Vegetarian Substitutes for Ground Beef

Annette McDermott
Vegetarian burger

Just because you're a vegetarian doesn't mean you need to give up recipes that include ground beef such as burgers, tacos, and shepherd's pie. Instead, find tasty vegetarian substitutes.

Ground Beef Substitutes

Each of the following ingredients can be used instead of ground beef and take on the flavors of your recipe well. Unless otherwise indicated, use the same amount of ground beef substitute as you would ground beef in a recipe.

Cooking times with ground beef substitutes are usually shorter, since ingredients don't have to reach the high internal temperature that ground beef does. In addition, ground beef substitutes don't release fat into your food, which may impact how a recipe thickens, as well as its moisture content.

Tofu

Tofu, sometimes called bean curd, it made from soybeans. It's a great source of protein and makes a nice ground beef substitute for casseroles, lasagna, and tacos. To use, look for firm-textured tofu. Remove excess water by wrapping the tofu block in a paper towel and placing a heavy plate or skillet on top for about 15 minutes. It's important to press the tofu to improve texture. If you don't, it will be spongy instead of firm.

According to No Recipes, you may also freeze tofu for 24 hours; defrost, squeeze out excess water, and crumble the tofu until it resembles ground beef. Either preparation method results in tofu suitable to use as a ground beef substitute. Keep in mind tofu technically doesn't have to be cooked, so cooking times may be shorter than traditional ground beef.

Textured Soy Protein

Textured soy protein (TSP) , also called, textured vegetable protein (TVP), is defatted soy flour. It's inexpensive, and you can use it to stretch serving sizes. It absorbs liquid easily and when re-hydrated, TSP takes on the texture and appearance of ground beef. It's great in tacos, chili, casseroles, meatloaf, spaghetti Bolognese, or burgers. TSP doesn't have much taste on its own but takes on almost any seasoning well.

Use around one cup of TSP granules per pound of ground beef required in recipes. You should re-hydrate the granules in boiling water and drain as per manufacturer's instructions before using in your recipe. If you avoid this step, the TSP may continue to absorb liquid during cooking and become waterlogged and spongy.

Lentils

Lentils are a tried and true vegetarian ground beef substitute. Use them in tacos, sloppy joes, chili, soups, burgers, meat pies, and casseroles. About a cup of lentils roughly equals a pound of ground beef.

According to Be It Ever So Humble, lentils have more moisture than ground beef, so you should decrease the liquid in your recipe and add it gradually. You can also cook lentils in liquid (one cup lentils/two cups liquid) separately and add them to your recipe. To keep them from becoming mushy, leave the lentils slightly undercooked.

Mushrooms

Mushrooms give you the savory richness of ground beef many people miss when they cut meat from their diets. Use meaty portobella mushrooms instead of ground beef as a hamburger patty. Season or marinade a portobella mushroom cap and grill each side for about three minutes. Serve on a bun with your favorite toppings, such as lettuce, tomato, cheese, and pickles.

Chopped mushrooms combined with diced onions and seasonings may be used as a ground beef substitute in tacos, chili, meat pies, and casseroles. Mushrooms have a high water content, so you may need to reduce the liquid amounts in your recipe. Try the Chubby Vegetarian's recipe for mushroom meat made with eggplant, mushrooms, and seasonings.

Tempeh

Tempeh is fermented soybeans in block form. Thanks to its versatility, probiotic properties, and protein content, it's a favorite among vegetarians. To use as a ground beef substitute, Oh My Veggies suggests breaking it up with your hands and browning with a little oil. It's great in recipes that require browned ground beef, such as tacos, sloppy joes, chili, soups, and sauces.

Vegan Coach recommends steaming raw or pre-cooked tempeh before using it in your recipes to make it more tender and able to take on other flavors.

Bulgur Wheat

Bulgur wheat, an inexpensive, partially cooked whole wheat, may seem like an odd ground beef substitute. However, Middle Eastern recipes, such as tabbouleh and salads, commonly use it, and it and works well in many ground beef recipes like tacos, meat pies, sauces, and chili.

To use, Thrifty Jinxy suggests using one cup bulgar wheat for one pound ground beef. Simmer bulgar, covered, in two cups water until water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Once the bulgar is cooked, you can use it as you would browned ground beef in a recipe.

Seitan

Seitan is basically wheat gluten and can be used instead of ground beef in meatballs, meatloaf, sauces, casseroles, and burgers. It gives you the texture of crumbled ground beef in your mouth. Seitan has little flavor on its own (unless you purchase flavored varieties), so it pairs well with most seasonings. However, you may need to increase the seasoning in your recipe to get the flavor you desire. Seitan is high in protein and a great option for vegetarians who want to cut back on soy products.

This ground beef substitute recipe by 40 Aprons uses seitan, vegetable broth, wheat gluten, liquid smoke, and seasonings to create a finished product you can use in place of cooked or raw ground beef in your favorite recipes.

Beans

Beans are a delicious, high-protein, and inexpensive ground beef substitute. Black beans are known for making a delicious burger. They're also tasty in tacos, chili, nachos, lasagna, and meatballs, although the texture may be mushier than if you use ground beef. Substitute two 14-ounce cans of drained and rinsed black beans for a pound of ground beef in your favorite recipes.

Pre-Packaged Ground Beef Substitutes

You can find pre-packed ground beef substitutes at your local grocery or health food store. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) recommends:

Versatile, Healthy Alternatives

Even if you're not a vegetarian and simply want to cut back on your consumption of red meat, ground beef substitutes are typically healthy options. Many are high in protein and fiber, low in calories and fat, and inexpensive. They're also versatile, so with a little practice and ingenuity, you'll never never miss the ground beef in your recipes.

Vegetarian Substitutes for Ground Beef