Walnut meat is our favorite no-cook vegan kitchen hack that’s perfect for summer, the holidays, or any time of year! Grinding up soaked walnuts with the right spices and herbs creates the best plant-based ground meat substitute for tacos, pasta, pizza, and salads. In this post, we’re sharing all our best tips, tricks, and recipes to create THE most flavorful walnut meat you’ll ever taste – from the best ever walnut taco meat to our favorite meat-free sausage for pizza.
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Today, I’m talking about one of our favorite plant-based cooking hacks: walnut meat!
Have you tried this trick yet?
Walnut meat is easy to make and no-cook, perfect for last-minute weeknight dinners when you want to serve something delicious and healthy but don’t have a ton of time on your hands. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve turned to this hack when our cupboards and fridge were looking a bit empty. And it has never disappointed us. There is SO much you can do with this magical meat-free meat!
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But first, if you’re new to the wonderful world of walnut meat, you be me asking…
What is walnut meat?
Walnut meat is plant-based meat made from walnuts instead of animals. It’s vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free, egg-free, and easily made gluten-free and oil-free.
Walnut meat can be flavored however you want, doesn’t require any actual cooking, and can be made in under 25 minutes (and 20 minutes of that is soaking time).
Basically, if you’ve ever wondered “What can I use instead of meat for tacos?” walnut meat is the answer! Although, that’s certainly not the only thing it can do (more on that later).
The texture of this particular plant-based meat is a bit different from that of a soy-based or seitan ground meat you may find in the freezer section of the grocery store. It’s a little less tender, but the flavor is absolutely unbeatable.
And when used correctly, walnut meat can be a key ingredient to making kickass vegan versions of many of your favorite dishes!
What is walnut meat made of?
All you need to make meat out of walnuts is walnuts, water, and whatever seasonings / spices you want to use to make it taste how you want it to taste. It is SO versatile!
When choosing seasonings for walnut meat, just think about the dish you’re trying to recreate and what spices and flavors you associate with that. I use a few basic ingredients in almost every version and then branch out based on what dish I’m trying to emulate.
- Raw walnuts – Make sure you store raw walnuts in the fridge or freezer for optimum freshness!
- Soy sauce – I almost always use soy sauce in walnut meat recipes because it adds both sodium and umami flavor. Plus, the walnuts soak it in so much better than if you were using all dry spices. This can also be substituted (either wholly or in part) with other sauces like hot sauce, curry paste, or teriyaki sauce depending on what flavor you’re going for.
- Onion and garlic – Either raw / minced, powdered, or both! Red onion adds a fun and interesting flavor (especially with that teriyaki sauce!). Onion and garlic are always a great place to start.
- Extra virgin olive oil – You can totally skip this if you want to keep it oil-free, but I love the rich taste a touch of good quality olive oil adds. It also adds an extra crispiness if you’re baking it on top of pizzas or pastas.
- Nutritional yeast – This is a common vegan pantry staple (different from the yeast you use to make bread). It adds a deep savory and almost cheesy flavor.
- Fresh herbs – Like oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, sage, etc. Use fresh herbs if you can, but dried will work too! We like to mince the herbs before adding them to the blender to ensure everything is a uniform texture / flavor
- Liquid smoke and/or smoked paprika can be used to add a smoky flavor. We do this with our walnut sausage along with some fennel and celery salt. Or, add some heat and a little vinegar to create more of a chorizo-style walnut meat.
- Cayenne pepper and cumin are great additions for walnut taco meat. A Tbsp of salsa may be nice too! Or make it easy and use a packet of taco seasoning.
- Sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, or sauteed mushrooms add great flavor along with an extra tender texture.
How to Make Walnut Meat
Now that you know what ingredients you need to make walnut meat, let’s talk about the basic process you need to follow. The good news here is, once your walnuts are soaked, the rest comes together in under 5 minutes!
- Soak your walnuts in cool water for 20 minutes. Soaking the walnuts prior to using them will create a more tender texture and get them ready to soak in allllllll that delicious flavor.
