When I first moved to LA in 2009, a friend of mine told me to keep my eye out for a new “fake meat” called Beyond Meat that was soon to make a debut at Whole Foods. I searched and found it in the prepared foods section. Whole Foods created a tasty curried “chicken” salad with currants and almonds. I was hooked and started to buy all their products once they were available and created my own dishes: everything from chicken tacos to gyros to burgers to meatless lasagna and more. So when my husband, a climate scientist, told me that Beyond Meat had contacted him to give a talk on climate and his research, I asked him to tell them how much I love them and share my blog. Apparently they were inspired and invited me to create a meal to taste for them. Me! Cooking a meal I created for the people at Beyond Meat! My creative juices flowed and I wanted to fill a white space. They have many delectable recipes on their site, but no Indian dishes. After eating Indian food focused on potato, rice, bread, and yogurt with veggies scattered as an after thought, I was determined to make a North Indian dish my way – full of veggies, vegan, grain-free and flavor-forward using the Beyond Meat chicken strips. In the honor of Beyond Meat, I created a vegan chicken tikka masala with a grain-free cauliflower rice pulao. Bold, layers of flavor, tender meat. I am so glad I inserted myself into this climate talk – I was able to craft an amazing recipe steeped in my love and knowledge of the company products and meet the intelligent, engaged and passionate people behind these animal and planet friendly foods.
Decent Indian food is difficult to find in LA, unless you explore areas outside the city. It often lacks the robust, rich and layered spices that define the smell and taste of a good Indian meal. Furthermore, many people, including myself, don’t eat much of the cuisine as it tends to be heavy on non-nutritional starches, dairy and fried products leaving you feeling heavy and bloated after a meal. And if you are vegetarian like myself, you don’t have the opportunity to experience some of the rich curries and rubs associated with meat dishes, like chicken tikka masala. Beyond Meat solved the meat problem for me. Using that as the foundation, I wanted to create a vegan plant-based dish rich in protein, veggies and flavors showcasing the “chicken-like” Beyond Meat plant based food and the star of Indian cuisine – deep, complex, mouth-watering spices.
The Beyond Meat Chicken Strips are offered in a couple different options – I used the grilled strips for this dish.
Unlike other fake meats, Beyond Meat does not use soy or wheat gluten as the main protein source. Instead the meat is created with pea protein.
Many protein shakes that are vegan use pea protein. High in protein, low in fat, pea protein a protein of choice among many because it is gluten-free, dairy-free, animal-free and does not have the phyto-estrogen issues associated with high quantities of soy in the diet. But as far as I know, Beyond Meat is the only company to have figured out how to transform this rich plant source into a meat-like food.
Our bodies need 21 amino acids, the building blocks of protein, in our body to survive. Nine of these are considered essential because they are not synthesized in our body and must be derived from the food we eat. Pea protein has eight of these nine essential aminos (it lacks methionine which can be derived from animal sources or from nuts for plant based sources). It is an optimal protein source for our bodies.
Some have digestion issues with whole peas, but this is often not seen with pea protein as the isolated protein lacks those problem causing components. Pea protein is made from drying and grinding peas into a fine flour, mixing it with water and removing the fiber and starch leaving the proteins, some vitamins and minerals.
Now back to the “meat”.
Like real meat, the Beyond Meat chicken tenders can and will toughen with repeated heatings and often I make enough food for a couple of days which requires reheating. A key aspect to creating fleshy yet tender easy-to-chew meat is to – you guessed it – tenderize it. Meat is tenderized in a number of ways. In traditional tikka masala, yogurts are used to tenderize meat or paneer – an Indian cheese. The yogurt contains animal proteins which break down the meat protein and is also used as a vehicle to hold the spices in a marinade.
We were going to Beyond Meat because my husband was giving a talk on climate. While not the major source of carbon emissions, we know that reduction of current levels of meat consumption and moving away from factory farming to sustainable farming is essential for the planet and its animals. Dairy production contributes to the issues associated with mass factory farming. Like Beyond Meat has done with the chicken strips, I created a plant based tenderizing marinade to showcase we can achieve the same effects with plant sources. Using fresh lemon juice for the acid to break the protein down, coconut cream (not milk, which is more watery) for the fat and a variety of spices, I created a marinade. Don’t be scared of the fat – it carries nutrients into our cells and leaves us filling full so you don’t over eat to get that satiated feeling. Good fat is good for you.
Also, don’t let the list of spices and ingredients intimidate you. The spices may seem overwhelming but they add a rich complexity to the dish. Interestingly rather than work together the way thyme, sage and rosemary do, many Indian ingredients rub up against each other tickling different parts of the tongue, stimulating it. Stimulating all areas of the tongue is believed to a key factor for improved health and diet. A study of over 2,500 Indian recipes founds that down at the molecular level, that intoxicating aroma of Indian food is due to the combination of spices and ingredients with flavor profiles that don’t overlap. Check out this awesome interactive graph that looks at which foods shares flavor compound.
