TL;DR: Kenji López-Alt is New York Times food columnist, Chief Culinary Advisor for Serious Eats, chef & partner at Wursthall in San Mateo, and author of NYT Bestseller The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science and upcoming children’s book, Every Night is Pizza Night. We asked López-Alt about cooking with plant-based meat, since he did a great feature in the New York Times recently and serves up Impossible meat at his restaurant, Wursthall. He shared that certain dishes taste better than others: try to stick to recipes that include plenty of seasoning like meatballs or an Italian style ragù. Cooking only with vegetables can take more technique and practice, but offers more variety in flavor and texture when done right.
What are the most important things for home chefs to keep in mind when cooking with plant-based meats?
Modern plant-based meats such as Impossible or Beyond behave similarly to regular ground meat. They work especially well in recipes that are highly seasoned, such as in meatballs, meatloaf, or in an Italian style ragù.
Despite advances in flavor, texture, and appearance, plant-based meats taste a little different from regular ground beef, so don't expect a perfect flavor-match in something like a hamburger, but if you are a vegan or vegetarian who misses the flavor and texture of beef, or if you are a omnivore trying to reduce meat intake, there's never been a better time than now.
In your NYT article in March, you mentioned that you've been trying to reduce your own meat intake. Personally, what motivated you to make this shift? As a chef, how do you think about this?
I try and limit my meat consumption, especially red meat, for a variety of reasons, though environmental impact and animal welfare are the two main ones. As a chef, and especially as a father who wants to teach healthy eating by example, it's actually pretty easy. Vegetables take a little more technique and practice to cook well, but the variety of flavors and textures you get in vegetables is so much wider than the variety you get in meat.
With modern meat alternatives, it becomes even easier to cook plant-based food. This is especially in a restaurant setting where we try and make sure that vegans and vegetarians feel welcomed, even in a place where sausage is the main focus of the menu.
What advice do you have for meat-eaters who are trying to move toward eating more plants?
Take it at whatever pace works best for you, and think about the reasons why you want to decrease your meat intake. Also, don't beat yourself up if you're trying to quit eating meat but give in to the occasional hamburger craving. We all do the best we can, and simply thinking about it is a great first step.