A lot of meat analogues exist in America, ranging from the ordinary (veggie burgers) to the downright weird (vegetarian shrimp?!?). Such things would be given funny looks over in India where the idea of not eating meat is, well, not to eat meat. Why eat something that looks and tastes just like what you don't want to eat?
Now, I love a veggie burger, and I'm quite fond of a few other analogues, but I think it's dangerous to consider them "substitutes" for meat. That leaves people with the idea that there's something fundamentally lacking in a vegetarian diet, which simply isn't true. I think the idea of focusing on vegetables as an end in themselves is an excellent one. Sometimes I think if I see one more recipe for vegan macaroni and "cheese" I'll go stark raving naked.
The power of food to connect us to our family and history, however, means there are exceptions.I thought about this recently when I was looking back at foods I ate as a child. We all have those comfort dishes Mom used to make that make us feel loved and cared for, and it's always delightful to find compassionate versions of those foods that evoke the same emotions. There are, however, some things I ate as a kid that I wouldn't even try to veganize.
For example, I grew up eating this concoction called Mulligan Stew. I have no idea where my mother got the recipe, but it's good old fashioned down-home working-people not-quite-payday food. It consisted of a sauteed onion, a can of Ranch Style beans, and a can of diced Spam simmered until it formed something stewlike.
Yes, I ate this. In mass quantities. Sometimes over Fritos.
Needless to say there is no way in hell to veganize this in an appetizing way. Ranch Style beans are made with beef, and while I've seen veg versions (there's a very close cousin available at Whole Foods, I think they're called Ranchero Beans or something similar in the store brand), the only thing I can think of to sub for the Spam would be tofu, and can you imagine? GROSS. There are few things in this world less appealing to me than tofu pretending to be Spam, because Spam, like Velveeta, is already pretending to be food.
So I won't be attempting to recapture that childhood memory. Fortunately there are better candidates.
One of my mom's tried and true side dishes is what she calls Potatoes on the Half Shell; it's simple, economical, and goes with everything.
Take Russet potatoes and wash them, then slice them longways in half. Make several slices down the inside of each (don't cut all the way through). Lay the potatoes out on a baking sheet (with sides) and spread Earth Balance buttery spread over each, then salt well. Bake at 450 for 45 minutes.
What you end up with is a baked potato, yes, but the "butter" bakes into the crevices you created with the knife, and creates a golden brown veneer over the top of the potato as well as dripping down just a bit onto the peel. I mash them up in the middle and add a bit more butter; others in my family add sour cream, chives, fakey bacon bits, whatever you'd put on an ordinary baked potato. You can eat them skin and all. I guess you could substitute olive oil or something healthier for the butter, or use less to make them lower in fat, but this is Southern cooking at its Paula Deen finest. When I want healthy I make regular roasted potatoes; when I want the comfort of my childhood kitchen memories, I turn to Potatoes on the Half Shell.
I suppose the point here is that not every vegan dish can be a meat-free version of something omni, nor should it. The world of plant-based food is so diverse and delicious that we do ourselves a disservice by trying to stick to the critter-laden Standard American Diet, even veganized. I think "substitution" recipes work best for newcomers to veg cuisine, and for those recipes that mean more to us than just dinner on the table--those dishes that bring back fond memories for which there is no substitute.