Whole Food Vegetarian Ground Beef Substitute Recipe

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Day 10.

This recipe comes from a reader, Jessica, who says this recipe (one I’ve been searching for as a stand-in for the more processed “beef” substitutes you buy in the freezer section) is great in chili, tacos and spaghetti.

I’m so excited to see how this works out and you’ll likely see it cropping up in other recipes soon. But this deserved a post of its own. The is a vegan recipe, too. Bonus! I’m excited that it just takes whole foods. I’ve altered Jessica’s original recipe based on ingredients I have in my usual pantry, subbing out gluten for mushrooms and potatoes.

Ground Beef Substitute

  • 2 cups dry Brown rice
  • 2 cups dry Green lentils
  • 2 tablespoons Montreal steak seasoning
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup vital wheat gluten*
  • 1 cup rolled oats

*for a gluten-free option, replace wheat gluten with:

    • 1/4 cup diced and sauteed or marinated mushrooms
    • 1/4 cup mashed potatoes

Boil rice, lentils and steak seasoning until slightly soft (I put them in my rice cooker on brown rice setting). Drain any excess water, if necessary. Combine with remaining ingredients. Spread into a large pan (13 x 9) and bake at 300F for 1 hour, stirring occasionally to evenly dehydrate mixture. Store in portion-sized freezer bags. It will keep in the refrigerator for 1 week or freezer until used.

The Results
Another split decision. I absolutely love it. My husband likes it, but says it isn’t really all that beefy. So, I’d say give it a shot and decide for yourself. I think it’s great, and is beefy enough for me. Maybe I’ll kick the steak seasoning up a notch next time. I’m really excited to try it out in recipes. I have no idea how it will hold up in chili and other liquidy recipes. But yum, it’s great and not processed food. And, it costs about $1 to make. Win!

UPDATE: I’ve gone with the wheat gluten option the last several times (since I stock it in my pantry now). The only other change is cooking the batch in a larger pan. I use a large 13 x 9 baking dish to spread the “beef” out more. Also, the husband has become a fan of it now.

UPDATE 2: NUTRITION FACTS (10 servings per batch)–Serving Size 99 g, Calories 380, Calories from Fat 66, Total Fat 7.4g, Sodium 452 mg, Total Carbohydrates 59.4g, Dietary Fiber 14.4g, Protein 18.6g

This post is linked at Meatless Mondays, Homemaker Monday, Happy Homemaker MondayMenu Inspiration Monday and Just Another Meatless Monday.

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  1. rosswa says

    I'm going to have to try this….but without the mushrooms (I am allergic to them, sad to say!)….

  2. Kristi says

    The original recipe actually calls for 1/2 C of Gluten instead of the mushrooms and potatoes, I just don't keep gluten in the pantry so I swapped it out. You could either do the gluten or just increase the potatoes. Good luck!

  3. Laura says

    So it was gluten, like to make seiten? just trying to see what the original recipe was. I like the mushrooms too, they always taste meaty. I'll give this a whirl for sure!Thanks for linking up to Just Another Meatless Monday!

  4. Kristi says

    Yes, I believe so. At least that was my interpretation. It was 1/2 C gluten no mushrooms and no potatoes. Mashed potatoes are a substitute for gluten in bread recipes, so I went with that. The mushrooms I just liked in the Meatless Meatballs recipe, so I wanted to add those in, also. Let me know how it turns out if you try the gluten.

  5. Lisa says

    That is very interesting. The lentils and gluten would make a complete protein, better than gluten or soy alone. I'm going to have to try this (with the gluten, though–I always have that on hand).I'll bet this would work really well to make sloppy joes. I buy the canned sauce and mix it in with seasoned TVP, but this would be much more nutritious!

  6. April says

    I think I'm going to try this with gluten and mushrooms – leave out the potatoes!I wonder how brown lentils would work – I have those, currently don't have any green ones.

  7. Kristi says

    I think that would work great. As for the green vs. brown, I think the cooking times might be slightly different, but not by much. I may try it with gluten next time, but I do like the gluten-free option with the potatoes. Good luck!

