Philly Cheese”Fakes”; Vegetarian Cheese Steak sandwiches, a healthier option to satisfy the craving

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Philly Cheese"Fakes"; Vegetarian Cheese Steak sandwiches

These hearty vegetarian sandwiches nevertheless have a beefy quality thanks to Gardein’s “Beefless Tips”. The meatiness is complimented by a covering of creamy, guiltless, cheese sauce. Just for good measure, a topping of sauteed bell peppers and mushrooms provide a good dose of vegetables. Make Philly Cheese “Fakes” any time of year, any day of the week.

So, Philly doesn’t have an RV park.

Well, they presumably do, but I couldn’t find it. When my husband Frank wrapped up his assignment in New York, we made our way from the Upper West Side back to Southern California. Over a full month we took our time stopping to see the Pennsylvania Dutch, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, South Carolina’s outdoor markets, and the dusty roads of Tombstone, AZ. I was disappointed the one place we weren’t able to visit was Philadelphia, PA. (When the car being towed behind the RV takes 20 minutes and a hefty dose of ibuprofen to disconnect, one only goes where the RV can fit.) The closest park we found was too far outside of the city, and the start of winter wasn’t cooperating. So, we had to keep driving, but as we passed, I swear I could smell sliced beef cooking on a well seasoned flat top.

The Sandwich that Breaks Bad

Philly Cheese"Fakes"; Vegetarian Cheese Steak sandwichesI’ve wished to go to Philly for years for the sole purpose of eating beautiful, greasy, rib eye cheese steak sandwiches. (Yes, plural.) Oh, and for the history stuff too, I guess. Although that dream goes on, I have been lucky to try this East Coast delicacy outside of the city of brotherly love. While my husband was on assignment in Hollywood, Los Angeles we came across the infamous “Fat Sal’s” where the Philly Cheese steak is life changing. In a city where health food rules, this place is thriving. Although its purveyors are from NYC, they’ve earned the Philly-family approval if the reviews are anything by which to judge. Their juicy, thinly sliced rib eye steak and rich cheese sauce is salty, meaty, and magnificent. I still dream about the late night deliveries to our apartment on Highland, just a block off of Hollywood Blvd. The bag would drip with melted cheese and grease, but I still dove in head first. Yes, I miss Fat Sal’s gift to the world, but I don’t miss my stomach’s reaction after indulging without caution. 

Re-making an indulgent American Classic

I needed to come up with a way to satisfy my craving while being gentle to the gut. First, I had to deal with the greasy meat. In the last few years I’ve cut back on the amount of red meat I cook at home, mostly because of how cost-prohibitive decent quality beef and lamb has become. There are of course numerous health reasons to avoid too much red meat, but often the impact on the “pocketbook” can be the motivation we all need. But, becoming a vegetarian 100% of the time isn’t conceivable to me. I love a good burger or prime rib sandwich every once in a while. That’s why I call myself Vegan-ish, Carnivore-ish, and Vegetarian-ish. There are many elements to take from each dietary path without denying myself the things I love. This is where these “Beefless Tips” come in to create a happy medium.

Philly Cheese"Fakes"; Vegetarian Cheese Steak sandwiches

The flavor and texture of these substitutes have come a long way in the last 5 years. They aren’t tough and rubbery anymore, and that old earthy taste has been long retired. Gardein in particular has gotten closest to perfecting the substitute meat market. I’ve drawn many of our the carnivorous friends over to the Vegetarian-ish side by just making them TRY A BITE!

I also appreciate the convenience of freezable meat substitutes. For those of us who may forget about grocery shopping until 4 pm on Monday when dinner plans come into our wherewithal, these are wonderful. Pulling out a bag of high protein, low fat, inexpensive Gardein is a welcomed solution. Plus, the cost of $5 or less for a bag that can feed four isn’t bad. This is especially true when you consider that the price per lb of lean, low-fat ground Sirloin nowadays hovers around $8/lb.

Cheesy Cheese sauce; just as it should be!

The next gut buster to tackle was the fatty, cream-laced cheese sauce traditional to these satisfying subs. Incorporating a non-dairy milk with fat-free half & half cuts the majority of fat that ordinarily comes from using heavy whipping cream. But, richness isn’t sacrificed thanks to that half & half and a robust, sharp provolone cheese. A touch of shredded Parmesan lends a salty, fragrant kick, while adding a pinch of sweet paprika is the perfect finish and creates a great color.

