10 Protein-Rich Foods for Vegans
What are some protein-rich foods for vegans?
I hesitated to write this post. As someone who has been vegan for 25 years, I’ve had my fill of “where do vegans get their protein?”
Still, I’m asked about protein-rich meals and snacks often in my facebook group. Parents especially want to ensure they are covering their nutritional bases, and always uncertain about how much protein is necessary. Also, new vegans can feel overwhelmed and want to ensure their protein intake is sufficient.
Rather than break down these protein-rich foods into grams of protein per serving, I’m sharing recipes that have plant-based foods that are especially good sources of protein. Ultimately if you eat a whole foods plant-based diet, protein intake is not a concern. With our plant-based foods of whole grains (and whole-grain products), legumes (beans/lentils/soy products), nuts and seeds, vegetables, and even fruits, you are getting all the essential amino acids your body needs.
Today, I’m offering a roundup of recipes that utilize some of the most protein rich foods for vegans: legumes (beans and lentils), quinoa and other whole grains, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, nuts, chia seeds, and yup – tofu. Let’s get started!
- Umami Almond Quinoa Burger
Think it’s only those “meaty” store-bought burgers that are high in protein? Most homemade burgers are made with nuts, seeds, beans, and grains which are all great sources of protein. Combining quinoa with raw almonds, these Umami Almond Quinoa patties are protein-rich veggie burgers. They are very flavorful without being spicy for little palates.
Umami Almond, Quinoa, and Sun-Dried Tomato Burgers
- 2 cups raw almonds
- 1 small-medium clove garlic cut in quarters
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 tbsp tamari or coconut aminos for soy-free version
- 1 1/2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1/2 tsp dried rosemary or 1 1/2 tsp fresh rosemary leaves
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 3/4 – 1 cup green onions sliced
- 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes not oil-packed; preferably pre-sliced – or, chop before adding to processor, see note
- 1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa cooled first; can substitute brown rice
- In a food processor, add almonds, garlic, balsamic, tamari, tomato paste, rosemary, and salt. Puree until the nuts are very finely ground, and becoming a little sticky. Be sure to grind them fine enough so that the almonds release some oils and become a little ‘sticky’, that will help bind the burgers – you don’t want almond butter, but a very fine meal that is becoming clumpy. Then add green onions and sun-dried tomatoes and pulse through until the mixture becomes dense and is starting to hold together. Add quinoa and process/pulse through again until well incorporated. Remove blade, and shape into patties (or refrigerate first for 1/2 hour, helps make easier to shape patties). To cook, heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Cook patties, about 5-7 minutes on first side, and then another 3-5 minutes on second side until golden brown. These patties hold their shape well, but if they are flipped a lot and overcooked they become more crumbly and dry. Serve with fixings of choice. Makes about 6 patties.
2. Simplest Marinated Tofu
Okay, I realize it’s ‘cliche’ to list tofu as one of the protein-rich foods for vegans. Some vegans don’t eat tofu, but many do. And, tofu is quite protein-packed. One of the most common questions I get from readers is “what’s an easy way to prepare tofu”. Answer: This recipe!
Simplest Marinated Baked Tofu
- 2½ tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoons tamari or coconut aminos
- 1 teaspoon pure maple syrup
- 1 package 12 oz extra firm tofu, cut into square slices ¼”– ½” thick and patted gently to remove excess moisture (20–24 square slices)
- Preheat oven to 375°F. In an 8″ × 12″ baking dish, stir together the vinegar, tamari, and maple syrup. Add the tofu and turn to coat each side.
- Bake uncovered for 17–22 minutes, turning the tofu pieces once through baking. Remove from oven and let cool a little before serving; pour any remaining marinade over the tofu.