They examined how much the underlying flavor compounds overlapped in single dishes and discovered something very different from Western cuisines. Indian cuisine tended to mix ingredients whose flavors don’t overlap at all.
So let’s get cookin’.
First cut the strips in half as they are long.
Then whisk together the spices in a large bowl. Add the lemon juice and coconut milk and whisk together until fully blended before adding the chicken strips.
There is one ABSOLUTELY essential ingredient to this dish: Time. Not the herb, the ticking of the clock. The longer you let this marinade sit (in the fridge) the better.
24 hours : Wonderful.
48 hours : How did you get the strips so flavorful, tender and juicy?!
Same thing with the curry. Make it in advance and let it sit. When the flavors and ingredients have time to mingle and get to know each other, you create layers of flavor that make your tongue and other people exclaim “wow”! I was floored when a member of Beyond Meat told me that it was the best curry she had eaten. I told her it was my two secret ingredients – love and time. Sounds cheesy – with vegan cheez – but it is true. Have you ever watched or read Like Water for Chocolate? It inspired my food journey in the 90’s.
If you’ve been following my blog, you know I rarely make Indian food but incorporate one cooking technique no matter the ethnicity or cuisine – cook the spices. Cooking the spices allows them to open up and release the flavors into the oil, which then permeate the base layer of your food – often onions – and adds a depth of flavor.
You can add the spices directly to the coconut oil and cook:
Or you can place the dried, unground, whole spices inside a cheese cloth, tie up the cloth and place it into the heated oil. The curry will be blended together at the end and it is better not to have the blender blend the whole spices – for the sake of the blades and motor. The cheese cloth allows you to easily remove the whole spices. I place the fresh ginger and ground spices directly in the pot since that can be blended.
Cook for about 5 minutes, until fragrant. Do not over cook the spices. Next, add in the onion and cook down for 5-10 minutes until tender and cooked through.
Add in the bell peppers and cook for an additional 5 min. Add in garlic and give a quick stir, then add in tomatoes.
Cook, stirring frequently for 30 to 45 min over medium heat until tomatoes are cooked down. Remove the spice bag with whole spices and blend the curry sauce until smooth. Continue to cook if too watery to reduce until desired consistency is reached.
Remove from heat. Stir in coconut cream and add salt to taste.
Set aside. This can be made up to 2 days in advance – allowing the flavors to mingle, while chicken strips are marinating.
Once marinated, place the chicken strips with the marinade onto a foil lined baking sheet.
Broil on middle rack for 5-10 min until browned, but be careful to not to burn. Let cool slightly.
So tender and yummy. Another Beyond Meat employee told me he had never had these chicken strip taste so tender (another proud achievement).
Place the cooked strips into the curry – including the marinade.
Fully immerse in the curry, garnish with cilantro and serve. The curry can be reheated over a low to medium heat before or after the strips are added.
Tikka masala is a popular North Indian entrée that is usually served with naan and basmati rice. I wanted neither rice nor bread, so I opted to make a grain-free rice made of cauliflower. Another popular Indian dish is pulao, which is essentially a rice seasoned with spices and cooked with veg. So of course we begin by cooking spices. Unlike the curry, the spices can remain whole in the dish and eaten around. Having the whole spices peak through the dish makes it exciting.
Pulao begins the same way as every other Indian dish – cook the spices. Open up the flavors in the oil.
Add onion, garlic, bay leaf and then the cauliflower. Three years ago few people thought of cauliflower as a replacement for rice. Now you can buy “riced” cauliflower fresh or frozen at almost any grocery store – I even saw it in the UK and France. Or you can rice it yourself. Remove the stem and leaves and grate with a grater or run through the proper blade of a food processor.
Cook stirring frequently to remove as much of the water as possible. Add in peas and carrots. Salt to taste. Garnish with slivered almonds, safron and cilantro. Eat away!
It tastes so good with the curry. Some people did not know it was not rice.
I also believe texture in a meal – stimulate the senses and tastes of the mouth. I served this with papadum – a flat thin crisp made of chickpea flour, lentil and cumin. I do not make these but buy them in the Indian grocery and crisp it up over the open flame.
Don’t want the clutter of spices you may not use? Here’s a tip, buy the spices from the bulk section of your local grocery stores. It’s cheaper, they will be fresher and is not going to occupy space in your pantry.
I was thoroughly impressed with the company. The founder and CEO, Ethan Brown was friendly, kind hearted, generous, intelligent, inquisitive, progressive and passionate. And you could see he set the tone with his employees because I could say the same of everyone I spoke with. The company showed up to hear my husband’s talk on climate, carbon emissions, and food (which was brilliant of course) and everyone was engaged, curious, and insightful.
