Tofu, Tempeh, Beans, Lentils, Nuts & Seeds

Vegan protein alternatives.

Tofu & Tempheh

You’ll find many options at almost any large supermarket near you.

Tofu is a food made by coagulating soy milk and then pressing the resulting curds into soft white blocks. Tofu is either soft, firm, or extra firm. It has a low calorie count, but is high in protein and iron, and also contains calcium, the amount depending on the coagulant used to make it.

Tofu is an excellent source of protein, but doesn’t have a strong flavour unless you marinade it or cook it in a sauce or curry. Here are some tips and links to get started.

In order for tofu to absorb the flavours its cooked in, you need to drain and press out some of the water in the tofu. Use a clean tea towel or kitchen towel to wrap the tofu and press the water out by hand, or leave something heavy on top for a while.

Use medium to firm/extra firm tofu for the best texture. Press out the water, chop into chunks and marinade or coat in corn flour and fry. For a smoky marinade try soy sauce and a drop of liquid smoke (about 1/4 tsp), add finely chopped garlic and ginger if you like. Leave to marinade for about an hour or more. You could also try frying in oil and sprinkling spices such as cajun powder or even vegetable stock powder.

Use soft to medium tofu (or you can use silken tofu as well). Great for brunch. No need to press the water out for this recipe, just scrunch it up using your hands (or chop into small squares if using silken tofu) and add to the pan.  If you are replicating egg, add a touch of turmeric, pepper, black salt and splash of plant milk.  See our breakfast and brunch recipes section.

Tofu is great added into any curry. Press out the water, slice in either square chunks or thinner slices and fry first if you want it to be a bit crispy then add and cook in the curry so the flavours are absorbed.

Silken tofu is fantastic for desserts such as vegan cheese cakes or chocolate mousse.  Find it on the normal shelves, perhaps Asian section, of your supermarket – rather than in the chilled area where the other tofu varieties live.

Tempeh is a traditional soy product originally from Indonesia. It is made by a natural culturing and controlled fermentation process that binds soybeans into a cake form. Tempeh is also a great source of protein and iron, and even has calcium. It contains more fibre than tofu as the whole soy bean is used.

Tempeh has a more nutty flavour, and firm texture, and can be enjoyed just sliced and fried then added to stir fry veggies and rice, or you can also marinade it like you would a firm tofu.   In fact sliced tempeh, marinated and then baked makes a great smoky bacon substitute (try liquid smoke as a great addition to your tofu or tempeh marinades).

You can slice into larger burger shapes too and enjoy in a burger bun with salad and vegan cheese! It can also be grated and used like a mince.

Beans & Chickpeas

Top tip - don't pour your chickpea brine down the sink! It's a fantastic egg-replacer.

Beans are a good source of fibre and protein. Buy beans either tinned or dry. If using tinned then they are already cooked, just add them into your cooking or straight into a salad.

An excellent article on the benefits of beans can be read here by Thrive Cuisine.

Cooking dried beans

Soak beans in water overnight or during the day, for around 8 hours. Drain, rinse, and add to a pot with plenty of water to more than cover and cook by boiling for 10 to 20 minutes then simmer for around 45 minutes to an hour or until soft (types of beans will be different, check for when they are soft). Drain again and rinse then add to your meal or leave to cool for a salad. You could also experiment making bean burgers.

Chickpeas can also be purchased tinned or dry (and even roasted as a snack). Tinned chickpeas are already cooked and ready to eat or add into your cooking or straight into a salad. Chickpeas are also delicious sprouted then eaten raw. Soak and sprout as per sprouting instructions further down on this page. You can then munch as a snack, sprinkle on top of meals or add into salads. You can even make raw hummus from sprouted chickpeas, google for recipes.

Cooking chickpeas

Soak chickpeas in water overnight or for around 8 hours. Rinse and drain and add to a pan and cover with plenty of water, bring to the boil then simmer for around an hour or so until soft, taste to check.