  8. Manders says

    where do you get the steak seasoning. I have often wondered where people get the steak and chicken seasoning

  9. Kristi says

    Manders: I get McCormick "Montreal Steak Seasoning" at either Kroger or Sam's Club. I usually get the giant Sam's version, lately, but it's available in a smaller size at most grocery stores. Here's a link to the size I buy, via amazon: Montreal Steak Seasoning

  10. Anonymous says

    How much water do you use to boil the rice and lentils, and for how long? Does "slightly soft" mean the same as fully cooked rice, or not that long? I'm not good at improvising–I need specifics. :)

  11. Kristi says

    It depends on our rice and appliance. If you're doing it in a rice cooker, put in the amount of water for 4 cups of brown rice. If you're boiling on the stovetop, consult your package instructions. Slightly soft means fully cooked, but not mushy.

  12. Dara says

    This is beautiful! I am living in a kind of wilderness situation, i'm allergic to soy (so no TVP) and I was looking for a simple ground beef substitute. Though I have no access to a a decent steak seasoning (meaning chemical free)… what else could I used instead?When I make it i'll definitely link it on my blog. Check it out if you have a chance! http://noceilings-dara.blogspot.com/

    • Kristy says

      I realize this is very old, but I have made my own steak seasoning and a big part of it is also smoked paprika. Generally, it’s flaked, but you can also use the powdered. Other than that, Kristi’s suggestion is spot on. Peppercorns if you have them vs the ground or flakes. Hope that helps some people!

  13. Kristi says

    Based on the ingredients of the steak seasoning, I would try a blend of kosher salt, garlic powder, black pepper (Mixing up a batch of House seasoning would be a great start for that) onion flakes or onion powder, and red pepper flakes would be the way to go I think. It's probably something you'll have to tinker around with a bit to get the proportions right for you. Let me know how it goes, I'd love to see your version!

  14. Jana says

    What is the consistency supposed to be once it's dehydrated? I don't use the store-bought faux ground beef so don't know what it should look like or how to use it in a recipe.

  15. Kristi says

    @Jana I think I would describe it as a soft granola. It looks like granola, because it's all crumbly and chunky, but then when you bite into it, it's more the texture of mushrooms. I hope that makes sense. As for how to use it in recipe, I think the best starter recipe to use would be simple tacos. Add a bit of oil and taco seasoning and place it in a taco shell with your preferred toppings. Or you can try tostadas. With more soupy recipes, you'll want to add the "beef" later than traditional beef or store-bought beef, as it can break apart if it gets too soggy.

  16. Anonymous says

    Any idea on nutritional info? I like the crumbles b/c they add a nice does of protein to dishes. Thanks! Oh, and do your kids like it? 2 y/o and 5 y/o. Love your blog – describes our family perfectly!!!

  17. Kristi says

    @Anonymous, I've actually had a lot of requests for the nutrition info, so I've updated the post to include that, thanks for the reminder! And our kids love it, especially in tacos! My husband has grown to love it, also.

  18. SarahM says

    This is fantastic! My husband and I are not vegetarians (however we do enjoy vegetarian meals several times a month). I wanted to try this recipe because our 3 year old really doesn't like meat and I worry she doesn't get enough protein. I made this today and she LOVES it! I admit, I really like it too! Thanks for sharing this recipe, it'll be a staple in our house from now on.

  19. Elisabeth @ joggersl says

    I made this last week, stored it in the freezer, and used it last night for a "meaty" vegetarian lasagna. It was so good! Standard veggie lasagna doesn't generally do it for me (not enough protein), but adding this to each layer really bulked it up. So glad I made an extra lasagna for the freezer!

  20. Anonymous says

    Son has Celiac Disease…. we are vegatarians…. has anyone made the gluten free version? I am wondering how it tasted and how well it handled in the recipe, especially with spaghetti sauce, chilis etc… Thanks!!!

  21. Kristi says

    Yes actually, the original version I made was gluten-free back before I kept vital wheat gluten in the pantry. You simply replace the vital wheat gluten with 1/4 cup diced sauteed mushrooms and 1/4 cup mashed potatoes. It handles well with both spaghetti sauce and chilis. It does get a bit squishier after sitting in the sauce for several days, but still tastes great and holds up most of its texture.

  22. PinkKitchen @pinkkit says

    This is a really great idea! Thanks so much. I think my husband might actually eat this :)

  23. The Average Jane says

    Hmm…do you think I could substitute black beans for lentils, or would that make it too moist?

