Nearly 85 million Americans eat fast food on any given day, and as of 2016 we averaged 55.6 pounds of beef a year. Given apprehensions about the environmental and health impacts of red meat, there’s plenty of reason to be interested in the new generations of plant-based “meats” like the Beyond Burger and Impossible Foods.
While mock meats have been around for a while, Beyond and Impossible have gained unprecedented traction in no small part because Burger King is offering Impossible Burgers and Carl’s Jr. features Beyond. This new generation offers an uncanny capacity to mimic the taste and even texture of ground beef. Of course, while these products are vegan, they’re highly processed.
From the standpoint of flavor, it was not immediately apparent Burger King’s Impossible Burger wasn’t beef. It looked the same, was packaged the same and was delicious in a fast-food sort of way. In terms of texture, it wasn’t identical, but neither was it disturbingly different.
The story was somewhat similar with Carl’s Jr.’s Beyond Burger. Again, it looked and was packaged the same and was fast-food tasty. But this time the texture was noticeably softer. It was better than old-school veggie burgers, but if you ordered a beef burger and got this, you’d know the difference. Perhaps more significantly, as good as it tasted going down, it didn’t take long for the familiar fast-food regret syndrome to hit: “Why in the hell did I do that?”
There had to be a better way. And that’s when it struck me: I didn’t have to go to a fast-food joint to eat them. A trip to Gelson’s, the only local store that carries both products, and I had both Beyond and Impossible to use in cooking Isaan Thai-style laab at home. The dish worked well with both products, though I slightly preferred it with the Beyond “meat.” The texture was a bit firmer, crumbled better and the slight coconut flavor of the Beyond worked well in the Southeast Asian milieu.
Beyond Isaan laab
2 tablespoons jasmine rice (uncooked)
1 pound Beyond Meat
4 tablespoons lime juice, divided (about 3-4 limes)
1 tablespoon vegan “fish” sauce (recipe below)
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 stalk lemongrass (white part only), thinly sliced
4 kaffir lime leaves, julienned
2 teaspoons minced galangal (or ginger)
6 whole mint leaves plus 2 sprigs of fresh mint
2 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 Chinese long beans, cut in 1-inch sections and blanched
2 teaspoons light brown sugar
2 lettuce (or cabbage) leaf cups
Toast rice in a dry skillet over medium-high heat, shaking pan frequently until rice turns golden, about 4 minutes.
While rice is toasting, combine 3 tablespoons of the lime juice, vegan fish sauce, scallions, lemongrass, kaffir lime and galangal in a bowl.
When the rice is golden, transfer it into a clean spice (or coffee) grinder and grind to a sandy powder. In same skillet over medium-high heat, add the Beyond Meat and cook, breaking the “meat” into small pieces, about 3-5 minutes until it is just starting to cook through. Add the lime juice and vegan fish sauce mixture and cook for 2 more minutes, until the meat is cooked through. Remove from heat.
Add remaining tablespoon of lime juice, mint, tomatoes and sugar to the “meat” and mix to combine. Add the ground rice and mix well.
Spoon laab into lettuce cups and garnish with the sprigs of mint.
Vegan “fish” sauce
1 1/4 cup water
1/4 cup dulse seaweed
1/4 cup dried shiitake mushrooms
2 tsp Kosher salt
1 1/4 teaspoons white miso
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon pineapple juice
Add water, dulse, mushrooms and salt to a small saucepan and bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Pour liquid through a fine mesh strainer. Add the miso and soy sauce and into a bowl, pressing on the mushrooms and dulse with a spoon to squeeze out any remaining liquid.
To the bowl, add the miso, soy sauce and pineapple juice and mix well. Taste and adjust the seasoning to taste, adding more salt, miso or soy sauce as desired.