Food Matters – Non-processed Meat Substitutes

Last week there was quite a bit of news about the problems a company from Seattle was having with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Field Roast Grain Meat Company doesn’t have approval to sell its products in Canada because it hasn’t met labelling and test regulations for a meat substitute product. The company manufactures vegetarian sausages, burgers and roasts, among other products. The whole discussion over these meat substitutes got me thinking about ways to go vegetarian without having to rely on these so-called ‘meat substitutes’.

I have tried these meats substitutes in the past. Not from this particular company that’s been in the news, but over the years I’ve tried many products all the way from Yves Veggie Cuisine burgers and dogs to the Schneider’s Au Naturel line of chicken nuggets and so on. Yes, that Schneider’s. Some were better than others, I actually wrote a story for BC Business magazine on how Yves was developing a veggie burger for McDonald’s and it was all about getting the right mouth feel and how it chews and making it as much like a regular burger as possible.

Companies develop these products, in part at least, so that people who want to eat fewer meat products have something that still resembles a food that they’re used to. But these meat substitutes are usually made of highly processed ingredients and I figure, why not just use all the great ingredients we have right here around us to make something really tasty that doesn’t have to have meat in it. To that end I have a couple of great suggestions that can be both vegetarian and vegan, and gluten free!

Scraping Gills off Portobello

Scraping Gills off Portobello

First there is this grilled Portobello mushroom recipe from the Cooking on the Weekend blog. One neat thing I learned about grilling portobellos is that you should scrape off the gills from the mushrooms before you marinate and grill them. Apparently the gills can get quite bitter when you grill them.



Sliced and drizzled with sauce

Sliced and drizzled with sauce

The recipe advises you to keep the marinade and use it to drizzle over the mushrooms after you’ve grilled and sliced them. But I took the marinade, heated it in a small pot and added a big tablespoon full of brown miso to stretch it out a bit and add extra flavour. Perfect!

The other recipe is from local Victoria chef Heidi Fink. I asked her for this recipe when I was preparing a magazine article about roasting, but it didn’t end up getting used, which is a shame because it is such a great recipe! You’ll find the recipe in full at the end of this post.

The Portobello mushroom dish is vegan and gluten free depending on the kind of soy sauce you use, make sure it’s not one made with wheat, and the acorn squash dish is gluten free and vegetarian, it can be made vegan simply by using a vegetable oil instead of butter to roast the squash and sauté the vegetables for the pilaf.

I have to admit I am a confirmed omnivore and there will be a free-range turkey on my Thanksgiving table, but I wouldn’t hesitate to serve these two dishes as main courses on any other day of the year. If you still need advice on how to do some real roasting, I have the cover story on this fall’s edition of Flavour magazine, which you can find at most private liquor stores in BC, but here’s a link to that as well. For confirmed meat eaters, you might want to try Stein and Dine at the Victoria Public Market on Friday night, that’s a real Oktoberfest celebration with plenty of dishes like Grilled Bratwurst, Rotisserie Chicken, Crispy Pork Rinds and Pork Knuckles, along with beers from some of the region’s best brewers.

Thermomix, amazing cooking machine!

Thermomix, amazing cooking machine!

But if you want more vegetarian dishes I will be offering up some at a free Thermomix cooking demo at the Victoria Market on Saturday at noon, which will include homemade Nutella…did you know that there might be a big increase coming in the price of Nutella because of a hazelnut shortage?

And if you just want to explore the world of cocktails you can catch up with me at the Grand Tasting at Art of the Cocktail Saturday night at the Crystal Gardens and I’m emceeing the Art of the Cocktail Bar Games event on Sunday night. I will need to take a big rest on Monday morning.

Here’s the Roast Acorn Squash Stuffed with Quinoa Pilaf recipe from Chef Heidi Fink:

Roast Acorn Squash with Quinoa Pilaf

Roast Acorn Squash with Quinoa Pilaf

Surprise your guests with a decorative centrepiece – a whole French pumpkin – which opens to reveal a fragrant filling of delicious herb-studded quinoa pilaf.  This full-flavoured pilaf can be served either as a side dish, or as a vegetarian main. Bake in mini-squashes for individual servings, or larger squashes for sharing.

Squash and pilaf can be prepared and refrigerated up to two days in advance. Add 10 to 15 minutes to the baking time to make up for the chill of the refrigerator.


Serves 6 to 8 as an entrée

Prep time: 40 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes for pilaf; 10 to 20 minutes for final baking



Winter squash:

Use either 6 to 8 individual-sized squash (e.g. sweet dumpling), 4 medium-sized squash (e.g. acorn), or one very large squash (e.g. Turban or Rouge Vif D’Etemps)

Melted butter



3 tbsp (45 mL) butter or oil

1 medium red onion, diced fine

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tbsp (30 mL) minced fresh thyme

1-1/2 tsp (7 mL) minced fresh sage

1½ cups (375 mL) white quinoa, well rinsed and drained

2¼ cups (550 mL) vegetable broth

2/3 cup (160 mL) chopped dried apricots (use oiled scissors to cut them)

¾ tsp (4 mL) salt

½ tsp (2 mL) black pepper

1 cup (250 mL) pecan halves

½ cup (125 mL) minced fresh parsley

1 cup thawed frozen baby peas




1.  Preheat oven to 400 F.

2. If using small squash, cut a small slice off the bottoms (without going into the cavity) so the squash will sit flat, then cut off the tops and scoop out the seeds and membranes.
If using medium-sized squash, cut in half through the stem end and scoop out the seed and membranes.

If using a large squash, cut off the top and scoop out the seed and membranes (usually these squash will sit flat of their own accord).

3. Every type of squash, once trimmed and cleaned, will need to be brushed generously with melted butter and sprinkled with salt. Place prepared squash, cut side up, on a baking sheet and roast in the oven until three-quarters cooked (tender while still holding its shape), about 20 to 25 minutes for small, 30 to 35 minutes for medium, and 45 for large squash. Once cool enough to touch, transfer squash to oven-proof serving dish, if desired.


1. Heat butter or oil in a 2 or 3-litre saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add onion and sauté until translucent and soft, 7 minutes.  Add garlic, thyme and sage and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add the well-rinsed and drained quinoa and stir to coat with oil.  Add the broth, the chopped dried apricots, the salt and the pepper.  Bring to a boil, stir briefly to redistribute the heat, cover, reduce heat to lowest setting and simmer for 20 minutes without disturbing.  Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes. (This last step allows the quinoa to firm up so it will not be mushy when the final ingredients are stirred in).

2. Meanwhile, place pecans on a rimmed baking sheet. Place in the oven and roast, stirring once in the middle of roasting, for 6 to 8 minutes, until fragrant and a few shades darker. Remove from oven and let cool. Chop pecans roughly and set aside.

3. After the quinoa has rested 10 minutes, remove cover and gently stir the pecans, parsley, and peas into the quinoa.

4. Gently pile the quinoa pilaf into the prepared squash, which are ready in an oven-proof baking dish, return to the oven and bake 10 to 20 minutes (depending on size of squash) until hot through, squash has finished cooking and top of pilaf is nice and crispy.




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3 Responses to Food Matters – Non-processed Meat Substitutes

  1. valentina says:

    Thanks so much for linking to my grilled portebello recipe. 🙂

  2. Chef Heidi says:

    Thanks for the shout-out, Don! That stuffed squash is definitely one of my favourite festive recipes!

  3. Thanks for the recipe! My guest are getting stuffed acorn squash this thanksgiving 🙂

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