  24. Kristi says

    That could be interesting, I'll have to give it a try myself. I think it would be moister than the lentils version. I'd consider doing two things: chop the black beans into smaller bits and add more oats, maybe 1/4 cup. Let me know if you try it.

  25. And Live says

    Do you think cutting out some of the oil would hurt the recipe much? I'd like to cut it down to half if it would work, but that's a lot of food to waste if it doesn't turn out. Is the oil simply to help it brown up in the oven or does it serve another purpose? If so, I'd think a slightly higher temp or just a couple minutes under the broiler would help with that at the end.

  26. Kristi says

    I'm afraid it might be TOO dry with half the oil. Maybe try it with a half or quarter batch, but keep an eye on it. You could always mix in a bit more oil if it looks scary. You could also try pumpkin puree or maybe unsweetened, no cinnamon applesauce if you're worried about the oil. If you try it, let me know how it turns out!

  27. Jessica says

    I'm about to give this a whirl, and mix it half & half with real cooked ground beef. Hopefully I can pass it off to my husband. We'll see.

  28. Jessica says

    Okay. I'm not sure what kind of lentils I used- They just said "Lentils". But by the time the rice was done, they were pretty mushy.And the whole mixture tastes awfully peppery and not very meaty despite the fact that I added a beef bullion cube along with the steak seasoning.It's really good, but I don't think it will pass the man check.

  29. Kristi says

    Bummer about the man check, but I'm glad you like it! I'm not sure why the lentils got so mushy. It could be the type of lentils or maybe a difference in your rice cooker. I have a fuzzy logic one. You could try cooking the lentils separately on the stovetop (according to package directions) if you think that's your only major issue.As for the beefy taste, I've never added beef bouillon and it's been so long since I've had real ground beef that I can't really accurately report on that. But, what I can suggest is putting it in a strong sauce for the first attempt at passing the "man test." I find that if it's in chili or marinara sauce, it's less likely to set off meat-eater alarm bells. Hope that helps!

  30. Jessica says

    Well, it failed the man-test in tacos, and got a "passable" in egg rolls. I, however, thought it made the best darn egg rolls ever. So I'm making a triple batch of them tomorrow LOL

    • says

      Hahaha! Well, the "passable" is progress, right? I know my husband has developed more of a taste for some of the fake meats over the years. The first fake meat thing I made for him, he thought it was awful. I made the same thing recently and he loved it.

      I'm so glad about your yummy egg rolls! I'd love to know which recipe you're using. I love egg rolls!

        • says

          Oh man, I've been meaning to try converting that one since Pam posted it. Drool. I'll have to try it myself. I like the way you're thinkin' with the layer of unhealthy on top of the healthy. :)

          Thanks for sharing!

    • Pamela says

      Argh! I'm not sure how I managed to misplace the link. I wish I had the option to edit and fix it!

  31. Kaylene says

    I cannot wait to give this recipe a try. My husband was born and raised a vegetarian and even though we all eat meat, its not daily, and he prefers the more heavily processed stuff when he does. This morning he had corn beef hash from a can…EWWWW, to a meat eater that barely qualifies ;). I am trying to get him away from the canned veggie burger he loves so much. The ingredient list reminds me of an am/pm hamburger in length and man does it give everyone gas. I will add beef better than bullion to it along with the steak seasoning.

    Thanks for all of the tips! Hoping our meat eater buddy likes it!

  32. Kaylene says

    WOW, it was a GIANT success! The one big change I made was I spread the mix out into 2 9×12 pans instead of one and adjusted the cooking time to 45 min. I added 8 cups of water to the rice and lentils in my rice cooker.

    It was so much lighter in my stomach than the vege-burger.

    The pickiest of the bunch loved it!

  33. romaida says

    Is there a substitute for the oil that I can use? I would like to make this lower in fat. Thanks!

  34. Craig says

    I'm progressively switching to an all vegan diet and slowly but surely I am figuring out how certain things can easily be changed around. This one is a big plus for things like tacos and burritos, but for my first go at making it I'm not sure if it's dry enough. That doesn't matter, but I was curious, the recipe calls for mashed potatoes instead of the gluten. Does that mean dry or freshly mashed? I went ahead and mashed some up myself, but I wasn't sure what their purpose is?

  35. Rachel says

    Thanks for this recipe!