Again, perhaps cliche to add hummus to a list of protein rich foods for vegans. Nevertheless, hummus is a wonderful choice because it’s filled with chickpeas (or other beans, which are a great source of plant-based protein). Here I share my classic Hummus 101 recipe from Plant-Powered Families. Also check out some of these hummus recipes: Pumpkin Hummus, Green Pea Hummus, Sweet Potato Hummus, White Bean Hummus, Roasted Tomato and Garlic Hummus, and even a Curried Chickpea Hummus. As I say… #hummusisafoodgroup!
HUMMUS 101 from Plant-Powered Families
- 4 cups cooked chickpeas rinsed and drained, if using canned
- 1/4 cup tahini or more, if you like it even nuttier!
- 2-3 tbsp nutritional yeast optional; see note
- 1 medium clove garlic sliced or quartered (see note)
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 4-5 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste
- 2-4 tbsp water
- In a food processor, combine the chickpeas, tahini, nutritional yeast, garlic, sea salt, black pepper, lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons of the water, and puree until smooth, adding 1–2 tablespoons water to thin as desired. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times, and continue pureeing until very smooth. Season to taste with additional salt, black pepper, and/or lemon juice, and serve.
4. Greens ‘n Beans Soup
The title says it all! Boasting greens and plenty of beans, along with other vegetables, this soup is a protein-rich recipe that’s a winner.
Beans ‘n Greens Soup
- 2 tbsp water or more as needed, to saute
- 1 ½ cups onion diced
- 2 ½ – 3 cups red or yukon gold potatoes cut in chunks about 1 ½ – 2” thick
- 1/2 cup celery diced
- 1 cup carrots diced (or 1 cup red pepper, chopped in small chunks, added later, see note)
- 4-5 medium-large cloves garlic minced
- 1 ½ tsp dried rosemary leaves
- 1 tsp dried thyme leaves
- 1 tsp dried marjoram leaves or dried oregano leaves
- 1 ½ tsp ground mustard
- 1 tsp sea salt
- ¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg see note
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 cup brown green lentils, rinsed (see note)
- 2 cups vegetable stock
- 5 cups water
- 1 tbsp red miso
- 1 1/2 tbsp blackstrap molasses
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 1 14/15 oz can cannellini beans (or other white beans), drained and rinsed
- 6-7 cups loosely packed fresh kale leaves, roughly chopped or torn (roughly 1 smallish bunch of kale, can use curly kale or dinosaur kale) (keep fairly large pieces, they will wilt significantly)
- In a large pot over medium heat, add the water, onion, potatoes, celery, carrots (if using), garlic, dried herbs and spices, salt, and pepper. Stir through, cover, and cook for 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally. If veggies are sticking, add another splash of water. Add the lentils, stir through, cover and cook for another few minutes, and then add the vegetable stock, water, miso, molasses, bay leaves and stir through. Increase heat to bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover and let cook for 30- 40 minutes, until the lentils are very soft and fully cooked. (If using the chopped red pepper, add after first 25-30 minutes of cooking lentils, see note). Turn off heat, add the cannellini beans (see note), kale, stir through, cover, and let wilt in soup for about 5 minutes. Remove bay leaves to serve, and taste to add additional salt and pepper if desired.
- Spice Note: Nutmeg seems an odd addition to this soup, I know. However, it actually works nicely with bitter greens, and adds a subtle flavor to the soup that is very pleasant. Give it a try!
- Red Pepper Note: I add the red pepper a little later, just to preserve a little more of the freshness of the pepper. You can add it earlier if you prefer, or use carrot in place of red pepper – though I prefer the red pepper variation.
- Beans Note: Adding the cannellini beans later in the cooking helps preserve the white color of the beans. You can certainly add them earlier, with the lentils, if you want, but they will absorb the broth and turn a brownish color. Just for visual appeal, I prefer to add them later.
- Savvy Subs and Adds: Mung beans would make a good substitution for the green lentils if you have those handy. You can substitute other greens in place of the kale if you like, such as collard greens, swiss chard, or spinach. If using swiss chard or spinach, you won’t need to cook them through, just stir through for a minute and serve.
