VALLEY’s Guide to Plant-Based Protein

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It’s time to muscle up and talk about protein, VALLEY! Eating protein keeps you full longer, helps you feel strong and gives you more energy. If you currently eat a vegan, vegetarian or mostly plant-based diet, or if you want to eat less animal products, it is important that you focus on eating a sufficient amount of protein.

According to Harvard Health Publishing, “To determine your daily protein intake, you can multiply your weight in pounds by 0.36.” That number is a good amount of protein to eat in grams each day.

While eating beef, poultry or fish can give your body a lot of tasty protein, there are plenty of sources of protein that do not come from animals. Eating a plant-based diet can benefit your body and lifestyle. According to the study “Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets,” “The major benefits for patients who decide to start a plant-based diet are the possibility of reducing the number of medications they take to treat a variety of chronic conditions, lower body weight, decreased risk of cancer, and a reduction in their risk of death from ischemic heart disease.” 

Teriyaki Tofu Rice Bowl, by
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According to “The Spruce Eats”, “Tofu, sometimes called bean curd or soybean curd, is a creamy, high-protein, low-fat soy product typically sold in blocks.” 

Tofu is an incredibly versatile vegan protein because it absorbs the flavor of the seasonings or sauce that you cook it in, and it can be found in different sized packages at many grocery stores. Tofu can be sauteed, baked or fried. Tofu allows the chef to get creative with sauces, spices, toppings and side dishes.

Try this beginner tofu recipe from The Woks of Life.

What You’ll Need
  • 14 ounces firm tofu
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 tablespoons mirin
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 scallion chopped
  • Steamed rice to serve
    What You’ll Do
  1. Pat the tofu dry with a paper towel, and cut into 1-inch cubes. Add the ¼ cup of cornstarch to a shallow bowl, and dredge the tofu pieces until they all have a light coating of cornstarch. You’ll see the cornstarch getting absorbed by the moisture of the tofu––this is normal.
  2. Heat the vegetable oil in a cast iron or nonstick pan over medium heat. Add the tofu pieces to the pan, and fry on all sides until golden. Remove the tofu from the pan and set aside.
  3. Add the ginger to the pan, and cook for 1 minute until fragrant. Add the onions and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes. Then add the mirin, soy sauce, dark soy sauce, brown sugar, and sesame oil.
  4. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Meanwhile, dissolve the remaining two teaspoons of cornstarch in 1/2 cup warm water. Add to the sauce and onions, along with the cooked tofu. Toss everything together for 1 minute, until the sauce has thickened and the tofu is coated in the sauce. Stir in the scallions.
  5. Serve over steamed rice with some toasted sesame seeds if desired.
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According to The Spruce Eats, seitan, otherwise known as “wheat meat,” is a gluten meat substitute often used to replicate chicken for plant-based eaters. You can make seitan yourself with seitan powder, or cook up some store-bought options.

If you want to get the most out of your seitan, try out this protein-packed vegan chili from 40 Aprons.

What You’ll Need
  • 4 tablespoons neutral oil 
  • 20 ounces ground seitan
  • 16 ounces baby bella mushrooms halved
  • 2 1/2 medium onions chopped
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • 16 ounces cans tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1/2 bottle dark beer
  • 1 cup not-beef broth or water
  • 1 teaspoon ground chile pequín or cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tablespoon sweet paprika
  • 1 tablespoon Tabasco
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons whole chipotle peppers
  • 2 tablespoons masa harina or cornmeal
  • 1 chopped white onion, to serve
  • 1 jalapeños, fresh or pickled, to serve
  • 1 chopped cilantro
What You’ll Do
  1. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a 6-quart pot over high heat and sauté ground seitan until slightly browned. Remove with slotted spoon and set aside. Add 1 tablespoon oil and sauté mushrooms until browned; remove with slotted spoon and set aside.
  2. Heat 1 more tablespoon oil, then add onions and garlic; cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Return ground seitan to pot; stir in tomato paste. Cook, stirring frequently and scraping bottom of pot with a wooden spoon, until tomato paste is caramelized, about 12 minutes. Add oregano, chili powder, chile pequín, paprika, tabasco, and cumin; cook, stirring frequently, for 1 minute.
  3. Add broth or water, beer, mushrooms, and chipotle peppers; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer, stirring occasionally, about 2 hours. Stir in masa harina; season with salt. Simmer, stirring, until thickened, about 5 minutes.
barbecue and sliced lemon fruit
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According to Cooking Light, “Tempeh is made from soybeans, although various beans, whole grains, and flavorings are often added as well … To make tempeh, soybeans are cooked and fermented then packed into a brick-like cake.”

