I realize my life might be simpler if I ate either meat or something that is supposed to approximate meat. In my last post I described making my own wontons because I missed wonton soup. (As promised, Vegetarian Wonton Soup and Spicy Pan Fried Wontons recipes, below!)
In the midst of the wonton project, I couldn’t help thinking how much easier it’d be just to place an order for wontons. But if they weren’t full of meat, they’d likely be full of fake meat, and I don’t eat fake meat either.
I went through a phase where I gladly ate imitation meat for convenience , for protein, and because it kind of reminded me of foods I used to like. In minutes, for instance, I could heat up some tan disks that look like very uniform chicken nuggets and whose texture and flavor do resemble their processed foul counterparts. There were times when I microwaved a meatless product that had a rib-like shape and smell. For breakfasts I used to occasionally eat disks shaped and colored like sausages.
But it doesn’t take a genius to guess that soy and textured wheat protein concentrates, natural hickory smoke flavor, methylcellulose and extract of malted barley and corn (among other more wholesome sounding ingredients like canola oil and caramel color) is not going to yield something that tastes or feels much like ribs. They were springy, with notes of cardboard, imitation smoke and salt under the sweet barbeque sauce. Disturbingly, the part that would have been bone, had these been authentic riblets, was also made out of the same material.
When I ate meat, I loved barbequed ribs. I once ordered baby back ribs smothered in sauce on a date when I was in high school. The sauce was so irresistible to me that I was willing to risk being coated in it in front of a college guy I really liked.
Surprisingly, it turns out that when you put barbeque sauce on top of soy and grain based proteins, it’s just not the same. Ditto for the spices inside of similar compounds which are supposed to replace sausages.
I’ve heard other vegetarians claiming, “It’s really quite good” about such products. What I think they mean is, “Compared to my mattress, this stuff tastes shockingly like food!” Which is absolutely true. On the other hand, fake meat is not food. It may have begun as soy or wheat, but after all that processing and coloring and flavoring, it’s not too far from an aerosol can of cheese or whatever is in a slab of bologna.
As for protein, meat eaters tend to consume more protein than they need, according to the CDC. Vegetarians can get all the protein we need in a day(46 grams for adult women and 56 grams for adult men according to the CDC) through real foods like beans, tofu, tempeh, nuts, seeds, and for lacto-ovo vegetarians, milk products and eggs.
I added roasted vegetables to veggie stock for the wonton soup which doesn’t make it taste like chicken, but it is rich and satisfying. The spicy pan fried wontons recipe is a riff on Szechuan style pan fried wontons, only I didn’t have chili oil or Szechuan pepper in my house for some reason and my substitute tasted really good.
Vegtarian Wontons in Two Ways
If you’re going to make 48 wontons, you might as well make both wonton soup and pan-fried wontons!
1: Vegetarian Wonton Soup in Roasted Veggie Broth
Makes two huge bowls of wonton soup
- 16 veggie wontons (prepared fresh or frozen. If preparing them fresh, you can assemble them while the broth is simmering and veggies are roasting)
Roasted Veggie Broth
- 1 quart vegetable broth (pre-made or homemade—if using homemade, add salt to taste)
- 2 dried black mushrooms
- ½-1 inch peeled ginger root
- 2 whole and 3 sliced green onions (reserve a few greens slices for garnishing each bowl)
- 1 leek, sliced into ¼ inch rounds
- 4-5 carrots cut into thick rounds
- 7-10 fresh mushrooms (any kind)
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled
- olive oil
- 1-2 thinly sliced shitake mushrooms
- soy sauce to taste
- Pre-heat the oven to 425º
- Pour the vegetable broth into a large pot and bring to a low boil
- Plunk in the ginger, dried mushrooms, and two whole green onions and simmer
- Meanwhile, in an oven-proof dish, toss the leeks, garlic, mushrooms, and carrots with olive oil and arrange them in a single layer. Stick the dish into the oven (even if it’s not quite up to temperature yet). Set a timer for 30 minutes to check on them. They will need about 40 or so minutes total
- When the vegetables are nice and browned, remove the dish from the oven and pour in enough water to float the vegetables. Scrape the dish to get all the roasted flavor.
- Pour the roasted vegetables and water into the simmering pot and continue to simmer while you finish assembling the wontons or are ready for the broth
- Strain out the vegetables and return the liquid to the stove on high
- Add sliced shitakes
- When the broth is boiling, lower uncooked wontons into the broth with the slotted spoon and toss in the sliced green onions, reserving a few greens for garnish.
- Taste the broth and add soy sauce if needed
- Keep your eye on the wontons. Fresh wontons will take about 4-5 minutes, frozen will take longer. When the middles begin to turn translucent and the edges are completely soft, serve the soup!
2: Spicy Veggie Pan Fried Wontons
- About 32 veggie wontons, made fresh or frozen
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 2 TBS rice vinegar
- 2 tsp sesame oil
- 3-4 tsp chili garlic sauce
- 2 tsp sugar
- 2 TBS water
- several slices of green onion—white and tops
- Peanut oil for pan frying
- Mix together the sauce ingredients and set aside
- Bring a wide pot of water to a low boil (or if you want to cook many at once, use more than one pot)
- Lower wontons in a single layer into the gently boiling water with a slotted spoon.
- Cook 3-4 minutes—just until the edges begin to get soft. (Cook longer if wontons were frozen)
- Fish the wontons out with a slotted spoon and transfer onto a plate
- Coat a frying pan with a layer of peanut oil and turn the heat to medium-high
- When the pan is hot, scoop the pre-boiled wonton with the slotted spoon into the frying pan.
- Brown the wontons on both sides, moving them often and carefully to make sure they are not sticking
- Pour in the spicy sauce over the wontons in the pan and quickly turn off the heat.