5. Protein Power Balls
Beans aren’t the only protein powerhouse of plant-based foods – so are seeds. A tasty, healthy snack that pops protein with every bite. Since these are nut-free, these Power Balls are also perfect for school lunches.
Protein Power Balls
- 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
- 1/2 cup coconut flour see note
- 1/3 cup hemp seeds
- 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
- 1½ cups pitted dates
- 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 2-3 tablespoons chocolate vegan protein powder optional, see note
- 1/4 tsp (scant) sea salt
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and 1/2 teaspoon orange extract … or, if nuts aren’t a concern, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla with 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
- In a food processor, process the pumpkin seeds, coconut flour, hemp seeds, and sunflower seeds until fine and crumbly. Add the dates and process through until they are worked into the mixture and are crumbly. Add the cocoa powder, protein powder (if using), sea salt, and vanilla extract and process again for a minute or two. It will appear as if nothing is happening for a few minutes! The mixture will just be whirring around in crumbs, but soon it will start to become sticky and form a ball on the blade. Stop the machine and remove the dough. Take 1–1½ -tablespoon scoops of the dough and roll in your hand. Repeat until you have rolled all of the dough. Serve, or store in an airtight container to refrigerate.
- Coconut Flour: If you don’t have coconut flour, you can substitute 3/4 cup rolled oats.
- Protein Powder: Protein powders usually have some stevia or other sweetener, so add the powder to taste, depending on the brand. Start with 2 tablespoons, and stop to taste the mixture before it is in a sticky ball. If you’d like to add more, try another 1/2–1 tablespoon. If you have another favorite chocolate protein powder you would like to add—go for it. If you don’t want to use any protein powder, omit it, and make these simple changes: increase the cocoa powder to 1/4 cup total, add another 2 tablespoons of hemp or sunflower seeds, and another 2–4 dates, to taste.
- Idea: You can leave these balls uncoated, or roll in a dusting of coconut sugar, cocoa powder, ground pumpkin seeds, or a combo!
6. No-Fu Love Loaf
A long-time favorite with readers for the holidays, this No-Fu Loaf is loaded with lentils and steel cut oats, as well as tahini and chia seeds. Not just full of protein, this vegan meatloaf loaf is full of flavor – and satisfies!
No-Fu Lentil Loaf
- ½ cup brown green lentils
- 1 cup vegetable stock
- 1/3 cup water
- 1 dried bay leaf
- 3/4 cup bulgur toasted cracked wheat (for gluten-free version, use certified gf steel cut oats)
- 1 cup water boiled
- 1/4 cup natural ketchup
- 1 cup rolled or quick oats ensure gf certified for gluten-free
- 3 tbsp tamari
- 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 2 tbsp ground white chia or can use flax meal
- 2 tbsp vegan Worcestershire sauce see note for gf version
- 2 tbsp tahini or sunflower seed butter
- 2 tsp blackstrap molasses
- 1/4 tsp dried thyme
- ¼ – 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp dried basil
- 1/8 tsp ground fennel optional
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 3-4 tbsp natural ketchup
- 1 tsp vegan worcestershire sauce optional OR 2 tsp vegan bbq sauce (optional)
- Combine the lentils, vegetable stock, 1⁄3 cup of water, and bay leaf in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for 25 to 30 minutes, until just about tender. Once done, add the bulgur and boiling water, cover, and cook on medium-low heat for another 8 to 9 minutes.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly oil an oven-proof glass loaf pan and line the bottom of the pan with a strip of parchment paper to cover (place it in to protrude along the short ends of the pan; this helps for easier removal of the veggie loaf from the pan). Combine the topping ingredients in a small bowl.
- Once the bulgur is cooked, remove the bay leaf and add all the remaining ingredients (except topping). Stir very well. Transfer the mixture to prepared pan and pack it in. Spread the topping mixture over the top.
- Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 25 to 28 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 7 to 8 min- utes. Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 to 15 min- utes or so, before cutting to slice and serve.
