Dried soy "meat" -- known to vegetarians as either TVP, textured vegetable protein, or TSP, textured soy protein -- makes a convenient addition to tofu and tempeh in your meatless repertoire. Unlike its animal counterpart, TVP stores long-term without refrigeration. You can usually buy it in bulk, but for it to become a truly valuable meat substitute in your household, TVP needs proper preparation and seasoning before you add it to vegetarian meals.
Calculating the Crumbles
One of the more challenging aspects of translating traditional recipes into vegetarian dishes is figuring out how much of the meat substitute to use -- especially with a dried product such as TVP. If your recipe calls for 1 pound of ground beef, plan to use about 1/3 pound TVP. In volume measuring, for each 1 cup of meat called for, you need 1/2 cup of dried TVP, which doubles in size when reconstituted.
Plumping the Pieces
For most recipes, you need to reconstitute TVP as the first step. For smaller-size granules, a 1-to-1 ratio of boiling water and TVP adequately plumps up the pieces. Pour boiling water directly over the granules and let them sit at least 5 minutes. Larger chunks or strips reconstitute best simmered in a pot, at a rate of 2 parts water to 1 part TVP. After the water comes to a boil and you add the TVP, lower the heat and simmer it for at least 20 minutes.
Making It Meatless
Because of its resemblance to ground beef, TVP works well in vegetarian versions of classic ground beef dishes. If you're using the soy meat in chili, Cuban hash or sloppy Joe-type meals, substitute tomato juice or vegetable broth for some of the water during the reconstitution stage; add spices like cumin and chili powder. It also helps to brown the plumped-up granules with onions and aromatics, as you would ground beef. For veggie burgers, mashing TVP with other soy meat substitutes like tofu and tempeh adds moisture and structure to a meatless patty.
Faking the Fowl
You can typically find chicken-flavored TVP strips or chunks at the health food store. Use these in dishes in which you would normally use chicken chunks, although warm, spicy chicken meals make better candidates for using TVP than mild, chilled recipes like chicken salad, in which the altered texture and blander taste of the soy meat is more apparent. Instead, incorporate chicken-flavored TVP into fajitas by browning the reconsituted pieces with onions, garlic and spices, and add it to sauteed vegetables, salsa and cheese in a tortilla stuffing. Or go Asian by seasoning the chicken-flavored TVP with ginger and soy sauce; spoon the reconstituted sauteed pieces over noodles or stir-fried vegetables.
With a focus on food, nutrition, cocktails and the latest dining trends, Melissa J. has been a freelance writer for more than 15 years. Her specialties include articles for such publications as SF Chronicle and National Geographic Green Living, as well as blog posts for the hospitality industry. Her previous positions include newspaper staff reporter and communications specialist for a nonprofit agency.