- Drain the soaked walnuts and spray with cool water. Make sure you spray them off after soaking – that’s an important step for good flavor.
- Add the walnuts to your food processor with the remainder of ingredients and pulse about 7-9 times until the walnuts are crumbly like the texture of ground meat and everything is well-combined. Make sure you pulse the mixture rather than blending it (which would create more of a paste).
Do you cook it?
It depends! If we’re using this vegan meat on salads, tacos, or nachos, we don’t cook it at all and just use it straight from the blender! But if we’re topping pizzas with it, making dips or casseroles, then we cook the walnut meat in the recipe.
Tip: If you’d like to cook the walnut meat, I recommend baking it at a low temperature (about 325-350F), stopping to stir it around every 5 minutes until the walnuts are slightly toasted. Be careful not to burn them; I wouldn’t go past 10 minutes total cook time.
This will help the seasonings and other ingredients really adhere to the walnuts. It’s a great trick if you’re using the meat in something like a tofu scramble where you don’t want the soy sauce bleed into the dish and ruin the pretty yellow color of your scramble!
How to Use Walnut Meat
Knowing when to use walnut meat and when not to use it is important and can make or break your whole experience.
It’s amazing used as:
- Pizza topping
- Baked pasta dishes
- Hot or cold dips
- Wraps, tacos, burritos
- Bowls with rice and veggies
- Salad topping
We don’t recommend using it in:
- Brothy soups or stews – Why? The flavor may get a little lost. The toasting trick we described above may help this, but I still don’t think it’s the best idea.
How to Store Leftovers
Walnut meat is great for batch-cooking and meal prep because you can easily make a lot at one time and leftovers freeze incredibly well.
How long does walnut meat last in the fridge? It lasts for up to 5 days in the fridge, stored in an air-tight container. If we are going to store it any longer than that, we freeze it.
How to freeze walnut meat: We suggest spreading the walnut meat out on a baking sheet or large plate and freezing it like that overnight before transferring to another container or freezer-safe bag. This will keep the walnut meat nice and crumbly and prevent it from freezing in one giant unmanageable block. (IYKYK) Stored like this, your walnut meat should last for at least 6 weeks.
Walnut Meat Recipes
Now that you know the basics, let’s talk about a few of our favorite recipes that use walnut-based meats!
Spicy Walnut Beef
Our classic spicy walnut beef is our go-to plant-based taco meat recipe. The flavor is spicy and savory in alllll the right ways – one whiff and you’ll be ready to dive in!
Use it for:
- Walnut meat tacos with our vegan queso.
- Loaded Vegan Nachos
- Spicy Vegan Tater Tot Hotdish
- Vegan Crunchwrap
Smoky Walnut Sausage
This vegan smoky walnut sausage recipe is smoky, savory, and has a deep earthy flavor thanks to the ground fennel.
This easy vegan chorizo recipe is flavored with soy sauce, lime juice, dried chillies, and oregano to create a delicious breakfast-friendly meatless crumble!
Use it for:
- Southwest Tofu Scramble – as a platter or in tacos!
- A breakfast version of our vegan nachos!
- Easy Vegan Taco Salads
Curry-Inspired Walnut Mushroom Meat
If you’re looking to switch things up with the texture of your, try adding some sauteed mushrooms to the meat. Sauteed mushrooms add a great earthy / savory flavor and an extra tender texture. We use this curry-inspired version in our Tikka Masa Lasagna mainly!
Use it for:
- Tikka Masala Lasagna
- Served over basmati rice with a side of curry-spiced roasted cauliflower
Have a question about walnut meat we didn’t answer in this post? Let us know in the comments, so we can make this a more complete resource for future readers!
We hope this post helped spark some walnut-spiration for you and that you’ll give this plant-based hack a try in your own kitchen.
When you do, let us know in the comments or tag @theplantpowercouple on Instagram, so we can all celebrate walnut meat magic together!
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