- Allergy-Free or Bust! Despite its not having any tofu, tempeh, or TVP, I cannot technically categorize this recipe as “soy free” because of the inclusion of tamari and vegan Worcestershire sauce. These are important seasonings in the loaf. That said, to replace the Worcestershire for a gluten-free version, use instead an extra 1⁄2 tablespoon of wheat-free tamari, along with an extra 1⁄2 teaspoon of molasses, and 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar.
- Savvy Subs and Adds: If you’d like to add some veggies to the loaf, try adding 1⁄2 cup of seeded and finely chopped green pepper, or 1⁄4 cup of finely chopped celery (stir into the mixture with the seasonings).
- Serving Suggestions: Rosemary Gravy is excellent with this loaf, but this dish is equally delicious served with condi- ments as a burger of sorts: Pop slices of the loaf into pita or a folded tortilla, along with ketchup and vegan mayonnaise (or “Almonnaise”).
7. Stewed Chickpeas
As I like to say “use your bean”! As mentioned, lentils, beans, pulses are protein-rich vegan foods. Chickpeas are a favorite, and easy to work into many recipes. These Stewed Chickpeas are one of my favorites, in fact, I pulled together this recipe in about 15 minutes of prep yesterday – and I doubled it!
Stewed Chickpeas in the Instant Pot
- 2-3 tbsp water and more if needed
- 2 large or 3 small-medium onions chopped (about 3 – 3 1/2 cups)
- 1 1/2 tbsp smoked paprika
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/8 – 1/4 tsp ground allspice
- 1/2 tsp rounded sea salt
- 2 cans chickpeas rinsed and drained
- 2/3 cup pitted dates chopped
- 1 24 oz / 680g jar strained tomatoes or 1 – 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
- Add water, onions, paprika, cumin, allspice, and salt in the pressure cooker on saute function. Cook for 6-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, and adding extra water if sticking. Add chickpeas, dates, and tomatoes and stir through well. Turn off saute function, and put on lid. Manually set to pressure cook (high) for 20 minutes. Then, let pressure release naturally (or release manually). Stir through, taste, add seasoning if desired, and serve. Serves 4-6 with cooked grain or potatoes (see note).
- Serving Suggestion: Serve over a whole grain like brown rice, millet, or quinoa. Also try over steamed kale, roasted squash, or mashed potatoes.
- Stovetop method: If you don’t have a pressure cooker, simply use a large pot to cook on stovetop. Follow instructions to saute. After adding the tomatoes, chickpeas, and dates, bring heat to a boil, then reduce to low. Cover, and cook for 40 minutes, or until dates and onions are fully softened.
8. Pumpkin Seed Poppers
Another recipe featuring pumpkin seeds – this time paired with whole grains. You might call them vegan meatballs, I like to call them poppers. Serve with a whole-grain or whole-grain pasta for an added ‘pop’ of protein!
Pumpkin Seed Poppers
- 1 cup precooked/cooled brown rice or 1 cup, packed, precooked/cooled quinoa, see note
- 1 cup roasted pumpkin seeds see note
- 1/2 cup packed roasted red peppers (can use jarred, just drain)
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1/4 – 1/3 cup green onions
- 1 1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 medium clove garlic
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp dried basil
- 3/4 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 tsp blackstrap molasses
- 1/2 cup rolled oats
- 2 tbsp pumpkin seeds to pulse in, optional
- In a food processor, add all ingredients except oats and 2 tbsp pumpkin seeds. Puree until well combined, scraping down the bowl as needed. en add oats and pulse through several times to incorporate. Add the pumpkin seeds, and pulse in again, just to slightly incorporate but keep some texture. If possible, refrigerate for about hour. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375°F. Take scoops of mixture (about 1–1 tbsp), and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 17–20 minutes, until golden on just rm to the touch (do not over-bake, they will dry out). Remove, and serve with pasta and tomato sauce, or with baked potatoes. Makes 18–20 balls, serving 4-5.
