Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Working Class Soy Products

The other day I stumbled upon a health food store I hadn't seen before; which is quite surprising, because it's right in the city center, on Dizengoff and Frischmann. The folks who work there are extremely nice and knowledgeable about the lovely stuff the city has to offer, including spices, teas, grains, baking and cooking products from cast iron and silicone, and various mystery items in bins.

It was one of these mystery items that I stumbled upon as I was looking for something nice to eat for dinner; it had strange, dry brown/beige pellets of varying sizes, and was very, very cheap. "What is this?" I asked. "You've never seen these before?" said the salesperson. "They are really, really cool; these are soy slices. You cook them like meat, only you have to soak them first".

Several hours later, I started searching the internet for interesting things to do with the funny pellets, which I now realized were called TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein). Apparenly, TVP has been around for a while, but has not enjoyed the yuppie publicity of tofu and soymilk. Probably because it is much, much cheaper. It's been served in workplace cafeterias and canteens way before vegetarianism became a lifestyle, rather than a financial necessity. And, yeah, it's very tasty.

As opposed to tofu and miso, TVP is not fermented. It is made from defatted, ground soy, and textured to look and feel - when wet - like a little sponge, with a texture not dissimilar from that of chewy Chinese beef or chicken bits (haven't had those for nearly fourteen years, but still got the memories). It is bought dry, then soaked in boiling water for several hours before it can be used. In fact, it's not dissimilar from seitan (wheat gluten puffs).

TVP seems to be a good alternative for folks transferring to vegetarianism after years of eating typical Western fare. For example, this website provides some ideas on how TVP can be "meat in disguise" in some common North American dishes. Here are some options, too.

These recipes all indicate that TVP serves mostly as "fake meat". While I find no particular reason to constantly imitate meat in my kitchen, it's fun, occasionally, to eat something one used to eat as a meat eater and use TVP. I used it, therefore, to prepare a stir-fry "beef" with green beans and mushrooms (this week's delivery of green beans from the farm was particularly impressive). When Chad came home, he came up with the idea of eating the leftovers in pita, with tchina, as one would in a shewarma stand (see other picture). It was very good both ways.

Stir-Fry TVP "Beef" with Green Beans and Mushrooms

30 pellets of dark TVP
1 cup fresh green beans
1 cup fresh forest mushrooms, or soaked shiitake mushrooms
4 garlic cloves
1/2 cup good quality soy sauce
1/2 inch fresh ginger
1 tsp chili flakes, or hot sauce
(optional) 1/2 tsp honey

STEP I: prepare the TVP. Soak it in lots and lots of boiling water for a good eight hours (leave it soaking when you go to work, it'll be ready for dinner). It will nearly quadruple its size. Then, discard the water, and gently squeeze the puffed sponges to remove a bit more water (this will leave room for them to soak the sauce).

STEP II: Cut off (scissors are really fun for this) the green bean tips. Slice the mushrooms and garlic cloves. We start off with some oil in the wok, then add the garlic, ginger and chili/hot sauce a nice aroma fills the room. Then, we put the TVP in the wok and just let it absorb and get used to its new situation. Not much stirring (yeah, you, leave it be!). After the TVP begins to warm up and get slightly darker (five minutes is enough), add up the soy sauce, honey (if desired) and any more aromatics, if you so prefer. Then add the vegetables, and stir fry for another five minutes. Voila, "beef".

My serving suggestion: eat as is, or on brown rice.
Chad's serving suggestion: stuff into a pita with tchina and raw vegetables.

So, there's another way to eat some vegetable protein and not go broke. Enjoy!


Shunra said...

Mmmm, TVP is yummy, and indeed, chewey.

Wocestershire sauce (vegetarian style) goes particularly well with it, and marinating it in a flavorful liquid (spices and wine, for example) really help with the flavor.

I wonder why soy is used exclusively for protein extraction, though. It may be the best, but why aren't we getting garbanzo protein, lentil protein, etc.? Any ideas?

Hadar said...

I think soy is cheaper to grow and more common, which would explain why there's more of an industry. Also, it could be because of soy's higher protein content (garbanzo beans are mostly starch).