The concept is simple—go meatless every Monday—but in practice, such a directive can feel intimidating, even unfair to the carnivores and omnivores among us. Why should I deprive myself of that juicy steak, grilled chicken breast or pork cutlet?
There’s solid reasoning behind the Meatless Monday movement—to improve one’s personal health and that of the planet. Nine years ago, a group at the Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health came up with the concept to help reduce nationwide meat consumption by 15 percent. Today, 23 countries worldwide and hundreds of communities across the United States have joined the project, including Loudoun. More than a dozen restaurants in our county are now participating by promoting special meat-free menu items each Monday and encouraging folks to, for one day, consider dining options that don’t include animal flesh.
Fortunately, a great many tasty and healthy meat substitutes exist out there, but perhaps unfortunately, most have a pretty bad rep. Tofu? Bland hippie food. TVP? Never heard of it. Both of these soy-based products can do much to liven up your Meatless Monday experience, it’s just a matter of knowing how best to use them. Below, find some tips on how to integrate these products into your diet.
This ancient substance comes in several different varieties—for our purposes we’ll focus on the two most common: hard/firm and soft/silken. All tofu consists simply of coagulated soymilk that has been pressed to remove most of its liquid, leaving behind a block of curd. Firm tofu has been pressed to remove most the liquid, while silken is pressed very lightly and not drained, retaining nearly all its liquid.
Soft tofu has a consistency like that of fine custard, and it’s appropriate for use in an array of applications, from sauces to dessert. Soft tofu is a great addition to soups and is the principle ingredient in many traditional Chinese dishes, like spicy Mapo Tofu.
Hard tofu is perhaps a bit more versatile and, depending on how it’s prepared, can be a very satisfying component in everything from Mexican to Asian cuisine. It can be further pressed to remove nearly all its liquid, leaving behind a very dense cube of curd that can be breaded and fried, baked, sautéed or crumbled and stir-fried, to name but a few preparations. For the uninitiated, hard tofu is probably a bit easier to handle and yields a more chewy, meaty mouth-feel.
Proper spicing and marinating is key when using either tofu variety—that’s how you get the flavor in there. Without it, indeed, tofu will live up to the stereotype of being boring and bland in taste. Plan your meal early in the day so you have plenty of time to press and marinade your tofu. A good, basic marinade could include: soy sauce or Bragg’s Aminos, Worcestershire, Sriracha sauce, adobo chili, salt, pepper, olive oil and honey. Eyeball to combine for the amount of tofu you’re using and the spice level you like. While the pressing process can take hours, depending on how dry your want your curd, marinating should last only half an hour or so, lest the soy curd begin to break down.
Texturized Vegetable Protein
TVP, as it’s commonly known, consists of soybean flour that has been “defatted.” That’s just a fancy way of saying the soybean oil has been removed from the flour, which is then extruded, leaving behind bits of soy protein. You can find this versatile product dehydrated or hydrated, rolled and refrigerated to resemble a log of Bob Evans sausage.
It’s incredibly versatile—use it in soups, sauces stir-frys, form it into meatballs or burgers—the list goes on. TVP has as much protein as meat and presents a far healthier and cheaper way to balance out a veggie-heavy diet. TVP, like tofu, is also gluten free, so those suffering from celiac disease and wheat allergies can happily much away.
If you’re using the dehydrated stuff, rehydrate it using a 2:1 ratio, as in, one cup of TVP to two of water or vegetable stock. The more flavorful the liquid in which it’s rehydrated, the more flavorful your “hippie kibble” will be. This reporter has made many a vegetarian chili using TVP as a substitute for ground beef and has had to reassure wary vegetarians that no, really, it’s not meat. Here again, if you take the time to spice and prepare the TVP well, the flavorful results will surprise you.
Pre-hydrated TVP—GimmeLean is a very popular and commonly found brand—is even easier to use. Just cut open the tube, grab what you need for your recipe and you’re on your way. This stuff is great for vegetarian meatballs—treat it exactly as you would ground beef or pork. Add an egg, some onion, garlic, spices and sear it off in a pan. Add to the top of a steaming pile of spaghetti, smother with tomato sauce, sprinkle on some Italian cheese and viola! You’ve got vegetarian spaghetti with meatballs that packs a wallop of protein, very little fat and, if you’ve prepared your TVP with love and forethought, a very flavorful “meat”ball.
Do a bit of Googling or have a chat with the purveyor of your favorite natural foods store for even more ideas of how to use soy products when the next Meatless Monday rolls around. With a little patience and practice, you may even come to love this friend to vegetarians and vegans the world over.