The meat ban in Maharashtra is causing waves in the social media activism of the country, but personally for me a ‘meat ban’ per se is not a novel thing. Though I am a non committal non vegetarian (I don’t look at the vegetarianism or non-vegetarianism of the dish, I only care about how delicious the food is) the thought that I cannot eat meat on certain days of the week or certain times in a year such as the nine days of Navratras irks me. Maybe I would not have eaten meat on those days anyway, but when someone says that I cannot I start itching to do so.
On vegetarian days, forced or otherwise, there are a few substitutes for meaty dishes that I have come across on my journeys and they can even cater to a hardcore non vegetarian's taste buds. The most common substitute, which is widely used, is mushrooms. The texture of mushrooms is so meaty that some vegetarians refrain from it. There are thousands of varieties of mushroom but the most popular ones with the most ‘umami’ that meat eaters look for are Portobello or Cremini mushrooms. Just sautéed with a few spices or added to a curry that would ideally have meat, these mushrooms can fulfil meat cravings without disappointing.
A meat substitute that I often use is soya chunks or granules. The little granules mimic keema or mincemeat well and hence can either be added to curries or be mixed with vegetables to make veg patties for burgers. The chunks can also be used to substitute chicken and mutton in biriyani and indo-oriental dishes like chilly chicken. There are countless recipes available on the Internet and in cook books using these soya chunks in daily cooking. The best thing about these little nuggets is that they not only provide the taste but also the nutrition and protein that a meat-based dish would.
India, where a large chunk of the population has a vegetarian diet, has come up with its own substitutes for meat. In any restaurant that serves meat a whole side of the menu will have very similar dishes in the vegetarian section as well, usually containing potatoes or cottage cheese. The fast food industry, especially burger chains, use beans and legumes as substitutes for meats for their vegetarian burgers. I have tried the veggie burgers of various joints, and the patties are sometimes even more flavoursome and delicious than their non-veg cousins.
Indian spices and herbs can do wonders for a humble vegetarian dish, adding essence and aroma that one usually expects from a meaty one. Cloves, ginger, garlic, bay leaf and cardamom are the flavours that one expects in biriyani or mutton curry. The meat may be substituted with other forms of protein like paneer, tofu or lentils, but the actual taste that the spices and herbs lend to the dish will not change.
One may not pay much attention to vegetables when thinking of meat substitutes, but eggplant and jackfruit are excellent faux meats. Most people ignore the humble eggplant or brinjal, even vegetarians, but if cooked properly it can create an extremely tasty end product, the Italian eggplant parmigiana is one such example. Cheese, tomato sauce and eggplants make up this baked goodness, and it is widely enjoyed by people of all food preferences. The dark purple, fleshy vegetable can be grilled, roasted, fried or baked and that versatility is what makes it a perfect substitute.
The jackfruit is indigenous to India and the ripened version of this big, green spiky-looking thing is often eaten as it is, a sweet fruit. The way that this cousin of the fig can be used as a meat substitute is to cut it open when it is still unripe. Jackfruit is fleshy and fibrous that gives it the texture and look of meat. Unripe jackfruit is comparatively odourless and flavourless, and it absorbs the taste of the spices that are added to it. It can be barbecued to become the inside of a delicious sandwich or be added to curry.
Vegetarianism and veganism are slowly spreading across the globe and many countries have started producing meat analogues. These are imitation meat products like Tofurkey, tempeh and veggie bacon.
The oldest meat analogue is possibly tofu, which was invented in China by the Han Dynasty that ruled between 206 BC and 220 AD. It is popularly known as ‘small mutton’ in China.