Plant-Based Cooking 101: More Strange Vegan Ingredients

Submitted by Kim Campbell, director of culinary education.

This week we’ll get into common meat substitutes and different types of plant-based pastas. You can easily make spaghetti lasagna with these ingredients in your pantry.

Tempeh and tofu

Both tempeh and tofu are made from soybeans. They are quite different in flavor, texture, and appearance. The facts:

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Tofu: Tofu is made by soaking soybeans and creating a soymilk. Nigari (a salt derivative of seawater) is then added to the milk to create curds. The curds are then pressed and separated from the remaining liquids to create tofu. Tofu comes in many textures: silken, soft, firm, and extra firm. Tofu does not have a strong flavor alone, but it definitely absorbs the flavors you add to it extremely well. Tofu can be baked, sautéed, and blended. There are many interesting possibilities with tofu!

Tempeh: Soybeans are mixed with rice and a starter mold (Rhizopus molds) and allowed to ferment in a moist, warm environment. The fermentation process creates a thick white cake around the beans. Tempeh has a very firm texture and a nutty mild flavor. It takes on the flavor of the sauce you put it in. I recommend slicing and marinating tempeh overnight in the sauce of your choice. You can usually find tempeh in the produce section of the grocery store next to the tofu.  

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.


Jackfruit is native to Southeast Asia. One jackfruit tree can produce 100–200 fruits a year. It’s a starchy and fibrous fruit, much like a pineapple. Jackfruit can be purchased ripe or green, and it’s very popular among vegans because green jackfruit is a fantastic meat substitute. However, it is important to note that the type of jackfruit used for meat substitutes is unripened, green jackfruit. Green jackfruit is used in a variety of curry dishes since the fruit is so plentiful in these culinary cultures.

You can find this unusual fruit at Asian food stores and even some big supermarkets. I recommend you buy it in a can packed in water. It is usually reasonably priced at about $2 a can. If you plan on buying it fresh, it is more difficult to find. Working with a fresh jackfruit can also be quite messy and sticky, so you may want to research this process a bit before bringing home a fresh jackfruit.

Photo by Amy Bissinger.

Pasta varieties

Americans grew up on pasta as their primary source of comfort food. Unfortunately, most pastas served in restaurants are made from refined white flour, which is lacking in any fiber whatsoever. There are many alternative grains out there that offer gluten-free options and textures that are more similar to traditional white pasta. Make sure pastas are made from 100 percent whole grains. Here’s a short list of whole-grain pastas: 

  • 100 percent whole-wheat pasta
  • brown rice pasta
  • quinoa pasta
  • soba noodles
  • corn pasta
  • whole-grain pasta with sprouted wheatgrass
  • farro pasta
  • kamut pasta


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