With talks of all the environmental damage caused by consuming red meat, the appeal of veganism and vegetarianism grows with each passing day. While I still eat meat, I actively try to reduce my consumption, and the idea of cutting out meat completely can seem like an overwhelming and nearly impossible task. With all the meatless substitutes available, it shouldn’t be. If even a fast food chain like Burger King can release the impossible burger — a plant-based burger patty that “bleeds” like real meat — it’s no surprise that health food stores are buying into the lifestyle as well. After Trader Joe’s released its new version of the impossible burger — dubbed “Protein Patties”— I was inspired to try out some of their other meatless meat options. After consideration, I took up the meatless challenge for four days.
Night one consisted of spaghetti with artichoke sauce and Trader Joe’s Italian Sausage-less Sausage ($3.49 for a four-pack). Following the instructions, I pan-fried the soy-based links, cut them up and served them with the pasta. My first Meatless Monday wasn’t exactly off to a banging start. The texture was way off and despite an obvious effort with the Italian spices, which, I must admit, were prominent, it just tasted like soy. Putting my love for Italian sausage and my knowledge on the product aside, even if I had no idea what I was eating, I don’t think I would enjoy the taste. This might be the first time that Trader Joe’s has ever let me down.
For night two, I went with a pretty popular Trader Joe’s recipe — the jackfruit pulled pork. The jackfruit ($1.99) comes canned in brine. When I purchased it at the store, the cashier ringing me up asked how I make the jackfruit. I sincerely replied, “I’ll get back to you on that.”
The idea behind using jackfruit as a meat substitute is that when it’s cooked and shredded, it does resemble pulled pork. I put this claim to the test and after draining, shredding, and sauteeing the contents of the can, I dumped an absurd amount of barbecue sauce on it. Once the jackfruit was cooked, I assembled my barbecue pulled pork sandwich on ciabatta bread. It totally made up for the disappointment of night one. The texture and taste were so delicious that it doesn’t seem right to compare it to pulled pork, which I usually have a texture problem with because of the fat. Jackfruit is in a class of its own, and I will most definitely be returning to Trader Joe’s to tell the cashier exactly how to prepare it.
My most ambitious venture into the meat substitute world occurred on night three. I decided to make traditional Mexican papas con chorizo (pretty much just potatoes with chorizo) after the Mexican chorizo ($2.29) at Trader Joe’s caught my eye. Knowing that this was a soy-based sausage product as well, I hoped it wouldn’t let me down like the Italian version did. After sauteeing the chorizo with diced onions and garlic and mixing in diced boiled potatoes, I served the mixture on corn tortillas and garnished with salsa verde and cilantro. I have to say, I’m pretty sure my Mexican father would approve. This chorizo actually tasted like chorizo. It was so good I had to serve myself again knowing it had nothing to do with my cooking skills, considering years of feedback from the victims of my cheffing. Rest assured: this is an item worth adding to your basket.
When night four rolled around, I went for the marquee dish: protein patty burgers ($4.49). It was definitely the quickest dish of all four options to make. These patties are made of pea protein, beets, and sunflower oil. Just throw the patties on a skillet, cook them for three minutes on each side, and you’re ready to serve them to your liking. In all honesty, I slightly overcooked mine because I wasn’t aware that unlike meat, it’s normal for the protein patties to remain pink on the side once they are fully cooked.
If you don’t go into this dish expecting the taste of meat, you’ll enjoy it. The texture was extremely similar to any other beef burger I’ve had. The flavor, however, was definitely on more of the plant-based side, but it was tasty regardless. I wouldn’t hesitate to go back and purchase this item again, probably due to the simplicity of its preparation. As far as the meat substitutes went, it would be third on my list.
It’s easy to make excuses for why going meatless is hard, but accessibility and taste really shouldn’t be one of them! After trying four of the countless meat substitute options, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy and delicious they could be. That being said, whether you’re going for a lifestyle switch or just a new option for Meatless Monday, the environmental benefits of consuming less meat are scientifically indisputable. It’s an issue bigger than our taste buds.
A version of this article appears in the Monday, Feb. 18, 2020 print edition. Email Daniela Ortiz at [email protected]