Plant-based Versions of Classic Summer Foods

Communal meals, especially in summer, are living nostalgia. We partake in American eating traditions, whether it’s a holiday, an annual family event, or another celebration. The goal is to indulge and surround ourselves in merriment. Our memory, however, has a knack of distorting reality, especially when it comes to the food we expect at these gatherings. We always seem to remember that wonderful first bite, but forget the time we had one hot dog too many, or got that chemical induced headache, but willingly do it over and over again. These are choices that everyone around us seems to be making, yet without fail they lead us to time-tested intestinal regrets caused by supersaturation of less than ideal foods.

Zucchini, onions, and eggplant are great alternatives to bring to an all-inclusive summer barbecue – I’ll never turn down grilled vegetables. Yet sometimes, something feels missing while you watch your friends devour greasy burgers and rubbery hot dogs.

I remember my last hot dog vividly. As I sunk my teeth into the bread cradled meat cylinder, a jet stream of hot liquid fat furtively squirted me back. I haven’t had a meat dog since, but I still like to eat hot dogs on occasion.

Why do I (or you) still occasionally crave a hot dog, despite knowing how much I did not enjoy the last one? Because there was a time when I did enjoy it, or at least thought I did, and I want to experience that again.

There are great plant based products that, whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, or neither, can be a welcome addition to any BBQ. And let’s face it; unless you’re buying artisan organic all-beef organic hot dogs, most hot dogs you find sizzling on the grill in no way resemble real meat. Eating processed meat (like hot dogs) has been proven to cause cancer (more information on that here). Plus, eating less meat helps you lose (and keep off) weight.

A disclaimer: It’s important to note that these shouldn’t be directly compared side-by-side with their meat equivalents. If you still eat meat, this might be harder, as it’s been more recently that you’ve had a real version of these foods. That being said, I’ve shared some of these with open-minded omnivores, and they’ve been pleasantly surprised. The objective here is animal free nostalgia. This is not on article on hemp, flaxseed, and broccoli patties. This a list of the products I recommend, with comparable products that I don’t recommend, to relive that wonderful BBQ feeling you once had.

Hot Dogs

LightLife Tofu Pups, Smart Dogs, or Jumbo Dogs

chili dog side view

These are all hot dog alternatives. I’m not quite sure what the difference is other than size, but they seem to have the same ingredients. I’d be surprised if you can tell the difference between a Tofu Pup and an Oscar Meyer wiener.

Make it: Tofu Pups go great with ketchup and mustard on a white bread roll. Don’t go looking for multigrain buns and artisanal ketchups. You wouldn’t pair a great wine with a slice of American cheese, and the same concept applies here.

The key is to not overcook them. Just like meat dogs, they are essentially precooked, so you just want to get them hot. It takes literally 15 seconds on each side on a flaming grill, or a few minutes in a pan with some water (keeping them from drying out makes a huge difference). For a more even temperature, I like splitting them in half down the middle, lengthwise, like a hot dog bun. Add ketchup, onions, sweet onions, relish, and you’re all set.

Availability: You can just about find these anywhere in any major supermarket. Put your zip code into their website to find the closest store to you.

Field Roast Frankfurters

Right out of the package, they mean business. Wrapped like sausage links, these frankfurters are definitely a step up from Tofu Pups in quality, but two times the price. They really deserve their own separate tier. They give a more meaty texture, more authentic flavor, and larger portion.

Make it: Same preparation as above – just heat and go!

Availability: These are less readily available than LightLife products, which can be found in most major supermarkets. You can find Field Roast products in supermarkets with more veggie friendly options, health food stores, or, as a last resort, Whole Foods. You can also put your zip code into their website to find where you can buy them.

Hamburgers

Field Roast Burgers

At this point, you may be thinking, ugh, but do I get to eat a greasy burger? I like veggie burgers, especially black bean burgers, but those are hardly greasy. Field Roast has your answer. Their seitan-based palm oiled patty will have you feeling like you want two, until you finish the first one and let the wave of indulgence wash you over into sublime submission. My carnivore friends approve.

Make it: Put them on a medium-hot pan, or flaming grill, for 5 minutes each side. Then on a bun. Then into your mouth. Chew or inhale as desired.

Availability: Less ubiquitous than LightLife products, you’ll likely find them in self-fashioned “health food” stores, and Whole Foods wannabes.

LightLife Black Bean Patties

These are a solid choice, much better than the frozen aisle offerings. With a nice chewy texture, and bean bits, it’s more of a hybrid of veggie meat and vegetables than most. I ate one and a half at a free giveaway in Madison Square Park. It was this huge BBQ themed event, and LightLife had a kiosk, operated by fervently disinterested but hurried employees. The best part was that most attendees at the event were there to get free samples, and I don’t think most of them realized this booth was all veggie stuff. Kudos to LightLife.

Availability: Available wherever LightLife products are found, in many supermarkets.