They sent us home with swag and a bunch of product that I shared with friends.
I am proudly wearing my shirt and hat today.
They even gave us some of the new product that will be available later this year (unless you live in Boulder – go out and get it!). Soy-free, gluten-free, GMO-free “sausages” created with pea protein as well as sunflower and fava bean protein. Decent vegetarian sausage is hard to find – Tofurky is eh and soy based, Field Roast is flavorful but dry and full of wheat gluten, Morning Star Farms is juicy GMO soy that screams artificial with every bite (or maybe my mind screams when I read the ingredients). Everything else is not worth even mentioning. The Beyond Meat Brat is covered in a casing like real sausage and this vegan plant-based baby sizzles when cooked! I am not going to tell you how good it was because then my mouth will start watering. No words necessary to elicit drool.
Ethan was happy to hear I knew of the products since 2009 at the Whole Foods prepared food section and knew exactly of the curried chicken salad that set me on a path forward with their products. Nearly a decade later, I created my own curry for them. I am truly honored.
Vegan Chicken Tikka Masala With Beyond Meat Chicken Strips
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 2 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon ground clove
- 1/4 teaspoon red chili powder
- 1 garlic cloves, diced
- 1 teaspoon ginger, minced
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- Juice of one lemon
- 1/2 cup coconut cream
- 2 9 ounce package of Beyond Meat Grilled Chicken Strips, thawed, strips cut in half
- 1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
- 1 1-inch piece of cinnamon
- 2 cloves
- 6 green cardamom pods
- 2 Tbs coconut oil
- 2 teaspoon turmeric
- 2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2-inch piece ginger, minced
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 red, yellow or orange bell pepper, chopped
- 1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
- 5 large plum tomatoes, finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 cup coconut cream
- Salt to taste
- Red chili to taste
- Finely chopped cilantro for garnish
Place all the spices, ginger and garlic into a bowl and whisk to blend. Add lemon juice, coconut cream and olive oil and whisk to combine and blended. Add Beyond Meat chicken strips and coat. Leave this at room temperature for at least 2 hours. You can also make this ahead and refrigerate it for up to 48 hours. The longer it marinates, the more tender and flavorful it will be.
To make the curry, place the whole spices – cinnamon sticks, cardamom, cloves and fenugreek into a cheese cloth and tie together. Heat coconut oil in a heavy bottomed pan and when oil is hot, add all the spice bag, ginger and powdered spices and cook for 5 minutes, until fragrant but be careful not to burn the spices. Add in onions and cook until tender – about 5-10 minutes. Add in bell pepper and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Add in garlic and give a quick stir, then add in tomatoes. Cook, stirring frequently for 30-45 min over medium heat until tomatoes are cooked down and water from tomatoes has reduced. Remove spice bag with whole spices. Blend the curry sauce until smooth. Continue to cook if too watery to reduce until desired consistency is reached. Remove from heat. Stir in coconut cream. Add salt to taste.
Place the marinated chicken strips with marinade onto foil lined baking sheet and broil on middle rack for 5-10 min until browned, but be careful to not to burn. Let cool slightly
Add to curry. Taste for salt. Garnish with cilantro.
- 3 tablespoons coconut oil
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 3 green cardamom pods, crushed
- 3 cloves
- 1/4 tsp fennel seeds
- 3/4 tsp black cumin seeds or 1/2 tsp regular cumin seeds
- 1 small piece of nutmeg or 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 2 black pepercorns
- 1/2 tsp ginger, diced
- 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 garlic clove diced
- 1 medium sized head of cauliflower, stem removed and florets riced in a food processor (if using frozen, thaw and squeeze out water before use)
- 1 carrot, peeled and diced
- 1 cup peas
- Salt to taste
- 1-2 strands saffron (optional)
- 2 tablespoons slivered almonds
- 2 tablespoons cilantro to garnish
- slivered almonds to garnish
Remove the stalks from the cauliflower, cut into large pieces and place in a food processor and process until the texture of coarse couscous. Do not over process. Set aside.
Heat the oil over medium heat and add in cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, fennel seeds, cumin, nutmeg, peppercorns and ginger. Cook spices until fragrant, around 30 sec- 1 min.
Add in the onions and cook the onions for about 7 to 10 minutes, until the onions are wilted and begin to turn a pale golden color. Add the bay leaf and garlic and stir.
Add in the cauliflower and thoroughly mix. Stir occasionally and cook for about 15 min until cauliflower is cooked and not wet. Add in peas and carrots. Salt to taste.
Stir in the almonds and garnish with cilantro and serve.