the bulgur/lentil combination just works better, in my opinion.
I’m not sure how I came across bulgur, but it’s kind of awesome, and I don’t know why people don’t use it more! According to How Stuff Works, bulgur is what’s left after wheat kernels have been steamed, dried, and crushed.
Bulgur is a low-glycemic food, low-fat, and low-calorie. It has 151 calories and 6 grams of protein per cup cooked. For perspective, a cup of bulgur has fewer calories, less fat, and more than twice the fiber of brown rice. It’s also a good source of iron, B-6, and folate, according to various websites.
Lentils, according to World’s Healthiest Foods, help lower cholesterol, their high fiber content prevents blood sugar levels from rising rapidly after a meal, and they help to prevent heart disease. They’re also a good source of B-vitamins, protein, folate, magnesium, iron, zinc, and potassium. They’re higher calories at 230 per cup, however.
Bulgur is a frugal addition to a Dave Ramsey rice and beans diet.
I already mentioned several ways that bulgur beats out rice, and while it’s not quite as cheap as rice, it packs a punch that I think is worth it for the added variety. At our local bulk foods store I get brown rice for 55¢/lb and bulgur for 74¢/lb. $1.72 got me 5.5 cups, which basically doubles when cooked. Even if I didn’t add the lentils (90¢/lb), it would probably last us for a good 4 meals or more depending on what we used it for. I use little tricks to stretch everything 🙂
How to use this frugal meat substitute base for various dishes or freezer meals:
I feel like the lentils help to vary the texture of the bulgur a bit, while also adding in some good nutrients. In this short video I show you how I mush the lentils a bit before adding the bulgur, what the texture looks like, and how it fries up into burgers, meatballs, and ground “hamburger”.
Cooking & Seasoning:
Bulgur cooks with a 2:1 water to bulgur ratio, and after boiling, only takes about 15 minutes. Lentils normally use a 2:1 ratio also, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually measured when cooking them because I’m usually making soup or something that I don’t care if there’s extra “juice”. For this purpose, it definitely works better if the lentils are mushier, so just add more water as you find necessary while they’re cooking. Cooking time for lentils is 20-30 minutes, but I don’t really pay attention to that, either – I’m really giving you confidence in my cooking abilities, huh? LOL – sorry, I’m one of those “annoying” people who doesn’t use recipes.
For the video I used the plain bulgur/lentil base, with no seasoning or extras, but there are so many possibilities with it, similar to what you might do with real hamburger if you wanted to hide some veggies in it or how you would season it differently for different dishes. Since we’re not actually vegans or vegetarians, I often add chicken bouillon to the mixture (I know, kinda weird, but I like the flavor of chicken better than beef.) Obviously you could add whatever you like.
Basically, you can use anything you would normally use to season meat – the possibilities are kind of endless. If you want to add anything like onions, garlic, peppers, carrots, etc. you’ll want to saute or otherwise at least mostly cook them before adding to the mixture to fry up into burgers, meatballs, hamburger, or whatever else you dream up.
One of the things I love about this meat substitute is that it freezes great. Neither bulgur nor lentils take very long to cook, but it’s still faster to be able to just pull it out of the freezer like hamburger. If you want to make burgers or meatballs, you’ll need to pull it out in time to thaw, the same as if you were using actual hamburger. I can’t vouch for how it holds up in the microwave, though, because we haven’t had one for 6+ years.
You can choose to season your bulgur/lentil mixture before freezing it, or wait until you’re cooking it into your meal. You can also saute the garlic, onions, carrots, etc. that you want as part of your mixture and freeze it all together, or again, you can wait until you’re making it into a meal.
Here are some of the variations I’ve done:
Vegetarian or Vegan Taco Meat for Tacos, Taco Salad, or Burritos
We often mix spiral noodles with our “meat” mixture to stretch things and help us fill up a bit more (before discovering bulgur, it would often just be beans with the noodles in place of meat). I took some of this meat substitute to a friend’s house to make taco salad for our families one night and I wasn’t sure how kids who weren’t used to it would do, but they ate it up like they didn’t know the difference. My friend told me that her 10 year old son later mentioned to her that “maybe she could make it like Christina did”. Kid approved!
These are just a couple of the things you could try for veggie burgers. You can always take stuff out or add other stuff. Don’t be afraid to try – even if it doesn’t hold together as well as you might like, you can always try adding an egg or a sauce, or beefing it up with a little quick oats or something. If nothing else, it will probably at least taste good 🙂 Our kids always love these!
Vegetarian or Vegan Meatballs
So far I’ve only made these meatballs with Italian flavors, but I bet they’d be yummy with BBQ sauce, too!
Vegetarian or Vegan Hamburger for Curry
I’ve always loved curry, but our kids haven’t learned to appreciate it quite as much yet, so I haven’t made this as often. For this, I don’t try to mix the garbanzos in as part of the “meat” per se, they maintain their individuality, but it can still all be frozen together. I like to saute things like zucchini and carrots and then add the “meat” stuff to fry up together.
I’m sure you can come up with many, many other healthy, inexpensive recipes with this bulgur/lentil base. I’d love to know what you try!