Meat-Free Proteins That Vegans (and Non-Vegans!) Are Sure to Love
Because there are so many different plant proteins out there, it would be really difficult to grow tired of them. Take quinoa, the tiny seed from the Andes mountains, for example. It can be served as part of salads, soups, or delicious side dishes. The same can be said for lentils. Tofu, nuts and seeds, and even nutritional yeast are also protein-packed vegan ingredients that can easily be incorporated into your meals. Here's what you need to know about each plant-based protein source, included the best ways to work them into your everyday meals.
This protein-packed powerhouse comes in a tiny little package. Technically a seed not a grain, quinoa has all 12 amino acids whereas other vegan sources of protein, such as beans or nuts, contain some of the 12 amino acids but not all of them. One cup of cooked quinoa has about eight grams of protein. White quinoa is the type that's most widely available at grocery stores, but you should also look out for red, black, and multicolored packs of different quinoa mixed together. Quinoa cooks quickly, in about 20 minutes but be sure to rinse it before cooking to remove the slightly bitter tasting protective coating. Use your cooked quinoa in hearty salads, as a breakfast cereal, and in all kinds of dinner bowls.
Lentils come in many colors and sizes, and with that comes slightly different cooking times and uses. They're the foundation for the classic Indian dal and used in the Middle Eastern dish mujadara, which is made with brown lentils topped with a pile of fried onions. You could also prepare a lentil soup made with the tiny green lentils du puy. Simply put, the uses and flavorings are nearly endless. We like the fact that lentils cook quicker than beans and are very filling—for every 100 grams of lentils, you get about nine grams of protein.
Made from soy milk, tofu is an extremely versatile plant protein. Tofu has different textures for different applications but all have a mild flavor. Every one half cup of tofu has about 10 grams of protein. Try puréeing tofu in a breakfast smoothie or dice it and add to your next stir-fry. It's also great cut it into slabs, marinated in lime, ginger, and cilantro, then grilled for a tasty main course. You can even crumble it and sauté it with onions, greens, and turmeric for a great take on scrambled "eggs."
Nuts and Seeds
The protein count varies a lot in this category, but if you want to pump up your protein intake, stick with pumpkin seeds, which have about nine grams of protein in a one-ounce serving, or peanuts and almonds, which have seven or six grams per ounce, respectively. Ground into nut butters, toasted and sprinkled on salads, or mixed into desserts and baked goods, nuts and seeds are an easy and delicious way to add protein to your day.
Here's a surprising source of vegan protein. The funny thing is that nutritional yeast doesn't taste anything like yeast, but rather more like aged cheese. Just two tablespoons gives you nine grams of protein. Mix it into smoothies, sprinkle on popcorn, or use it to garnish a plate of pasta.
Though these proteins are all delicious their own, don't let them restrict you. Try mixing them together for extra nutrition, flavor, and texture. Quinoa, lentil, and almond salad, anyone?