Mise en place – IMPORTANT for your sauce!

Philly Cheese"Fakes"; Vegetarian Cheese Steak sandwiches

Mise en place translates to “everything in its place”. This is just a fancy French phrase meaning to have everything ready to go. It’s one of the most common phrases in culinary classes and professional kitchens because of its value. That comes into play when getting a recipe right is made difficult by its time sensitivity or “finicky” nature. Having your ingredients measured and next to you helps to execute a method without rushing to shred cheese before the roux browns.

Long story short, your roux can burn if you walk away from the stove searching for ingredients. Make it easier on yourself and have your Mise en place prepped and close. You can have your butter cut, flour measured and milk mixture made. Even something as simple as combining the salt, pepper, and paprika in a small bowl can help you be successful in making this sauce.

Philly Cheese"Fakes"; Vegetarian Cheese Steak sandwiches

Can’t I save calories by using “Reduced Fat” Provolone?

It’s essential to use a sharp provolone cheese to create this sauce. My favorite by far is Boar’s head Picante Provolone. When you use a cheese with intense flavor, you can use less and still obtain the desired potency and taste. If you use a reduced fat, mild provolone your sauce will be bland. In order to correct that, you either have to add more cheese or increase the salt, undoing your efforts to make this “lower fat”. So, eat as the French do; use a little of the good stuff instead of a lot of the diet stuff.

Philly Cheese"Fakes"; Vegetarian Cheese Steak sandwiches

Need a light Vegetarian Dessert to follow these delectable subs? Try my (VEGETARIAN) Restaurant-Level Chocolate Mousse; 5 Ingredients & 190 Calories. UNCOMPLICATED.

Philly Cheese”Fakes”; Vegetarian Cheese Steak sandwiches

Makes 4 sandwiches


♦ Fake Steak Filling

  • 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 bell pepper (or 1/2 of two colors), thinly sliced
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 8 oz package of sliced mushrooms (I like baby portabella)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable broth
  • 1/4 tsp salt + 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper, divided
  • 4- 5″ to 6″ hoagie rolls
  • 1 package Gardein “beef tips”- See note for substitute

If you can’t find Gardein Beef Tips in your freezer aisle, don’t fret! tips you can substitute Italian flavored seitan (Upton’s is great), plain seitan, or just another 8 oz sliced mushrooms.

♦ Provolone Cheese Sauce

  • 1 tbsp + 1 tsp (4 tsps) all purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup fat free milk, or unsweetened almond/cashew/soy milk
  • 1/2 cup fat free half & half
  • 1/2 cup (2.25 oz) Sharp/Picante provolone cheese*
  • 2 tbsp shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 tsp – 1/2 tsp sea salt, depending on the saltiness of your cheeses
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp sweet paprika

(*Read above why you should avoid using reduced fat cheese for this recipe)


♦ Fake Steak Filling

Philly Cheese"Fakes"; Vegetarian Cheese Steak sandwiches

  1. Heat the 2 tsp olive oil over medium heat. Add in the mushrooms and stir to coat.
  2. Pour in 1/2 the broth, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1/8 tsp pepper. Cook until tender. Move to a plate.
  3. Repeat the same method with bell peppers, reducing the salt to 1/8 tsp.
  4. Cook the Gardein according to the package directions. Slice each “nugget” in half
  5. using the edge of your spatula and cook a couple of more mins to brown the cut sides.

♦ Provolone Cheese Sauce – To make a successful sauce, please read note above on “mis en place” before starting.

  1. Measure out the fat free milk and 1/2 & 1/2 and combine them.
  2. Over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Sprinkle the flour over top and whisk in well to smooth out lumps and create a blond roux.
  3. Add in the milk mixture about 2 tbsp at a time, whisking well after and NOT adding more until its all combined and smooth. This is how you get a sauce without lumps or chunks.
  4. Continue until all the milk mixture is combined. Increase heat to medium and whisk for 2-3 minutes or thickened. Stir in the salt, pepper, and paprika.
  5. Reduce heat to low and whisk in cheeses.


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