Sandwiches

Lightlife Fakin’ bacon

BLT with tea

Made from tempeh, which is cultured grains. Fakin’ bacon works great for a BLTs. I mean, what kind of summer doesn’t have BLTs and lemonade, somewhere?

First off, it tastes pretty good out of the package and that’s always a good sign. However, they really shine when you fry them up. They have a nice, crispy texture when fried, and good amount of chewiness. I make a homemade one on occasion, but if this is on sale, it’s hard to beat.

Make it: Pan fried is the way to go. They taste especially good when you use coconut oil. Coat the bottom of the pan with oil. Fry on medium heat, 5 minutes for the first side. Then coat the pan again, and fry for 5 minutes more, or until desired crispiness. Add lettuce, tomato, and mayo (Just Mayo or Follow Your Heart Vegenaise are great) on white bread, and you’re good to go.

LightLife Maple Ham

_MG_8083

This stuff tastes okay right out of the package, but can work perfectly in the right sandwich. It’s super convenient, and is ready to use without preparation. This really shines when you stick to typical New York style sandwich of lettuce, tomato, red onion, mayo, mustard, on a Kaiser roll. Add some avocado slices, and you’ll feel like you’ve made the King of the Veggie Club sandwich. I can’t stress enough, this will taste best in something. If you take two slices of wonder bread and slap it together with Nayonaise, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

Availability: Most major supermarkets will have some type of veggie slice, if not this one.

AVOID: Morning Star Veggie Bacon

If there was a meat equivalent, it would be called bacon product, in the way that American cheese isn’t cheese, but made of cheese. These taste more like Bacon Bits (which isn’t real bacon, by the way), stretched out to large pieces of chewy, bacon fruit rollups. These are awful, and I strongly advise against them.

Mayonnaise

Just Mayo

This stuff is awesome. The texture and consistency is the best. The flavor is solid too, with a rich creaminess, and definitely enhances anything you put it on. I have non-vegan friends who prefer it over mayonnaise.

Availability: Not as common as Vegenaise, more likely in health food stores.

Vegenaise

This is the original, vegan mayo, and it still stands the test of time. It comes in a variety of bases (soy, soy free, olive oil, organic etc). I honestly think the grape seed oil version tastes the most like mayonnaise. I do think Just Mayo beats them on texture and consistency, but on flavor, Veganaise wins with Just Mayo at a close second.

Availability: Almost every major supermarket, fortunately. Flavored versions like chipotle are less common.

AVOID: Nayonaise

This stuff is garbage. The only people I can recommend this to are Miracle Whips fans gone vegan, if they even exist (I have not personally met one). I’ve always hated Miracle Whip, so I am definitely biased. I don’t even think they’re trying to make this taste like mayonnaise, and I don’t understand how have they manage to stay on shelves.

Availability: Everywhere, unfortunately.

Sliced Cheese

Field Roast Chao cheese

This is probably the best melty vegan cheese out there, and it tastes good out of the package, which is rare in vegan cheeses. It’s coconut based, with fermented soy providing the cheesy flavor. Think American cheese in texture, and Havarti in taste. It feels like you’re actually eating something that’s a type of cheese, rather than “melty fun.”

Make it: The quickest way to melt them on your burger is to place the near finished burger with cheese on top, in a hot pan. Spray, spritz or pour some water in the pan, and cover. The steam will get these bad boys melting for you.

Availability: slightly harder to find than most Field Roast items – try the same spots.

Follow Your Heart Deli Style cheese slices

These are clearly a direct competitor to Chao. They offer more flavors, but some of them, like American, Provolone, and Mozzarella, all taste the same. However, the Smoked Gouda does not have a Chao equivalent and makes for an excellent grilled cheese.

grilled cheese

Like Chao, the melted texture is quite impressive, and the cheesiness satisfactory. This is coming from a former cheese fiend. I have friends who still don’t believe I don’t eat dairy cheese anymore.

Melt it for sandwich: Leave out on the counter to become room temperature. Meanwhile, put a well-oiled pan, on medium-low heat. It’s easy to burn your bread and not have melted cheese, so the key here is low heat, and patience. Also, keep some water handy. Once it’s hot enough that water sizzles, place the sandwich, spritz the pan and quickly cover, so that the steam can melt the cheese. This technique I learned from working the late night snack bar at my college – we always kept a ketchup squirt bottle with water for this purpose.

Disclaimer: We received free coupons for some of the products listed, but we only share those that we love.

Get ready to veganize your Labor Day BBQ! LightLife has given us 3 coupons for free products to give away to a lucky (U.S. based only – sorry!) reader so you can try some of these for yourself! Just like us on Facebook and share your favorite summer treat in a comment below! Winner will be chosen at random on August 25, 2016.

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Veren is a filmmaker and creative pursuit enthusiast. Reared in California and cultivated in New York City, this blustering blogger is a formidable information source. In between bouts of substitute teaching, tutoring, mentoring and philosophizing, he house and pet sits while cooking for the Sam aka the girlfriend.

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  • Brooke Delk

    Love Lightlife Smart Dogs with kraut and mustard!