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Use This Insanely Delicious Plant-Based “Meat” Recipe in Just About Anything

A plant-based meat substitute that has a smoky, umami flavor with zero chemicals and weird additives? We did it, you’re going to love it and here’s how to make it.

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My family and I are big farmers’ market supporters and frequent a local purveyor carrying 100-mile goods and produce. We strive to include more plant-based foods in our diet for our health, environmental impact and animal welfare while supporting local farmers. But do you know which product isn’t available at most farmers’ markets and local purveyors? Plant-based meat substitutes – because, in case you haven’t heard, most of them are a far cry from the vegetable patch they claim to come from. 

Shopping for plant-based meat products has never been more confusing with endless choices with big claims attached to them. And while the future of alternative protein sounds bright, you might be wondering, how did these versatile blends come about, and are they even good for us? 

A new twist on an old concept

You might be surprised to hear that mock meat is not a new concept. Impossible to believe, long before the first bleeding plant-based patty hit a sesame bun, Chinese cuisine perfected meat-based dishes from veggies, mushrooms and nuts dating back centuries. In fact, since Buddhism, practiced in China for centuries, forbids eating meat, this allowed plant-forward cuisine to flourish. And that includes some fairly impressive meat substitutes.  

New iterations of faux meat

So Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat and other faux-meat brands didn’t really invent the wheel, but they certainly made it more widely accessible. And they also added a few more things to the mix. These ingredients can include laboratory-made ingredients, preservatives, coloring agents, thickening gums and seasonings – not exactly the picture of wholesome beans and vegetables you might have imagined.

What our recipe does differently

We don’t shy away from a challenge. We tasked ourselves with creating a meat substitute that can be used in a variety of ways including meatballs, ground meat and burger patties. Oh, and since we are Clean Eating after all, it also has to be good for you. 

The result: We sautéed garlic and onion to create savory and caramelized flavor notes, added vegan Parmesan and coconut aminos for a hit of umami, combined brown rice and ground flaxseed to add bulk and binding qualities, walnuts and seeds for texture. And you know that mushy meatball/patty issue that plagues so many plant-based recipes? We solved that by drying out the black beans before use.

We’re not going to claim you can’t decipher between ground red meat and our plant-based version (ours doesn’t bleed, and isn’t that a good thing?). But, our recipe is just darn delicious, healthy and should be on your weekly dinner rotation. Pronto.


plant based meat substitute
Photo: Hilaire Baumgartner

The Ultimate Homemade Meat Substitute

Using all plant-based ingredients, this savory umami blend uses beans, nuts and rice for a mixture that can be used in virtually any context – think burgers, meatballs or even as ground meat in tacos.

Prep Time
20 min
40 min


  • 1 15-oz BPA-free can black beans (or red kidney beans or lentils), rinsed and drained
  • 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • ¼ tsp sea salt
  • 2 tbsp unsalted tomato paste
  • 1 cup unsalted walnuts
  • ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1½ cups cooked brown rice or quinoa
  • ½ cup vegan Parmesan cheese
  • ¼ cup toasted, unsalted sunflower seeds
  • 4 tsp coconut aminos or vegan Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 2 tbsp ground flaxseed


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spread beans on a baking sheet and bake until beans start splitting and are slightly crunchy, 18 to 20 minutes.
  2. In a large skillet on medium, heat oil. Add onions and cook, stirring until golden and softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic, paprika and salt and cook, for 1 minute. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring until paste changes color and the aroma smells sweet, 30 to 40 seconds. Let cool. 
  3. To a food processor, add beans, walnuts, onion mixture and parsley; pulse until walnuts and beans are coarsely crumbled. Add rice, cheese, seeds, coconut aminos, water and flaxseed and pulse until just combined, being careful not to pulse into a paste. Scrape into a large bowl. 
  4. Select among the serving suggestions below for ground meat, burger patties or meatballs and follow instructions to finish the dish. If making meatballs or burger patties, make and form up to two days ahead; cover and refrigerate until use.


Ground beef substitute: Cook mixture in a large skillet on medium with 1 to 2 tsp oil, stirring until browned and slightly crispy, about 5 minutes. 

Burger patties: Divide into 6 even portions and form into 4-inch rounds. Refrigerate for 15 minutes. Heat a nonstick or cast-iron skillet over medium heat without oil. Cook until browned on both sides, about 4 minutes. 

Meatballs: Form mixture into balls, using about 2 tbsp each, making about 20 meatballs total. Place on a large plate and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Heat a large, ovenproof skillet on medium without oil. Add meatballs in two batches and cook turning all over until brown, about 5 minutes. Return all meatballs to skillet and transfer to a 350°F oven. Bake until meatballs are cooked inside, about 10 minutes (meatballs will puff and be tender). Let cool slightly to firm up before adding to a tomato sauce (if desired).

Nutrition Information

  • Serving Size 6
  • Calories 322
  • Carbohydrate Content 32 g
  • Cholesterol Content 0 mg
  • Fat Content 18 g
  • Fiber Content 9 g
  • Protein Content 11 g
  • Saturated Fat Content 2.5 g
  • Sodium Content 275 mg
  • Sugar Content 3 g
  • Monounsaturated Fat Content 4 g
  • Polyunsaturated Fat Content 11 g