Green Kitchen: Chickpea Cutlets and Non-Meat Proteins

Green Kitchen is a bi-weekly column about nutritious, inexpensive, and ethical food and cooking. It's penned by the lovely Jaime Green.

When it comes to humanely raised food, meat is a big question. If you've seen Food, Inc. (which Kris has written about before) or read Fast Food Nation or The Omnivore's Dilemma, you're familiar with the cruelties of the industrial livestock industry. The animals suffer, the workers are mistreated, food safety is a joke, the health value of the meat plummets, and the negative environmental repercussions are epic.

But okay, farmers market meat is usually humanely raised on small-scale farms that are a bajillion times better than factory farms. Sadly, it’s also hella pricey, and this website is not called Worthwhile Expenses Healthy Good. Of course, we should support small operations so they can grow and thrive, but there’s an alternative: non-meat protein.

When you can't buy from a local farmer, non-meat protein is a solid alternative on every level. It will save you money. It almost always will be healthier. It will be better for the planet, having required less energy to produce.

So: non-meat protein! Yay! Nearly all supermarkets have some tofu and mock-meat cold cuts these days, which is spectacular. Still, even the most enthusiastic vegetarian gets tired of tofu, and have you looked at the ingredients on a box of fake ham? There are a lot of them, and I don't know what most of them are. The solution: DIY.

Take these chickpea cutlets, for example. Adapted from inimitable vegan cookbook Veganomicon, they’re healthy, cheap, homemade, and DELICIOUS. (Meat-eating boyfriend-approved!) They’re also packed with protein (thanks, legumes), and a cousin of seitan, the hearty vegan protein Leigh and I have both written of.

A couple of recipe notes: You can bake the cutlets or pan-fry them, and instructions on both methods are below. The pan-fried are a little juicier and tastier than the baked, but that's what fat does for your food. The baked cutlets (I made two of each) were still totally delicious.

Also: one cutlet is a good, albeit slightly small portion. Depending on what else you serve, hungrier or larger folks may want one-and-a-half. The recipe makes four. I ate them with roasted root vegetables (love you, parsnips!) and broccoli, because there is nothing green at the greenmarket right now, and that just doesn't work for me.

From the wonderful/hibernating vegan blog, Yeah, That Vegan S***, I got the idea to dip these cutlets in agave nectar, and oh my goodness was it good! Also great: honey, a squeeze of lemon juice. Maybe a sandwich with an herbed mayo? (Sorry, Kris.) Honey mustard? BBQ sauce? Go mad. Anything you'd dress chicken with would work.

If you like this recipe, you might also like:

Chickpea Cutlets
Makes 4 cutlets.
Adapted from Veganomicon by way of Yeah, That Vegan S***

1 cup chickpeas
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup vital wheat gluten
½ cup oatmeal, food-processed to breadcrumb consistency (or ½ c plain breadcrumbs)
¼ cup vegetable broth or water (I used Better than Bouillon)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 garlic cloves, pressed or grated
½ teaspoon lemon zest
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon paprika (I used hot, and it was great)
¼ teaspoon dried sage
Olive oil or cooking spray for baking or pan-frying

0) If you will be oven-baking these, preheat your oven to 375.

1) In a medium bowl, combine chickpeas and olive oil. With a big spoon and/or fork (plus a little muscle), mash them together until all the chickpeas are broken apart.

2) In a separate small bowl, combine dry ingredients: gluten, oatmeal, thyme, paprika, sage.

3) In another small bowl, combine wet ingredients: broth, garlic, lemon zest.

4) Dump both dry and wet ingredients into the chickpea mixture. Knead about 3 minutes or so, "until strings of gluten have formed."

5) Divide your dough into quarters. Flatten each piece until it's a patty roughly the size of your flat hand.

TO PAN-FRY: Heat a large skillet over medium heat and coat lightly with olive oil. Cook cutlets about 12 to 15 minutes, flipping once halfway through. When finished, they should be browned and patty-esque in texture.

TO BAKE: Grab a baking sheet and lightly oil or coat it with cooking spray. Then, "brush both sides of each cutlet with olive oil" (or spray with cooking spray – you get the idea here). Pop in the oven for 20 minutes. Flip once and bake 8 or 10 more minutes. When finished, they should be browned and patty-esque in texture

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, and Price per Cutlet
246 calories, 8.2g fat, 3.8g fiber, $0.65

1 cup chickpeas: 286 calories, 2.7g fat, 10.6g fiber, $.50
2 tablespoons olive oil: 239 calories, 27g fat, 0g fiber, $.24
½ cup vital wheat gluten: 280 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, $.82
½ cup oatmeal: 150 calories, 3g fat, 4g fiber, $0.15
¼ cup vegetable broth: 1 calorie, 0g fat, 0g fiber, $.05
2 tablespoons soy sauce: 18 calories, 0g fat, .3g fiber, $.21
2 garlic cloves: 10 calories, 0 g fat, 0.1 g fiber, $0.10
½ teaspoon lemon zest: negligible calories and fat, 0.1g fiber, $.50
½ teaspoon dried thyme: negligible calories, fat, and fiber, $.02
½ teaspoon paprika: negligible calories, fat, and fiber, $.02
¼ teaspoon dried sage: negligible calories, fat, and fiber, $.02
TOTAL: 984 calories, 32.7g fat, 15.1g fiber, $2.63
PER CUTLET (TOTAL/4): 246 calories, 8.2g fat, 3.8g fiber, $0.65