No meat doesn't mean no flavor. 

By Stacey Ballis
November 14, 2019

In this day and age, we all have friends and family members who have chosen to reduce or forgo their intake of meat or animal products. Vegetarians, vegans, pescatarians, and flexitarians: Chances are pretty good that if you entertain, eventually someone is going to mention that they don’t eat meat. 

For me, despite being an unapologetic omnivore, as a hostess it is less of an annoyance than it is a challenge and an opportunity. Unless it is a huge party, I often like to address those diners by simply preparing the whole meal in their allowable range and pride myself on being able to make lovely plant-based dinners that satisfy even meat lovers. As such, I have learned how to both adapt some of my go-to recipes to be vegetarian or vegan, and learned some tips and tricks to bring serious flavor to those offerings. Some of is ttechnique, but it also helps to have a few crucial pantry items to up the flavor quotient of the meal. 

Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast is one of those products that can be a real powerhouse for vegetarian and vegan cooking. Even though it sounds like something that would be a dietary supplement, it is the best thing I have found for bringing a parmesan cheese flavor to foods. Whether you are shaking it on top of pasta, or adding it to popcorn, it is delicious.

Smoked Spices and Dried Fruits

Smoked sun-dried tomatoes and smoked paprika are two things I reach for when I need a replacement for bacon or another smoky flavor in a dish. When I needed to make a stock for cooking southern-style collard greens for vegetarians, the smoked sun-dried tomatoes replaced the usual ham hock and several non-vegetarians said they didn’t even realize the dish was meat-free!

Liquid Aminos

Liquid or coconut aminos are what I reach for if I am looking for a replacement for Worcestershire sauce in a recipe, or if I need a boost of umami in a sauce or soup. It is also a gluten-free option for replacing soy sauce or tamari and has much less sodium than regular soy if you have someone on a reduced-sodium diet.

Coconut Oil

No butter, no problem: Coconut oil is my usual choice for replacing butter in a lot of baking applications, but also for sautéing.

Dried Mushrooms

Dried mushrooms like porcini can be a wonderful way to boost meaty flavor, and their texture when rehydrated is a little denser and more hearty than fresh mushrooms. I also keep porcini powder on hand to boost sauces, soups and stews.

Miso Paste

Miso paste can be a terrific way to add depth and complexity to dishes that usually rely on meat to amp up their flavor, but also a terrific pairing to some of the meatier vegetables like sweet potatoes, squashes, and mushrooms, where it can either enhance earthy flavor or balance sweet.

Good Vegetable Stock

Better Than Bouillion No-Chicken Base is the closest thing I can find to chicken stock base that has no chicken, and it is my go-to for swapping out when an otherwise vegetarian dish calls for chicken stock, like many soups and stews. It is also a terrific addition to a pan sauce.

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