I must be a carnivore at heart because this week it was all about meatless meat. And I’m not talking about little veggie crumbles that look like meat. I’m talking about steak-style food. Thick cut, the kind of food that needs a serrated knife. There’s a reason I go by the nickname “the meat chef” in our house.

In early 2012, Bon Appetit magazine published an issue that featured a full-fledged cauliflower steak. Until that point I’d only seen cauliflower cut into dainty florets. But here was a cauliflower, unapologetic in its manliness, chest bulging, mustache intact, ready to ride its Harley into the sunset.

In other words: cut into slabs, seared, roasted, and drizzled with a hearty dressing.

And it was one of those life-changing moments. The kind of moment where you realize that by God, vegetables can be impressive. Cut them like they’re supposed to be cut, not into tiny little pieces, but into great big beautiful slices, and there you have it: a vegetable main that can win over the heartiest of appetites.

The problem is that I’d never actually experimented with prepping my veggies like this. No need, I had steak! And so I continued….trimming and slicing my way through my vegetable prep, primping and glazing them with a touch of soy here, a dash of cumin seed there.

But now that I’m vegan for a whole month, nothing is holding me back. By default, veggies need to be the main event. Veggies, start your engines, it’s road trip time. Here are a few fake steak recipes that scratched my steak itch last week.

1. Cauliflower steak

I dug up the old Bon Appetit cauliflower recipe for some inspiration and got to work. I followed the same basic principle, roasting and searing it  for a crisp exterior and soft but still-toothsome interior. And I updated the dressing, going for a Mediterranean style, with capers, olives, pickled onions, and a combination of olive oil + red wine vinegar.

The surprise result was that cauliflower does masquerade well as steak. It was meaty, rich, filling, but didn’t result in the gut buster feeling that so often accompanies meat.

Steak rating: 3.5 stars

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2. Mushroom sandwich

My step dad is a huge cheesesteak lover, and by proxy, I’ve become a bit of a steak sandwich lover myself. Although I’ve never had his favorite version from Rothman’s in NYC, I’ve smoked out my apartment on more than one occasion charring the perfect strip to wedge between slices of bread.

With the deep freeze temps that have rocked the NorthEast last week, I was in the mood for something hearty. A steak sandwich came to mind but my cursed (excuse me, cleansing) vegan diet was getting in the way.

So I stared at myself in the bathroom mirror, splashed some water on my face, and told myself: “self: you can do it, figure this out.”

I headed over to Forager’s market where I bought a mountain of mushrooms, a head of garlic and a fresh baguette. Because if there’s any vegetable that can pass as steak, it’s mushrooms. Which is possibly why they’re such a great combo: you’re basically allowing yourself to eat twice the amount of steak in your sandwich, minus the guilt.

Just cut the mushrooms into big meaty pieces, give them a good sear in plenty of olive oil and you’re on the fast track to steak heaven…So steaky that I almost forgot that I wasn’t eating real steak. 

Steak rating: 4.5 stars

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3. Eggplant steak

Necessity is indeed the mother of invention. Late last week I was out of ideas for more steak substitutes, Bon Appetit was no longer helping me. But on a whim, I bought an eggplant. Surely I could make a fake steak with this vegetable giant. It’s big, firm, smoky and has that uncanny ability (like tofu) to take on all kinds of wonderful flavors.

One of my favorite ways to prepare steak is by making a really crunchy, peppery crust. (Incidentally, tuna steaks are wonderful this way too). You just coat the steak or tuna in a little mustard, roll the whole thing in the cracked peppercorns and sear it on med/high heat for a minute or two on each side.

The problem is that thin steaks and tuna are wonderful when they’re on the rare side. Eggplant is a different story. I don’t want to eat rare or undercooked eggplant. So I roasted the eggplant first, just so that it was cooked through, before proceeding with the whole coat and peppering thing. 

Verdict? Amazing. So meaty and perfect that I was craving seconds and thirds. Stuff it in a sandwich, slice it for a salad, Forget the tempeh, this is a way better  alternative. I even made an eggplant banh mi for dinner that night with my leftover eggplant slices. 

Steak rating: 5 stars

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If you have other fake steak suggestions, please let me know in the comments. We have two more weeks to go in our vegan challenge and I need all the inspiration I can get. For all of you January cleansers out there, keep it going, we can do this. A little creativity goes a long way….and hopefully you’re enjoying the process just a little bit. I know that I am.

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