According to a just released consumer survey, flavor and texture are the top reasons people enjoy cooking with meat, and the fear of missing that is the reason fewer people follow a plant-based diet. Conducted by the California Walnut Board, the study also revealed meat remains the focal point of plates in more than half of weekly meals. However, because of increased concern about nutrition and health, people want to add more plant-based foods to their routine. The simple solution is to create meatless meals that maintain the qualities they enjoy in meat. To do so, consumers are less interested in tofu and soy products as plant-based options and instead turn to walnuts, legumes and mushrooms.  

"Just like meat, plant-based foods offer an array of textures and can be seasoned countless ways to take on a variety of flavor profiles," said Frances Largeman-Roth, registered dietitian nutritionist and New York Times best-selling author. "Consider the texture you'd like to create when selecting a meatless alternative and add the same bold flavors you enjoy in more meaty recipes to create satisfying plant-based versions of the meals you love."

According to the survey, 83% of Americans are open to making meatless dishes, particularly if they have a similar taste or texture to meat-centric dishes. Walnuts, mushrooms and legumes, including beans, lentils and peas, rise to the top as the three foods they're willing to try in meatless meals. Walnuts, specifically, are an appealing option for their texture (70%), flavor (65%) and nutrients (62%).

"Walnuts are a great option to use in plant-forward dishes because they have a wonderful crunch and mild, nutty flavor that adapts well to an assortment of recipes," said Largeman-Roth. "They also provide a range of nutrients that are important for good health. Walnuts are the only tree nut predominately comprised of polyunsaturated fats, including an excellent source of the plant-based omega-3 ALA."

The California Walnut Board has compiled tips and an assortment of meatless recipes to help people easily incorporate more meatless meals into their routine. To bring the flavors people love to the types of dishes Americans are most interested in making meatless, try some of the following recipes and techniques:

• Pastas: Build a base of flavor with a classic combination of onion, carrots and celery, then simmer with chopped walnuts, tomatoes and spices to create a flavorful meatless sauce that will please every family members' taste. Without needing to wait for meat to brown, this California Walnut (Meat Free) Bolognese quickly brings classic Italian flavors to the dining room table.

• Tacos: Pairing walnuts with vegetables and spices like cumin and chili powder lends to a flavorful and texturally pleasing combination. In these Roasted Walnut and Cauliflower Tacos, cauliflower and toasted walnuts are the perfect vehicle for spicy and savory tacos that have a texture that is reminiscent of a ground beef taco.

• Lasagnas: Walnuts add a level of texture between the layers of pasta and sauce. The crunchiness of walnuts and creaminess of spinach and ricotta mixture leave nothing more to be desired in this Spinach Lasagna with Walnut Pesto.

• Burgers: Walnuts, lentils, mushrooms and spices serve as the base of the patty in this Walnut "Bean" Burger. Try adding mesquite seasoning for a classic, just-off-the-grill smokiness, or top with a sweet and tangy teriyaki sauce for an Asian twist.