To Tofu or Not to Tofu: Tasty Substitutes for Dairy or Meat

Please welcome Leah Gabrielle Goodman for today’s guest post.


When you talk about vegetarianism to many people, they imagine eating salad and tofu. Perhaps they’ve seen a tofurkey or two in their day, but they don’t realize how many non-meat options can can be substituted in recipes.

Meat Substitutes

Zucchini as Liver?

Much of the flavor of a good chopped liver comes from the onions. Grill a zucchini, add fried onions, mash well, and it’s not quite chopped liver, but it’ll go great on crackers. Add chunks of walnuts for some protein and a little more texture.


Not for the vegans among us, but eggs are great protein. Adding fried egg to a stir fry gives it the protein and some of the texture that you’d expect in a meat stir-fry. Eggs are also usually a good bit cheaper than meat or chicken. I usually add one egg per person.


The frozen stuff, such as Morningstar Farms or Green Giant often tastes pretty good, but costs a lot. Textured vegetable protein (TVP) is much cheaper. It starts out looking fairly unpalatable, but if you use it in the right recipes, it’s great. Use the finely ground TVP in a spaghetti sauce for a texture like bolognese. Use the bigger chunks in chili. You can even use it in stir fry, though you’ll need to soak it in hot water and then squeeze the water out before you put it into the pan.

How to Use Tofu

Tofu has a weird texture and its flavor isn’t all that pleasant either, but there are some good ways to make tofu taste better. Try a marinade of soy sauce or teri yaki. After marinading it in soy sauce, it needs no further cooking. Stir-fry also makes tofu more palatable. It will take on the flavorings you add in, and it’ll add a nice texture.

Dairy Substitutes

Coconut Milk/Cream – In sweet recipes, it adds a richness of flavor that you don’t get when you substitute soy milk. I’ve tried it in pumpkin pie and chocolate cake, and both times, the flavor is incredible.

Olive Oil – If the recipe calls for butter a butter-flavored margarine can work. But if you’re dealing with a savory recipe, then unless you need the texture, olive oil is a good option. It will obviously change the flavor of the food, but it won’t clog your arteries and will give the food a better flavor rather than detracting from the flavor the way that margarine can. This is particularly good if you’re trying to “kosherize” a meat recipe that calls for butter.

Other Vegetable Oil

If you’re dealing with a sweet recipe, try oil. You might need to look up a different recipe for the same food. For pie crusts, for example, oil-based crusts are easier to work with than butter/margarine crusts. For cookies, the butter might be needed to hold the cookies together, so you might not be able to substitute with oil. If the recipe doesn’t call for eggs, be wary about using oil in place of butter.

Leah Goodman is a Work at Home Mom with two kids, who just opened her own business, She blogs at

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Photo credit: House of Sims


  1. Kelli Brown says

    My new favorite meat substitute is mushrooms. We saute them and then chop them in the food processor and then use them the same way we would have used ground beef – they’re an amazing addition to pasta.

  2. Great tips – I have to try the zucchini liver; I hate chopped liver, and I’m always looking for a substitute. Coconut milk/oil is amazing! I worked for a movie theatre that used coconut oil to make the popcorn, and we were known around the county for our incredible popcorn!

    I use olive oil in all my desert recipes that call for oil, except light citrus cakes (like my lemon cake – it still tastes good, just loses its “lightness”). I find no difference in taste! I’ve experimented with using olive oil in place of butter in some recipes, and I find if the recipe calls for “melted butter” it’s usually no problem to use oil instead. It’s the hard butter (like for a crumble) recipes where oil doesn’t cut it.

    I’m still trying to find a way to make an apple crumble topping without butter 😉

  3. thank you for this. can you share a good oil based pie crust recipe?

  4. Aviva_Hadas says

    I am going to be trying that zucchini chopped liver soon. That just sounds so good.

    I use TVP in chili all the time – I am a big fan of the sour cream & cheese on my chili.

    Mushrooms – I add it to everything standing still. (almost.)

  5. I have used cauliflower as a meat substitute in chili. Cauliflower is a very robust and tasty vegetable especially when cooked a long time. It’s not as good as meat obviously, but I bet if you mix it with TVP it’s pretty darn good.

    Mushroom as chopped liver substitute is also very good.

  6. I am a bit weary of soy which is suposed not to be too great for women my (our) age. I like adding eggs to rice and/or vegetables. I am also keen on coconut milk in curries or with pasta and spinach.

  7. I stopped buying soy a while ago. Whether or not the risks are exaggerated, it’s usually highly processed. Pregnant women should be cautious, in my opinion.

  8. I love the zucchini for chopped liver idea! I make my mother-in-law’s veggie liver with lentils, onions, and hard-boiled eggs, which is delish, but would love to try the zucchini one! Thanks for the great ideas.

  9. Aviva_Hadas says

    My OB/GYN suggested that I add soy to my diet – phytoestrogens. Meanwhile, my mother-in-law can not eat soy at all – drug interaction.
    & I eat it limited, mostly as edamame (which is unprocessed). But I do use TVP (a couple times a year when I want chili.) & soy milk rather than non-dairy creamer when “Koshifying” a recipe (less & less often as I’d rather not have anyone worry about the appearance of consuming milk with chicken/turkey).

  10. I also reduced our soy intake (which was never all that much) after reading about some of the problems with excessive, processed, or unfermented soy foods. And…this led me to the discovery of coconut oil and almond milk, my go-to parve-izing combo. I like almond milk a lot better than soy milk, and it’s less processed.

  11. Have just started using almond milk in baking and I love it. For example, used it in a cocoa pecan pie for Thanksgiving. But of course you have to know if you have people with nut allergies . . .

  12. Faux chopped liver is great when made with mushrooms and walnuts – here is the link to the recipe I’ve used in the past: I think I will try adding some zucchini as well – sounds delicious!

    As for tofu, a friend told me a trick for making it more firm and adding more texture – freeze it! Defrost it when ready to use, cut into desired sizes/shapes, marinate in teriyaki, bbq etc., then broil it until brown, flipping to brown both sides. It is quite tasty and holds together much better. It holds together so well you can even grill it 🙂


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