I was surprised to find out over a lovely girls dinner last night that there are a whole lot of us out there who want to be vegetarian but can’t because of time, money, or love of bacon.  Ok so maybe that last one is mostly me.  In any case, we’re flexitarians.  Vegetarian wannabes who just can’t commit.  In less harsh terms, the will is there but it’s just not that easy.  Meat is convenient, relatively cheap, and most importantly for med students, it’s nutritious—perhaps not in terms of fat and cholesterol, but for most of us, there’s just not enough time to make sure we’re getting well nourished on a diet primarily composed of vegetables.  PB&J or rice and beans everyday is one solution, but that’s just boring.

One of the staples of the modern-vegetarian diet is fake meat.  Made popular, and usually tasty, by companies such as Morningstar, it makes being vegetarian almost too easy.  The drawback is all of these products are quite expensive compared to their animal counterparts.

Faux-meat products have one whooping secret though.  Almost all of their foods are based on a single ingredient, which on its own is DIRT CHEAP.  Next time you’re in your store’s veggie product freezer section, flip over the bag of “beef crumbles”.  Or better yet, click here.  First ingredient?  Textured Vegetable Protein.  Also known as TVP.  So what is this mystery substance?  With a name like that it’s no wonder no one wants to find out.  It sounds more like what one would find as the first ingredient in a McDonald’s  hamburger rather than a supposedly healthy meat alternative.

I’d tell you but to be honest, even after reading the wikipedia article I’m still not entirely sure what it is.  What I do know is that you can find it in the bins of Whole Foods, along with the nuts and granola, for $1.39/lb.  Here’s the kicker though, it’s sold freeze dried, meaning it weighs practically nothing, and it expands in water 2-3x its size.  The last time I purchased a bag of it, I paid about 22 cents.  And not only is it cheap, it’s incredibly easy to cook with (recipe below obviously), and 1/3 cup dry contains over 10 grams of protein.

So how does Morningstar get away with selling it at approximately 40x what it’s worth? My guess: the name, fancy packaging, and food coloring.  Food coloring?  Yes.  Food coloring.  When you first reconstitute this stuff it looks like cat vomit.

You can see in the picture even after adding a bouillon cube it is still a yellow-beige mushy mass.  We’ll fix it though.  Believe it or not, this mess is about to be transformed into “beef” tacos!   Actually that’s somewhat of a lie as I have none of the rest of ingredients to make taco’s, for now we’re just going to make filling, but it’s quite versatile.  Change of the seasonings and use it in place of ground beef in whatever you’d like.

Taco Filling for 1-2 people

1/2 cup dry TVP

½ Knorr vegetable bouillon cube -Knorr is the best!

½ cup water

1 tbsp butter or margerine

¼ cup chopped onion

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp chili powder

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

Place TVP in a microwavable bowl with water and bouillon.  Microwave ~40 seconds.  Let sit for a few minutes until fluffy and all water is absorbed, then stir.  If it’s still hard in spots, add more water and re-heat, but not too much or you’ll be sautéing forever. Melt butter in pan over medium heat.  Add the onion and sauté 1-2 minutes.   Add all spices, give a quick stir.  Add TVP and continue to sauté stirring occasionally until browned and flavorful, about 10 minutes.

And there you have it.  Taco filling.  I apologize for taking this picture before it was cooked rather than after, I am new to this after all.  It really does brown up nice after cooking though!  It doesn’t get quite as brown as Morningstar (food coloring! Cough cough), but certainly enough to look like something you’d want to put on a taco and not clean up off your floor.

But like I said, there were no tortillas in the future for my beef crumbles.  Instead they found themselves in a cheeseburger helper-esque pasta. Very satisfying, but not so magnificent as to be worthy of a full recipe on the internet.  (If you’re curious I made the same cheese sauce from the previous post, plus a tbsp of nutritional yeast for cheddar flavor–more on this unappetizingly named substitute later–combined it all with pasta and topped it off with salsa for a super hearty meal)

In conclusion, there are some practical barriers from us all being entirely meat-free, but that doesn’t mean us flexitarians are making no difference at all.  It’s more like one vegetarian for every three of us combined.  Better than nothing right?


PS.  stay tuned tomorrow for Cookie Dough Truffles…