Monday, March 21, 2011

Veggies Pretending to be Meat -- Smart Ground

I was talking with my friend Leigh the other day about the food she would miss most if she cut meat out of her diet, and the foods I did miss most because I am a veggie-only eater.  My immediate response: ground beef tacos.  I could easily rid myself of all fond meat memories (with the exception of maybe a hot dog during a baseball game...which inspires both fond memories and a gag reflex) but nothing will ever replace the ground beef taco.  Once after college I had some sort of life-changing event and for the next two weeks I could eat nothing but tacos.  Breakfast.  Lunch.  Dinner.  I never got sick of them. 

Rice and beans are a delicious replacement for this weakness of mine, but I wanted to try out one of the many meat substitutes on the market to see if something could fill this little void in my heart.  Some meat substitutes are great, others are just plain gross, so I went into this dinner hopeful, but with low expectations.  Leigh recommend Smart Ground, which sells itself as being "veggie protein crumbles."  Questionable, right?  I got the "Mexican" variety, hoping that the seasoned crumbles would work a miracle in my kitchen. 

Smart Ground® Mexican

I put together my favorite taco additions -- lettuce, tomato, cheese, avocado -- and cooked these protein crumbles according to the package directions.  My first thought was that this could be good!  When cooked up, Smart Ground looks very similar to ground beef.  I created a taco and took a bite.  Not bad....but not exactly the most flavorful creation I've ever made.  Whoever thought this constituted "Mexican seasoning" clearly doesn't understand the concept.  So I returned the crumbles to the pan, added some water and my favorite taco seasoning, and cooked it up again.  Result?  Much better!  The crumbles had a slight veggie aftertaste but the additional taco seasoning really perked up the flavor.  And while it was lacking in some of the substance that ground beef has, overall Smart Ground was a pretty solid substitution!

Do I think Chipotle will be serving this anytime soon?  Nope.  Would I pit these crumbles up against a traditional ground beef taco?  Perhaps!  Am I going to make this again?  For sure.  If you are a vegetarian, a person sympathetic to a veggie-only diet, or someone who is just interested in checking out some of the meat substitutes on the market, this is a fine place to start. 

As an aside, I checked out the company's website and was impressed by its mission, attitude, and efforts to be a sustainable and planet-friendly operation.  I appreciate vegetarian sources that suggest starting small, by reducing weekly meat consumption or getting on the "Meatless Monday" bandwagon.  These small changes to our daily diets can have such a positive impact on our health and the health of our planet.  That bandwagon is a great place to be.

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