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Lenten meals: Pecans provide a tasty, plant-based alternative to meat

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    Make this week’s taco dinner using pecans instead of ground beef or pork for a meatless take on a perennial favorite. PHOTOS COURTESY AMERICAN PECAN COUNCIL

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    Spicy Pecan Italian “Sausage” and Grilled Vegetable Penne includes “sausage” made from pecans.

Published March 06. 2019 12:26PM

Today is the first day of Lent. For many, that means weeks of meatless Fridays.

Those Friday dinners can be a challenge, but did you know that pecans have been used as a delicious meat substitute dating all the way back to World War II?

Pecans’ protein, fiber and essential minerals make them the perfect plant-based protein source for creative meatless meals packed with flavor.

With pecans — and being willing to think outside the box — you can still celebrate Taco Tuesday, pasta night or just keep your salad strong with some of these delicious takes on the classics.

Check out these recipes from the American Pecan Council.

Everyone loves tacos! Easily make vegetarian superfood tacos using ground pecans as a nutritious plant-based protein for taco “meat.”

Superfood Pecan Tacos

Submitted by Dawn Jackson Blatner RDN

Time: 10 minutes

1 cup raw pecan halves or pieces (or lightly toasted)

1 teaspoon pecan or extra virgin olive oil

½ medium onion, diced (about ½ cup)

1 tablespoon coconut aminos (or low sodium tamari)

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon oregano

½ teaspoon chili powder

¼ teaspoon garlic powder

¼ teaspoon black pepper

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

To serve (optional):

Corn tortillas

Shredded green or red cabbage


Green onion





In a pan over medium heat, add oil, onion, coconut aminos, and spices. Cook about 4 minutes, until onion is translucent.

Add pecans and onion mixture to food processor and pulse until consistency of ground beef, about 8 to 10 pulses. Makes 1 cup taco “meat.”

To serve: Use to make tacos with classic ingredients such as corn tortillas, shredded green/red cabbage, tomatoes, green onion, cilantro, jalapeños, lime and guacamole.

*Recipe notes: Use 1 heaping tablespoon of natural taco seasoning mix instead of the cumin, oregano, chili powder, garlic powder, black pepper, and cayenne if you’re in a time crunch.

Nutrition facts: Calories 200; fat 19g; saturated fat 1.5g; sodium 190mg; carbs 6g; fiber 3g; protein 3g.

Simply season and ground pecans to create a plant-based version of spicy Italian “sausage.” In this recipe it’s added to grilled vegetables and pasta but you can also use it on a flatbread, pizza, soup and more.

Spicy Pecan Italian “Sausage” and Grilled Vegetable Penne

Submitted by Dawn Jackson Blatner, RDN

Time: 25 minutes

1 12-ounce package brown rice penne pasta

1 teaspoon pecan or extra virgin olive oil

2 small zucchini, sliced in half lengthwise

2 small yellow squash, sliced in half lengthwise

1 24-ounce jar pasta sauce (no sugar added), warmed

Fresh basil leaves and Parmesan cheese, optional, for garnish

Spicy Pecan Italian “Sausage”

½ medium onion, diced (about ½ cup)

½ tablespoon fennel seed

¼ teaspoon black pepper

¼ teaspoon paprika

¼ teaspoon garlic powder

1/8 teaspoon sea salt

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 cup raw pecan halves (or lightly toasted)

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Preheat grill to medium-high.

Heat water in pot on stovetop for pasta.

Make pasta according to package directions, drain and set aside.

Make the spicy pecan Italian “sausage”: In a pan over medium heat, add oil, onion, fennel seed, black pepper, paprika, garlic powder, sea salt, and red pepper flakes (do not add pecans or vinegar yet). Cook 4 minutes or until onion is translucent.

Add pecans, red wine vinegar, and onion mixture to food processor and pulse until consistency of ground pork, about 8 to 10 pulses. Makes 1 cup pecan “sausage.”

Lightly brush zucchini and yellow squash with olive oil and place on hot grill for 3 to 4 minutes per side, or until tender. Remove and chop into bite-sized cubes.

Serve family-style or in individual bowls. Layer pasta, vegetables, and pasta sauce. Top with pecan “sausage” and fresh basil and Parmesan if desired.

Nutrition facts: Calories 380; fat 15g; saturated fat 1g; sodium 320mg; carbs 58g; fiber 6g; protein 8g.

This veggie burger is chock-full of wholesome ingredients. This plant-based version is made with pecans, wild rice and chickpeas and then topped with a creamy sunflower chive spread and toppings that will satisfy your burger cravings.

Wild Rice Pecan Burgers with a Creamy Sunflower Chive Spread

Submitted by Jessie Snyder, Faring Well

Time: 30 minutes

For the Wild Rice Pecan Burgers

1 cup cooked wild rice

1 ½ cups chickpeas

1 cup raw pecan halves

1/3 cup chopped yellow onion

3 minced (or pressed) garlic cloves

½ teaspoon sea salt (or to taste)

5 to 6 cranks of fresh black pepper

5 to 6 cranks of fresh black pepper

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

1 teaspoon low sodium tamari

For the Creamy Sunflower Chive Spread

3/4 cup hulled sunflower seeds

3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

½ teaspoon sea salt, or to taste

¾ cup filtered water

Burger Toppings:

Sliced avocado

Alfalfa sprouts

Thinly sliced red onion

Whole grain buns

Ahead of time: cook wild rice and soak sunflower seeds in water for at least 4 hours (can soak longer in a jar in the fridge, i.e.everal days).

Make the veggie burgers: combine all of the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse 6 or 7 times. Then stop and scrape down the sides and give it a stir. Pulse another 4 to 5 times or until it holds together, but there are still bits and pieces left whole to give it texture.

Heat a ceramic nonstick skillet on the stove over medium-high heat. If using a traditional skillet, add a little oil to keep the burgers from sticking.

Form 8 equally sized balls from the mixture and shape into patties about an inch thick. Place in the heated pan, and do not touch for 10 minutes. Check and make sure they have browned well before carefully flipping and cooking an additional 5 minutes to brown the other side too. Transfer to a plate for serving.

While the veggie burgers cook, make the spread: Rinse and drain the soaked sunflower seeds and add to a blender with the remaining sauce ingredients. Purée until smooth, then taste for seasoning. (Make adjustments with salt and lemon juice if needed.)

To build the burgers: Spread each bun half with the creamy sunflower chive spread and layer with a patty, sliced avocado, red onion, and sprouts, if desired. Serve immediately. Makes 8 small burgers of 4 large burgers. Leftover cooked patties store well in an airtight glass container in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Nutrition facts: Calories 230; fat 16g; saturated fat 1.5g; sodium 380mg; carbs 17g; fiber 5g; protein 7g.

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