    Is there a list on your web site of recipes that you use this in? I made the fajita burgers and am looking for more recipes that use this as a base!


  36. Jesslla says

    This is fantastic! I was looking for a substitute for TVP (Can't stand the flavor) for things like hamburger helper and spaghetti. I'll get some lentils and try this. Thanks so much!

    • says

      It's soooo good! Hope you enjoy! Let me know how yours turns out. I LOVE it in spaghetti. It's been a while since I've had hamburger helper, but I remember it being pretty tasty in that, too. So much better than TVP…I agree about the funky flavor.

      • Jesslla says

        Hmm. Question, is the two cups of rice and lentils two cups of dry rice/lentils or two cups of cooked rice/lentils? I made this today, but I used two cups of dry rice/lentils and it completely filled my 9×13 pan! The texture of the finished product was mostly rice and beans, not really "ground beef" sized chunks.

        It was really tasty though! I ate it plain with a bit of soy sauce (read: too lazy to make spaghetti ;).

        • says

          I always use 2 cups dry. But I suppose it's possible the original intent was to use 2 cups cooked. And yes, a full batch completely fills a 9 x 13 pan. Glad you liked the taste. As for the texture, baking it a little longer will give you a more crumbly texture, as will stirring it during baking. Hope that helps!

  37. says

    Thanks for this! I think I will give it a whirl. I'm in a similar situation as you… I am Vegan… my husband is a meat eater and our kids do a little of both! 😀 So it’s a tough balancing act but so far so good. When I cook its all vegan sometimes Iw ill make a little meat for him and when he cooks there is absolutely some meat or fish involved! When he is on duty, he makes a separate veggie based meal for me. A little extra work but we make it work and everyone is happy. I have been looking for a beef type substitute that is whole food… I try to avoid the meat substitutes sold in the stores so this will be a great option, I limit my gluten intake so I will use the mushrooms as a replacement. I am looking forward to giving this one a try! Thanks!! :)

    • says

      That's awesome! So glad I could help. I'm borderline vegan myself. If it weren't for the non-veg family, I'd probably be vegan by now, but that has to be rough! Good luck!

  38. Mariah says

    I was wondering if there was a substitution available for the lentils? My daughter has PKU so she is on a LOW protein diet. She doesn't eat meat of any kind and is VERY limited on the amount of protein she can get from high protein foods, like lentils. This is a great looking recipe though. :)

    • says

      Hi Mariah, I'm not sure how much it would help, but perhaps a lower protein bean, like black beans or garbanzos would lower the protein enough? The only other thing I can think of would be mushrooms.

  39. Michelle says

    I know it’s been ages since the last comment, but I was curious about the nutrition info/serving sizes… when I made the recipe I used 2 cups dry rice and 2 cups dry lentils (although I was unsure if I was supposed to use cooked or dry). When I was portioning out the finished product, I got 8 x 200g portions – and your nutrition facts say 10 x 100g portions… Did I mess up the recipe?

  40. says

    Hi Kristi, I tried this recipe last night. It was pretty good. We used it in taco salad one night and then again in spaghetti the next night. I cooked mine up on the stove top. Kinda confusing. Im not that great at improvising recipes. I used non gmo Basmatti rice, 1 1/2 cups water per cup of rice. My green Lentils package said to use 3 cups water per cup of Lentils! Lots of water! Followed the directions. However I put mine in the Excalibur dehydrator.Then into clean mason jars with a moisture packet. My question is. How do you reconstitute this recipe?

  41. says

    Hi Angela! I’ve never tried to completely dehydrate it in a dehydrator. The finished product the way I make it is edible as is. But, if I had to guess, I’d say add 1/4 cup of veggie broth to 1 cup of “beef.” Let it soak in for about 15 miutes and then cook over low heat for 5 minutes.

  42. ROBIN says

    To get a ‘beefier’ flavor you can try using Cavenders Greek seasoning. Adds a lot of flavor but a little more subtle than the Montreal. I also use a short grain rice (shusi or Arborio) cooked with extra water so it is really sticky and chewy

  43. Silverbullet71 says

    Thank you for this! I will be making it for my daughter’s bday party (one of the families is vegetarian). Now I’m assuming you add enough water for 4 cups of rice since you’re adding 2 cups rice and 2 cups lentils!