As a cook serving a variety of people you have to be prepared for all kinds of dietary restrictions and food allergies, but with out fail there is always a vegetarian among the group. I like to keep boxes of tofu, TVP (textured vegetable protein), vital wheat gluten for making seitan, some kind of legume and veggie sausages on hand. Worst case scenario there is always cheese as a good fall back to ensure that they get their protein. It’s important to me that the vegetarians have just as enjoyable of a meal as the carnivores and preferably the same flavors, I wouldn’t want anyone to miss out on an amazing sauce just because some beef was braised in it. But yes, sometimes the beef is what makes the flavor of the sauce and finding the right vegetarian item to recreate that deep, rich beefy flavor can be tricky, you just have to know where to look.
The best ingredients to recreate a beef flavor are marmite and mushroom soy sauce. Please don’t be afraid of marmite, dash away any negative thoughts and let me tell you what you’ve been missing out on. The most traditional way to have it is on toast with butter, crisp golden brown toast, slathered in butter and a scant smear of rich brown marmite. The marmite itself is salty, yeasty and a little something else that reminds me of the flavor from a beef bullion cube, mixed with the creaminess of the butter it helps mellow its punch. Mushroom soy sauce is packed with umami; you know the smear of buttery mushroom liquor left at the bottom of the pan after sautéing mushrooms, imagine that combined with soy sauce. It’s more complex than regular soy but not quite as dark as traditional soy sauce, it’s a great ingredient to add depth of flavor to any sauce.
When it comes to making a vegetarian alternative for beef stroganoff you must use marmite and mushroom soy sauce as part of the tofu marinade and the sauce. The tofu gets slightly over baked to give it some dense chewiness, rehydrated a sauce with shallots, mixed with sour cream and then dolloped over egg noodles. I think I even prefer this version of stroganoff; as an omnivore I don’t even notice that it has no beef anywhere near it.