10 Things to Buy at the Grocery Store This Week That Aren’t Meat (and What to Make with Them)

updated May 18, 2020
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Weeknight General Tso’s Tofu

To cut straight to the chase, there’s a potential meat shortage upon us, due to supply chain disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. And while your favorite cuts probably won’t disappear altogether, grocery stores like Costco are limiting fresh meat right now. All of this isn’t to say that you need to go full-on vegetarian, but now is a good time to get acquainted with some meat alternatives that make for satisfying meals. 

So many of us have turned to cooking as a distraction from everything going on, so why not broaden your kitchen experiments beyond sourdough and banana bread? Why not see what you can do with a block of tempeh, or a humble can of chickpeas? If you’re not sure where to start, here are 10 meatless ingredients that make for satisfying main dishes, and exactly how to use them.

Credit: Joe Lingeman
Brown Rice Bowl with Lentils, Caramelized Onions & Fried Egg

1. Lentils

Whether you’re using them for soup or tacos, hearty lentils are a quick-cooking meat alternative that take on pretty much any flavor you add to them. Dried lentils are inexpensive and easy to store in the pantry, and they cook on the stovetop in just 30 minutes. If you need an extra-fast option, you can also buy them canned.

Recipes to Try

Credit: Chungah Rhee
Sheet Pan Honey-Sesame Tofu and Green Beans

2. Tofu

It wouldn’t be a list of meat alternatives without tofu, the OG soy-based protein that’s popular in cuisines across the world. There are lots of different kinds of tofu, so make sure you’re buying the right one for your recipe — silken tofu is good for blending and thickening, while extra-firm tofu is what you want if you’re hoping to use it as a meat stand-in. 

Recipes to Try

Spicy Peanut Tempeh Bowl

3. Tempeh

If the texture of tofu doesn’t appeal to you, try tempeh instead. Like tofu, it’s made from soybeans. Unlike tofu, the soybeans are fermented and then pressed into a firm block that has a grain-like texture and a slightly funky, nutty flavor. You can cut tempeh into strips and bake it with lots of seasoning, or add it to stir-fries in place of meat.

Recipes to Try

Chickpea and Cheddar Quesadillas

4. Chickpeas

When it comes to budget-friendly, meatless cooking, chickpeas are kind of a no-brainer. The starchy legumes can be added to soups, baked into a crispy snack or salad topper, or blended into hummus. Chickpeas are perfect for at-home lunches that you want to throw together quickly, but don’t underestimate their potential in more intricate evening meals.

Recipes to Try

Joe Yonan’s Sloppy Vegan Joe

5. Seitan

Since the start of the gluten-free craze, seitan has fallen by the wayside as a mainstream vegetarian protein (because it’s literally made of gluten). Obviously seitan is a no-go for anyone with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, but it’s a great, high-protein meat swap. You can make it at home with a bag of vital wheat gluten, or pick it up in the refrigerated section at most grocery stores. It’s chewier and denser than tofu, and while it soaks up whatever sauces or spices you cook it with, it also has a lot of savory flavor in its own right.

Recipes to Try

Credit: Lauren Volo
Loaded Black Bean Nachos

6. Black Beans

You might already add black beans to your enchiladas and your taco salads, so why not just make them the main event? The beans are so versatile, and you can either buy them dried and cook them yourself, or just stock up on the canned version. Like all beans, they’re high in healthy fiber and satisfying protein, so they’re great for stay-at-home meals that energize you without weighing you down.

Recipes to Try

Credit: Andrea Monzo
Mushroom and Garlic Spaghetti Dinner

7. Mushrooms

Yes, mushrooms are a vegetable. And no, they don’t contain much protein. But when cooked properly, mushrooms take on a texture and umami-like flavor that can satisfy even the most hard-core carnivores. Try using large mushrooms like portobellos to make burgers or sandwiches, and chopped-up smaller mushrooms (button, cremini, or shiitake) to approximate ground meat in soups and sauces. And if you’re willing to splurge, large mushrooms like oyster or hen of the woods can make tasty main dishes in their own right.

Recipes to Try

Credit: Joe Lingeman
Classic Vegetarian Nut Loaf

8. Walnuts

Sure, straight-up walnuts are a far cry from chicken breast or a braised piece of beef. But actually, soaked and chopped walnuts are a fun ground meat substitute in certain recipes. They’re also high in healthy unsaturated fats and pack a little bit of protein, so they’ll keep you satisfied. If you’re planning on cooking a recipe with walnuts, be sure to always buy the unsalted kind, and try to get them raw if you can.

Recipes to Try

Credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk
Maple-Sriracha Jackfruit Sandwich

9. Jackfruit

What it lacks in protein, shredded jackfruit makes up for in just how convincingly it resembles pulled meat. It’s pretty low-calorie, so it works best in dishes that have other hearty components, like sandwiched into a whole-wheat roll with avocado or piled atop a grain bowl. You can buy jackfruit pre-flavored or canned in brine at many supermarkets.

Recipe to Try

Credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk
Impossible Kofta Meatloaf with Spiced Yogurt and Tomato-Cucumber Salad

10. Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods Ground “Beef”

As fabulous as all of the above ingredients are, they’re not perfect substitutes for meat. If you’re craving a real burger or a Bolognese, and a mushroom cap or lentil sauce just doesn’t feel authentic, you can pick up a package of Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods ground “beef.” Both are expertly engineered with a long list of plant-based ingredients to taste about as much like meat as any non-meat ingredient ever could. I’ve spotted one or both at my local North Carolina grocery stores lately, so I’m guessing many of you could find them, too. And in terms of how to cook them? Treat them exactly as you would ground beef!

Recipes to Try

What’s your favorite meat alternative? How do you cook with it when you’re craving meat? Let us know in the comments!