- Note: You can toast up the pumpkin seeds yourself, or purchase them roasted. To roast yourself, use raw pumpkin seeds and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 400 degrees for about 7-9 minutes, stirring once and watching closely – they turn from golden to burned quickly. If using store-bought, many brands are salted when roasted. If so, reduce the salt in the ingredients to a rounded 1/4 teaspoon.
- Note: Brown rice is naturally more sticky so helps hold the mixture together. Quinoa can be used if you aren’t able to use the brown rice. Process a little more using quinoa to assist forming the balls.
- Idea: Try forming patties with this mixture for burgers.
- Serving Suggestions: Make the balls a little smaller, bake for a few minutes less, and use as mini-bites to top salads and soups.
9. Apple-Hemp Muffins
If you’re looking for a muffin that offers a bit more protein than your standard baked good, my Apple-Hemp Muffins are your pick. With plenty of protein-rich hemp seeds and whole-grain flours, these muffins are splendidly nutritious and delicious!
Apple Hemp Muffins
- 1 1/2 cups whole-grain spelt flour
- 1 cup oat flour
- 2/3 – 3/4 cup hemp seeds
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 1 1/2 – 1 3/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground cardamom can substitute freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 cup unsweetened organic applesauce
- 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
- 3/4 cup plain or vanilla non-dairy milk
- 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup raisins or chopped raw banana spears use kitchen shears or knife to cut in small pieces about size of raisins
- Preheat oven to 350°F (176°C). In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients, sifting in the baking powder and baking soda. Stir through until well combined. In another bowl, combine applesauce, maple syrup, non-dairy milk, and vanilla, and mix together. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture, and gently fold and mix through, until just combined (do not overmix). Spoon the mixture into a muffin pan lined with cupcake liners (this will fill 12 muffins quite full). Bake for 21-23 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (See notes above about cooling to help remove from liner.) Makes 12 large muffins.
10. Chia Pudding
Similarly, this Chocolate Chia Pudding is a superb choice in our list of protein-rich foods for vegans. Chia seeds are a high-quality plant-based protein. If chocolate isn’t your thing, try this chia pudding.
“Instant” Chocolate Chia Pudding
- 1 cup plain or chocolate non-dairy milk see note
- 1/2 cup pitted dates packed, or 2 tbsp pure maple syrup plus 2 -3 tbsp coconut sugar or more maple syrup, adjust sweetness to taste, see note, plus another 1-3 dates to taste
- 3 tbsp chia seeds black or white
- 1 1/2 tbsp cocoa powder
- 1/8 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract or can use the seeds scraped from one vanilla bean
- 2 – 3 tbsp unsweetened shredded coconut
- 2 tbsp mini non-dairy chocolate chips optional for sugar-free option – but SO fab, even a tbsp!
- In a blender, add milk, dates (or coconut sugar/maple syrup), chia seeds, cocoa, salt, and vanilla. Blend (starting on low speed and then working up to high speed) for a minute or more (depending on blender), until the seeds are fully pulverized. Taste, and if you’d like it sweeter, add another few dates or another tablespoon of maple syrup (or coconut sugar). If you’d like a thinner pudding, add another drop of milk and blend again (it will thicken a little more as it chills). Transfer mixture to a large bowl/dish, stir in coconut and chocolate chips, and refrigerate until chilled, about 1/2 hour or more (it will thicken more with chilling, but really can be eaten straight away – especially if using the dates as they also thicken the mixture). Serve, sprinkling with more coconut, and topping with fresh berries or other fruit if desired. Serves 3.
- Milk Note: I typically use unsweetened plain or vanilla almond milk when I make this pudding. If you are using a sweetened vanilla or chocolate milk, you may want to reduce the sweetener.
- Sweetener Note: Dates are terrific in this pudding! I wasn’t sure I’d like it as much as using maple syrup or coconut sugar – but I like it as much, or more! If you’d prefer to use all maple syrup, it will thin the mixture slightly more than if using a combination of coconut sugar and maple syrup. So, reduce the milk measure just slightly under 1 cup.