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Here's How Popular "Miracle" Meatless And Dairy-Free Recipes Actually Taste

I'm trying to eat less meat, so I decided to cook outside of my comfort zone.

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Hannah Wong / BuzzFeed

Hey! I'm Hannah, and while I'm not vegan or vegetarian, I try to avoid eating a ton of meat in my diet.

Especially red meat. And it's not that I don't like the taste of meat. (I do!) But for health reasons and because I feel best when I'm eating a mostly vegetarian diet, I'm always looking for new plant-based recipes that actually taste good.
Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

Especially red meat. And it's not that I don't like the taste of meat. (I do!) But for health reasons and because I feel best when I'm eating a mostly vegetarian diet, I'm always looking for new plant-based recipes that actually taste good.

Luckily, there's no shortage of meatless recipes out there — but TBH, I'm often skeptical of them.

For example, can the average at-home cook actually turn cauliflower into something that resembles General Tso's chicken, or make canned jackfruit pass for pulled pork?
Pinterest

For example, can the average at-home cook actually turn cauliflower into something that resembles General Tso's chicken, or make canned jackfruit pass for pulled pork?

So in the name of ~meatless science~, I gathered some of the most popular meat-free recipes and products (plus two ridiculously good-looking dairy-free recipes) and put them to the test.

Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

Here's how everything went down...

1. "Pork" Sliders With BBQ Jackfruit

Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

The idea: I've been hearing about jackfruit more and more often. It's a fruit, but some say that when it's cooked properly, jackfruit has a similar texture and consistency to meat. Since the flavor is very mild, it also apparently takes on the taste of whatever sauce it's cooked in. So I grabbed a recipe for faux-BBQ sliders from Minimalist Baker, picked up some canned jackfruit from Trader Joe's, and got to work.

Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

Did it work? Yes. And I'm shook. 👀

The results: This BBQ jackfruit, while not quite as smoky and savory as the real deal, was surprisingly similar. To make it: I drained the canned jackfruit, seasoned it with a rub, and then cooked it in barbecue sauce. After about 25 minutes, I shredded it with two forks and was shocked at how similar the texture was to that of actual pulled pork. The jackfruit also completely took on the flavor of the barbecue sauce, and the texture — a little bit chewy, but still tender — made it taste a lot like a pulled pork sandwich. My only complaint is that the jackfruit came out a little bit sweet, which could have been the result of the BBQ sauce I used. Next time I make this recipe, I'd try adding some liquid smoke to the BBQ sauce to try to achieve a slightly smokier flavor.

2. Carrot "Bacon"

Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed, @hudson_the_cavapoo / Instagram

The idea: Between my boyfriend — who is a serious carnivore — and our dog, bacon is a hot commodity in my apartment. And while I love the taste of bacon, I know that I probably shouldn't be eating it all the time. So when I came across a recipe for carrot bacon, I was...skeptical (to say the least.) But intrigued.

Did it work? Sadly, no.The results: If you're looking for a really good roasted carrot recipe, give this a try. If you're looking for a legit bacon substitute, forget it. The marinade, which is made with tahini, maple syrup, soy sauce, and liquid smoke, definitely gives the carrots a smoky-sweet taste once they're roasted. But the veggies didn't get nearly as crispy as real bacon. I let my carrots roast for 10 minutes longer than the recipe calls for, and even while the edges started to char, the carrots were still sort of soggy. This could have been my fault, because I had a hard time slicing the carrots super thinly (as the recipe points out, I should have used a Y-peeler or mandoline), but even my thinnest slices didn't crisp up. This was a no.
Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

Did it work? Sadly, no.

The results: If you're looking for a really good roasted carrot recipe, give this a try. If you're looking for a legit bacon substitute, forget it. The marinade, which is made with tahini, maple syrup, soy sauce, and liquid smoke, definitely gives the carrots a smoky-sweet taste once they're roasted. But the veggies didn't get nearly as crispy as real bacon. I let my carrots roast for 10 minutes longer than the recipe calls for, and even while the edges started to char, the carrots were still sort of soggy. This could have been my fault, because I had a hard time slicing the carrots super thinly (as the recipe points out, I should have used a Y-peeler or mandoline), but even my thinnest slices didn't crisp up. This was a no.

3. Mushroom Bolognese

Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

The idea: Pasta is one of my favorite weeknight meals, and I have a few recipes that I make time and time again — like pasta with Bolognese sauce. So I hunted down a vegetarian version made with mushrooms. This dish looked hearty and rich and rustic, just like real Bolognese. But how did it taste?

Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

Did it work? You bet.

The results: I admit this recipe was a bit ~fancier~ than simple spaghetti in tomato sauce, but if you follow the instructions, it's really easy to make. The sauce is made with chopped carrots, onion, celery, and a whole lot of mushrooms, which are simmered in red wine, vegetable broth, and tomato sauce. Once you make the sauce, just toss in whatever cooked pasta you like best, and voilà. The mushrooms gave the pasta the perfect chewy texture, which was similar to meat sauce. I only used a combination of white button and baby bella mushrooms, but when I make this again, I'll also throw in some cremini and porcini mushrooms, and I'll chop the veggies even smaller to better mimic real Bolognese. But for a first attempt, this dish was delicious.

4. Cauliflower and Walnut Taco "Meat"

The idea: I love tacos in any form. Breakfast tacos, fish tacos, carnitas...you name it. I order vegetarian tacos often when I go out for Mexican food, but I never really think of making them at home. So when I came across a recipe for cauliflower and walnut taco "meat," I decided to give it a try. The recipe calls for just five ingredients, and you can use it however you'd typically use ground meat — in anything from tacos and burritos to rice bowls.

Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed
Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

Did it work? Yes! 🌮

The results: This recipe was really easy. You basically just pulse all of the ingredients together in a food processor (or in my case, a blender), toss it on a greased sheet pan, and roast the cauliflower/walnut mixture for about 30 minutes until it's golden brown. The final consistency was really similar to that of ground beef, and the flavor wasn't too far off, thanks to the spices. But be warned: If you don't like walnuts, you probably won't like this because you can definitely still taste them through the spices. My one critique is that the taco-walnut filling was a bit dry, but a squeeze of lime juice or some hot sauce would do the trick to make it more moist.

5. Vegan-Friendly Gardein Chick'n

The idea: While researching this post, I noticed that Gardein kept popping up as a favorite on food blogs and in my conversations with friends. The brand makes vegan-friendly "chicken" out of wheat, soy, and vegetables — and people seemingly rave about it. I decided to try two frozen chick'n products (the mandarin crispy chick'n and seven-grain crispy tenders) to see if they lived up to the hype.
Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

The idea: While researching this post, I noticed that Gardein kept popping up as a favorite on food blogs and in my conversations with friends. The brand makes vegan-friendly "chicken" out of wheat, soy, and vegetables — and people seemingly rave about it. I decided to try two frozen chick'n products (the mandarin crispy chick'n and seven-grain crispy tenders) to see if they lived up to the hype.

Did it work? I had to text my mother about this.
Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

Did it work? I had to text my mother about this.

Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

The results: No joke: I was blown away by this stuff. So blown away, in fact, that I had to immediately text my mother to tell her about my discovery. Both the tenders and the mandarin chick'n tasted so much like real chicken that if you blindfolded me and gave me these, along with real chicken tenders, I'm pretty sure I would not be able to tell the difference. This stuff would taste great in a salad, and I'm already planning to try it in wraps and stir-fries.

6. Eggless Breakfast Scramble With Chickpeas

Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

The idea: Now, first, let me say that I love eggs. In fact, my love for eggs is probably one of the main reasons why I could never go completely vegan. But different recipes for chickpea breakfast scrambles were popping up all over my Pinterest feed. They all called for similar ingredients — chickpeas, other veggies, nutritional yeast, and a bunch of spices — with the promise that the end result would mirror the soft, fluffy texture of scrambled eggs. I was curious how this one would taste IRL.

Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

Did it work? Negative.

The results: Turns out, making chickpeas pass for scrambled eggs is a lot harder than Pinterest makes it look. Despite soaking them overnight, the chickpeas didn't become light and airy like scrambled eggs. They still had a slight crunch to them. If you happen to love chickpeas, give this a try and wrap the scramble in a breakfast burrito or something. But I, personally, won't be making this again.

7. Sticky Sesame Cauliflower Bites

Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

The idea: In the world of meat-free eats, cauliflower seems to be king. Why? You can supposedly turn it into anything from pizza crust and rice to buffalo "wings" and even bagels. But I found this vegan recipe for sticky sesame cauliflower — and it looked a lot like my favorite Chinese chicken dish. What makes this recipe different from many others I've seen online is that it's baked from start to finish, no deep-frying necessary.

