(Recipe: Leapin’ Lentil Meatloaf – Vegan, Easy and Cheap)
Now is a great time to switch from eating animal meat over to any of the many forms of alternative meats now available — your choices are legion! And possibly necessary. The fact is that many meat processing and packing plants (probably most of them by now) have become coronavirus breeding grounds or “hotspots,” making it seem more necessary than ever for our society to rethink animal meat consumption.
Of course, it is projected that up to a 25% drop in capacity and production will be coming up soon in the meat/dairy industries which means big shortages and tremendous price hikes on what meats/dairy will still be available. But those are hardly the biggest reasons to be questioning meat right now.
Think about it. Do you really want to eat meat that could have come from an infected animal, processed in an infected facility by a worker who could have a full blown case of covid-19 but they are too underpaid and fearful of losing their jobs to do anything about it?
Covid-19 probably started in a meat processing plant (as other viruses are known to have been) and so it’s no surprise that meat processing plants are turning up hundreds of cases sometimes in just one location. And there are probably hundreds if not thousands more infected humans and animals that revolve around the meat production and dairy industries that are out there but are not being counted. We’ll probably never know the true extent of the “American Carnage” — to use a celebrated Trump phrase — due to the reprehensible lack of testing, data gathering, and the continuing lack of sufficient PPE and safe working conditions for meat and dairy workers.
But today, it is our wonderful good fortune that the current market is loaded to bursting with numerous meat alternatives, meat substitutes and any number of high protein and high fiber not-meats that don’t imitate anything — they just taste great and are versatile enough to cook and use in any way you like…
And they are inexpensive, widely available, easy to cook and — most importantly — they are delicious and nutritious. Some notable better-than-meat examples are: Lentils, beans, peas, tree nuts, peanuts, soy, wheat germ, etc. Even nutritional yeast is higher in protein and nutrients than any kind of animal meat product ever could be. And to take things many steps further, companies and food producers all over the globe are now using plant based ingredients to create fabulous pre-packaged hot dogs, hamburgers, patties, sausages, pate, sandwich ‘meats’ and a host of other products that outstrip animal meats in ever category.
But let’s just say you would prefer not to buy pre-packaged not-meats because, though they are now widely available, they can be a little pricey depending on what and where you buy. True enough, but how would you like to see your grocery bill go way down with the absence of meat being more than replaced by the equivalent of protein in alternative meats? It can be done and at tremendous savings. One 16 oz. bag of brown lentils at $0.65 can easily replace the protein of 3 lbs or more of god-knows-what-price pork or beef is going to be.
So how about Lentils? Lentils are an ancient member of the legume family, each little disc packed with protein and fiber, and they are without doubt the cheapest and most available source of protein there is. Thousands of years of food culture in India are practically built on lentils, which are what Indians call ‘dal’ (which translates as “meat”).
Lentils are tremendously versatile, and though most commonly used in soups and stews in western culture, they have recently been drafted into a new starring role here in the west (but a very long standing one in Asia). Lentils have become a very popular a la cart meat alternative on western plates, joining the likes of seitan, tofu, and tempeh. And the best part is: You can make your own lentil alt-meat! And it’s easy and cheap.
Try out the simple recipe below. It’s a family pleaser and makes great left overs (there is nothing better than a lentil meatloaf sandwich on toasted bread, loaded with barbeque sauce and vegan mayonaise!)
Leapin’ Lentil Meatloaf
- 1 cup brown lentils (cooked in 3 cups water until tender)
- 2-3 tbsp barbeque sauce
- suggested spices: salt, pepper, sage, thyme, basil, rosemary
- 1 tsp hot sauce (I prefer tabasco)
- 1 cup rice or cous cous or quinoa (whichever you have on hand)
- 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
- 1/2 cup finely chopped celery
- 2/3 cup panko or other kind of bread crumbs
Now comes the easy part:
- Boil the lentils in a sauce pan until they are plumped and tender — 5 to 10 minutes. If there is extra liquid at this point, pour it off.
- Place the lentils in a large bowl (or leave in sauce pan) and mash them with a spoon or hand tool until they are a thick slather but still recognizable as lentils. You don’t want them to lose too much texture or become too liquidy (I don’t recommend putting them in a blender)
- Now add salt, pepper, all your spices and at least 2 table spoons of barbeque sauce. Stir to combine. (Taste test at this point to make sure the mixture isn’t bland or needing more spices.)
- Stir in the chopped onion and celery
- Add up to a cup of bread crumbs (crumbled up crackers will do in a pinch). Keep adding and stirring in until you get a really good, stiff mixture.
- Spoon the mixture into a greased or sprayed 9 X 5 loaf pan (or an 8 x 8 pan would work also), spread at least another tablespoon of barbeque sauce or ketchup over the top of the loaf and…
- Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 45-60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Big Secret: When the lentil loaf comes out of the oven it may still be a little soft and not quite ‘al dente’ yet. The secret is to let the loaf cool all the way down to room temp, then it will be the same stiffness and texture that beef meatloaf usually is. It will cut and serve just fine and you can heat it up again and and again and it will hold it’s texture and taste great.