The High Protein Vegan Recipe This Dietitian Loves
Registered dietitian and plant-based diet specialist Cynthia Sass shares her go-to high protein vegan stir fry recipe, featuring tofu as a plant-based meat alternative. Plus, her favorite sauce to pair with this dish.
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The rise of plant protein
Consumers are turning to plant-based foods now more than ever. According to a 2020 report from the Plant-Based Foods Association, sales of plant-based foods spiked by 90 percent during the pandemic. But the interest isn’t new. Since 2017, total plant-based food sales have risen by 31 percent, far outpacing overall grocery sales, according to the group.
Plant protein replacements have exploded in popularity in recent years. A 2018 report from the consumer research group Mintel shows that shoppers choose plant-based protein alternatives for several reasons. These include taste preference, which ranked highest, in addition to an interest in protecting animals and the environment, and improving health and well-being.
As for health, a study published in 2020 in JAMA Internal Medicine, supports swapping animal protein for plant-based options. Researchers looked at data in more than 400,000 men and women in the United States over a 16-year period. They found that a higher intake of plant-based protein was tied to a lower risk of death from all causes, particularly heart disease, which remains the number-one killer of both men and women in the U.S.
High protein vegan recipe
If you’re among the consumers looking for tasty substitutions for animal products that won’t leave you short on protein, there are a number of choices. One common stand-in: tofu, a meat substitute traditionally made from soybeans. A four-ounce portion of extra firm soy-based tofu typically contains 11 grams of protein. Here’s what I add to my high-protein vegan recipe (it’s also stir fry).
Opt for tofu
I enjoy the texture, ease, and versatility of tofu. But I’m sensitive to soy, so I opt for Pumfu ($6 per box). It’s tofu made from organic pumpkin seeds and filtered water. It packs even more protein than conventional tofu, at 17 grams per four-ounce serving.
Tofu can be incorporated into a range of plant-based dishes—from smoothies and veggie scrambles for breakfast to entrée salads, soups, and grain bowls. My personal favorite is a simple plant-based stir fry. (Check out all of the health benefits of tofu.)
Add broccoli, brown and wild rice, and cashews
In addition to the tofu, my go-to recipe provides small amounts of protein from broccoli (2.5 grams), brown and wild rice (4 grams), and cashews (2.5 grams). The total protein content of this healthy, nutrient-rich meal is 26 grams using pumpkin seed tofu, or 20 grams using soy-based tofu. That’s 37 to 47 percent of the daily protein needs of a 150-pound adult, based on the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), set by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine.
(Try this vegan cashew cheese sauce.)
The dish also provides two and a half cups of veggies, two servings of whole grain, and healthful fats from extra virgin olive oil and cashews. The latter two foods are known to help curb heart disease risk, due to their ability to reduce inflammation and improve artery function. (Learn more about cashew nutrition and benefits.)
Make the sauce
To make the sauce, I reach for flavorful Bragg organic coconut aminos ($22 for three bottles) as the base. Coconut aminos is a soy-free and gluten-free alternative to traditional soy sauce, and is made with organic coconut blossom nectar, apple cider vinegar, and sea salt. I combine it with brown rice vinegar and garlic for umami flavor, along with fragrant fresh ginger root, and a bit of crushed red pepper for a kick of heat.
Apart from the aroma and zest ginger adds to the meal, the root also offers functional benefits. These include anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial properties. They also include cardioprotective properties that can lead to potential improvements in blood pressure and cholesterol, according to a study published in 2020 in Current Molecular Pharmacology.
High Protein Vegan Stir Fry
Preparing this high protein, colorful vegan dish is easy, especially if you stash pre-cooked rice in the fridge, and chop the veggies in advance. It’s one of my quick, satisfying staple meals. And I love the texture contrast of the tender vegetables, chewy tofu and rice, and crunchy nuts. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!
Courtesy Cynthia Sass, MPH, MA, RD, CSSD
1 tablespoon coconut aminos
½ tablespoon brown rice vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon fresh grated ginger
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
½ tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup minced yellow onion
1 cup broccoli chopped into small florets
¼ cup minced red bell pepper
1 cup spinach
1 serving tofu, cubed (note: I used pumpkin seed tofu)
1 cup cooked brown and wild rice
2 tablespoons cashews, chopped
In a small bowl whisk together the coconut aminos, vinegar, garlic, ginger, and red pepper. In a medium pan over low heat, sauté onions in oil until translucent. Add broccoli, bell pepper, and sauce, and sauté until broccoli is tender, about 3-4 minutes. Add spinach and tofu and stir to heat through, about 1 minute. Serve the veggie and tofu mixture over the rice, and garnish with the cashews.
Next, here’s how to start a plant-based diet.
- Plant Based Foods Association: "New Data Shows Plant-Based Food Outpacing Total Food Sales During COVID-19"
- Plant Based Foods Association: "U.S. Plant-Based Retail Market Worth $4.5 Billion, Growing at 5X Total Food Sales"
- Mintel: "TASTE IS THE TOP REASON US CONSUMERS EAT PLANT-BASED PROTEINS"
- JAMA Internal Medicine: "Association Between Plant and Animal Protein Intake and Overall and Cause-Specific Mortality"
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: "Extra Firm Tofu"
- USDA: "Broccoli, raw"
- USDA: "Rice, brown and wild, cooked, no added fat"
- USDA: "Cashews"
- National Institutes of Health: "Nutrient Recommendations: Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI)"
- Food & Function: "Dietary protein intake and human health"
- Current Molecular Pharmacology: "Ginger and Heart Health: From Mechanisms to Therapeutics"