As it is made from soybeans, tempeh is a cousin of tofu. Like tofu, tempeh is packed with tons of nutrients like fiber and protein and absorbs the flavor of what it is cooked in. However, tempeh is chewier than tofu with a jerkier consistency, making it a popular choice for vegan bacon or jerky.

Try this vegan bacon recipe from Minimalist Baker using tempeh for a BLT or breakfast sandwich.

What You’ll Need
  • 8 ounces tempeh
  • 1 tablespoon oil 
  • 3 tablespoons tamari 
  • 2 ½ tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 healthy pinch sea salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoon liquid smoke
  • 1 ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 dash cayenne (optional)
What You’ll Do
  1. Slice the tempeh in half widthwise (so you have 2 even squares), then thinly slice each square in 1/3 pieces so you have 6 very thin squares. Slice each square into 3 rectangular strips. You should have 18 pieces of tempeh.
  2. In a shallow bowl, rimmed plate, or baking dish, whisk together the oil, tamari, maple syrup, salt, liquid smoke, smoked paprika, black pepper, and cayenne (optional). Taste and adjust flavor as needed. It should be quite salty, smoky, a little spicy, and plenty sweet.
  3. Add the tempeh and toss to coat (using a pastry brush is helpful for fully coating). Marinate for 10-15 minutes, flipping once for even flavor dispersion.
  4. Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  5. Transfer tempeh to the parchment-lined baking sheet and arrange in a single layer.
  6. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from the oven, flip, and brush generously with marinade. Bake for 8-10 minutes more, or until browned and slightly crispy.
  7. Enjoy immediately or store cooled leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 5 days, or in the freezer for up to 2 months. Reheat in a 350°F oven or on the stovetop over medium heat until hot.
Pea Protein
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If you want to eat a more plant-based diet but you are not the best chef or you need to eat some protein on a time crunch, many vegan store-bought favorites use pea protein.

According to Healthline, “Pea protein powder is a supplement made by extracting protein from yellow peas.”

Pea protein powder can be used to add an extra oomph of protein to your smoothie before class or after a workout, but it is commonly found in many plant-based snacks.

If you are craving a fast, easy pea protein meal, try “MorningStar Farms® Veggie Chik’n Nuggets” or “Trader Joe’s Hi-Protein Veggie Burger.” Both of these products come frozen, so they are easy to store and prepare. Pull out your favorite buffalo or barbecue sauce for the nuggets. For the veggie burger, dress it up with classic toppings like avocado, lettuce, tomato and a delicious bun.

Natural Proteins
brown nuts
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If you are a vegan or vegetarian who wants protein-packed options without replicating the taste of meat, there are still tons of natural protein options.

For a quick crunchy snack, go nuts for nuts! Cashews, almonds and peanuts are great sources of protein. They can be seasoned or roasted to be sweet, salty or spicy, depending on your taste. For breakfast in the morning, try spreading peanut butter or almond butter on toast and topping it with banana slices. Top the banana slices with cinnamon or honey for some extra flavor.

Beans are a versatile, natural protein as well. Black beans can be used in burrito bowls or vegan chili. Lentils are a great substitute for meat in a vegan bolognese sauce to be topped over a delicious bowl of pasta to create a warm, comforting dinner. Chickpeas pack in protein as well. Toss a cup of chickpeas onto your salad, or try hummus and carrots for a satisfying snack. Edamame, or soybeans, are a tasty appetizer when steamed and topped with salt or crushed pepper.

Ultimately, deciding to eat less meat does not mean you need to sacrifice protein from your diet. Never be afraid to get creative in the kitchen with vegetables and plant-based proteins!

Tweet @VALLEYmag with your favorite vegan snack!


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