Did it work? Yes and no.The results: The sticky sesame cauliflower came out really good. In fact, it was probably one of the most delicious ways I've ever eaten cauliflower. But did it mimic the texture and taste of sesame chicken? Not quite. Although it was breaded, the cauliflower never got very crispy, and while I used cornstarch the way the recipe instructed, the sesame sauce didn't get very sticky. It was more similar to the consistency of soy sauce than of a glaze. That being said, for a dish that isn't fried, this was probably one of the more delicious veggie dishes I've made at home. I would definitely try this again and serve it over rice...or maybe even try a fried version to achieve a super-crispy texture.
Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

Did it work? Yes and no.

The results: The sticky sesame cauliflower came out really good. In fact, it was probably one of the most delicious ways I've ever eaten cauliflower. But did it mimic the texture and taste of sesame chicken? Not quite. Although it was breaded, the cauliflower never got very crispy, and while I used cornstarch the way the recipe instructed, the sesame sauce didn't get very sticky. It was more similar to the consistency of soy sauce than of a glaze. That being said, for a dish that isn't fried, this was probably one of the more delicious veggie dishes I've made at home. I would definitely try this again and serve it over rice...or maybe even try a fried version to achieve a super-crispy texture.

8. Crispy Tofu With Maple-Soy Glaze

Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

The idea: I don't dislike tofu, but IMO it always tastes pretty bland, and I've never found a recipe I like enough to justify cooking it. But I stumbled upon this recipe for an Asian-inspired crispy tofu with a maple-soy glaze, and it looked delicious. The dish called for firm tofu and a five-ingredient marinade of rice vinegar, maple syrup, soy sauce, red pepper flakes, ginger, and oil.

Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

Did it work? Surprisingly, yes.

The results: This recipe couldn't have been easier. I'm always intimidated by frying foods at home, but anyone could make this. The maple-soy sauce was good, and it really thickened and coated the tofu a slightly sweet, umami glaze. The key to this dish is that you really have to let the tofu drain. The more water you can get out of it, the crispier it will be. I wrapped the block of tofu in a few layers of paper towels and let it sit for about 10 minutes, pressing some of the water out every few minutes. As a result, this tofu turned golden brown and super crispy on all the sides. While it isn't necessarily the healthiest way to make tofu, it's the tastiest tofu I've ever been able to make at home.

9. Beyond Meat Vegan Burgers

Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed, @beyondmeat via Instagram

The idea: This was another one where that I noticed that friends, colleagues, and even BuzzFeed readers were all raving about these burgers from Beyond Meat. They make completely vegan burger patties that not only taste like real meat, but they also even (supposedly) "bleed" like a beef burger. I knew that if these actually lived up to the hype, both my boyfriend and I could agree on them for an easy weeknight dinner.

Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

Did it work? OMG.

The results: OK, literally sign me up to be a Beyond Meat spokesperson because these are crazy. The burgers tasted so much like meat that I had to go back and double-check the box to make sure these were, in fact, vegan. AND it's not just the taste. Because they're made with beets, the burgers turn red while being cooked just like beef, and they even "bleed" when you cut into them. My boyfriend actually liked these so much that the next night, he grabbed a patty and chopped it up over pasta with marinara sauce to make a meatless Bolognese sauce, which was pretty genius (and tasted awesome, too). I would 10/10 recommend these meatless burgers to anybody.

10. Vegan Mac 'n' "Cheese"

Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

The idea: If I had to give up every single food and eat only one thing for the rest of my life, I would choose to keep cheese. I am a cheese addict. I crave the stuff constantly, but unfortunately...I've noticed that eating cheese makes me feel bloated and makes my skin breakout. As a result, I've been trying to cut back on my favorite food (i.e., go, like, a single day without it.) I knew I had to try this stovetop vegan mac 'n' cheese. The photos looked unbelievably similar to the regular stuff I grew up eating and adored. But I wasn't sure what to expect, taste-wise.

Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

Did it work? Meh. Let me explain...

The results: This didn't taste bad. But if you're craving that sharp, gritty, cheesy flavor most people associate with mac 'n' cheese, this version will probably leave you disappointed. That being said, this recipe was so creamy and rich, it's hard to believe there's no milk or cream involved. My biggest complaint is that the mixture of pureed sweet potato, butternut squash, and coconut milk was still a bit sweet for my taste, even though the sauce calls for soy sauce and optional nutritional yeast (which I added). As the directions warn, this recipe made a ton of sauce (in fact, the noodles were drowning in it a bit). If I were to make this again, I would definitely go lighter on the sauce. Long story short, this won't replace my favorite cheesy mac 'n' cheese, but I'll definitely keep it in my arsenal for nights when I'm craving something that feels ~indulgent~ but is still semi-healthy.

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