Chickpea water as egg replacer

Also known as aquafaba, the water saved from cooking chickpeas, or the water in the tin of chickpeas has a high protein content, similar to that of egg white. This makes it excellent for making vegan merangues and using in baking. Whisking the water will soon turn the mixture white and it expands extremely quickly after that into a merangue texture. The UK vegan society details 13 amazing things you can do with aquafaba, give it a go!

Lentils, Split Lentils & Split Peas

You’ll find many options at almost any large supermarket near you.

Split peas or split lentils are commonly used in dahl recipes, whole lentils can be used in salads, added in pasta source, turned into lentil patties or lentil loaf. Some lentils can be bought already cooked in a tin, drain rinse and add into your cooking or salad.

Cooking lentils

No need to soak first, rinse and drain lentils then add 1 cup of lentils to 2 cups of water and bring to the boil then simmer. The liquid will be absorbed when cooked. Split peas/lentils in dhal recipes often require more water, follow the recipe instructions. These cook up more mushy.

Nuts

All nuts are an excellent source of protein and healthy fats, as well as many other vitamins and minerals such as manganese, potassium, copper, iron, magnesium, and zinc.

They are a great way to add protein to any meal. Add on top of cereal or muesli, use peanut, almond or cashew butter in sandwiches for lunch, sprinkle in salads or on top of cooked meals. A variaty of nuts is ideal.

Almonds are a good source of calcium.
Brazil nuts contain solenium, the highest natural source in fact. Just 1 to 2 nuts a day provide the required amount, easy!
Cashews are good source of iron.
Walnuts contain omega 3 fatty acids, a handful a day will provide close to your recommended daily intake amount.
Pecans are a great source of vitamin E.
See nutrition and you website for more information and details on other nuts.

A classic recipe would be nut roast. Service with potatoes, gravy, and steamed vegetables for a Sunday lunch or festive meal. They can also be used in burger recipes.

Many raw recipes use nuts for bases (mixed with dates), as well as creamy textures. Cashews often as a cheese cake type topping, or as a cream. Cashew nut cream is delicious and so easy to make! Try served over fresh strawberries. The cashews are always soaked for around 4 hours or overnight, then added to a blender with water or other ingredients. This then becomes a smooth creamy texture.

Seeds & Protein Powders

Seeds are also a great source of protein and healthy fats, as well as minerals such as manganese, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc and selenium.

You can buy seeds whole or already ground into a powder which is great for adding into smoothies.

Flax seeds are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. You can buy in the shops a whole, ground, or ground as a mix called LSA (linseed, sunflower and almond) .Flaxseeds can also can be used as an egg replacer in baking. How to make a flax egg.


Chia seeds contain almost of all the essential nutrients such as protein, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals. Just a few tablespoons full of chia a day provides enough recommended levels of phenolic anti-oxidants, minerals, vitamins and protein.


Hemp seeds are an excellent source of essential fatty acids including Omega 3, 6 and GLA in the perfect balance, they are also a complete protein. They can be bought as a powder, flakes or seeds. Sprinkle on meals or add into smoothies. Note that in New Zealand hemp foods are made to human consumption standards but can only be legally sold for animal feed. Its a crazy Australian food standards rule but is changing soon! You can buy online, see hemp farm website or hemp store website, both NZ based.

Sprouting Lentils, Chickpeas & Seeds

There are a few different types of sprout containers you can buy, easy sprouter works well.


Add a couple of tablespoons or so of lentils or seeds (organic type shops often have sprouting seeds you can buy, or a mix, such as alfalfa, broccoli, mung bean etc.) to the sprout container and cover well with warm water. Leave overnight to soak. Rinse and drain the next day and leave in the sprout container with the drainage face down with air space, then rinse daily. In 3 to 4 days or so the sprouts will be eatable. Great added into salads, sandwiches and sprinkled on top of meals to provide great protein and nutrients.

For chickpeas you can perhaps add more than a few tablespoons. Soak in a bowl or in your sprout container overnight in warm water then drain the next day. Rinse and drain each day, they will be eatable in 2 to 3 days. You can even use a sieve over a bowl to drain and store each day if you do not have a sprout container.