Some thoughts on vegetarian food…

Tony Naylor, discussing vegetarian restaurants in the Guardian disparages meat analogues (fair enough, they are mostly crap), then spoils it all by opining that veggies should refrain from making “pointless mimic pies”. Sorry, mate, you’re way off beam there.

I was a veggie for about 12-15 years (hard to be precise as it fizzled out rather than stopped dead), and I’ve made some cracking pies in my time. There’s no law that says a pie has to contain meat, and anyone who’s ever eaten a really good cheese and onion pie will know that. Or think spanakopitta and its relatives.

In the mid eighties, Sainsbury’s did a steak plate pie, which also contained Quorn. Now, even the most ardent veggie will admit Quorn is staggeringly dull, but whatever was done to the Quorn in those pies, you simply couldn’t tell the mimic from the meat. The technique it seems, is lost.

I have a few veggie pie recipes, including one with a hand-raised, hot-water pastry case, and a very tasty nut and lentil (and much else), filling. Many hot veggie recipes lend themselves to being enclosed in pastry, and I really don’t see a problem with it. A pastry crust is not the sole preserve of meat-eaters.

And my Rustic Domicile pie is wonderful (oh, you work it out), loved by veggies and carnivores alike. OK, not pastry, but I think the filling would lend itself to a veggie equivalent of a mince and onion pie. It’s certainly better than the alternatives – Quorn or TVP mince. Did you know that Henry Ford used TVP for insulation in his car doors? A much better idea than eating the stuff!

So what’s Naylor’s problem?  Buggered if I know, but in the 134 often lengthy comments which followed his article, nobody took him to task for it.

On a slightly different note, tofu, it seems, is derided as a meat analogue, which is totally wrong. Tofu is tofu – it’s not a substitute for anything. It does have  a design fault, having a texture like congealed snot, and zero taste – the very “qualities” the Japanese love it for – and it doesn’t readily absorb flavours, no matter what you might read elsewhere. Marinades only penetrate about a millimetre, leaving the bulk of it tasteless.

However, back in my veggie days, I’d buy my tofu fresh from Matta’s in Bold Street, Liverpool. It came in a 500g slab, packed in water, as it should be. I’d freeze it for a few days, then thaw it (which has the effect of firming it up), wrap it in loads of kitchen towel, overwrap with clean tea-towels, then put it under a weight (usually my chopping board), to get the water out of it.

Then it would be very thinly sliced and marinated (in a lasagne dish), in a very savoury mixture for several days. Removed, blotted dry on kitchen towel it became the thing that most veggies can only dream of – a very acceptable bacon substitute.

It looked nothing like bacon, nor did it taste like it – that wasn’t my intention. It was what I intended it to be, a very nice, savoury fried product that crisped up nicely if that’s what you wanted, that could be frozen (yep, I know you shouldn’t, but I did, and never came to any harm).

The marinade worked well on tofu chunks, too. It didn’t penetrate deeply, but removed from the marinade, blotted dry, and deep fried hot and fast, they were extremely nice. They didn’t have the intensity of the slices, which were thin enough to be impregnated all the way through, which wasn’t a bad thing, as I then had two entirely different products.

The chunks could be eaten freshly fried or cooked in a stew with vegetables (when they would retain their fried texture, though a little flavour would leach out).

This is the marinade recipe, if anyone’s feeling adventurous:-

45ml dark soy sauce (I’d buy this in large bottle from Matta’s as I’m make this quite a lot – Kikkoman is fine)

2 level teaspoons Marmite (or one if you hate the stuff – if you omit it entirely, you’ll need to find a substitute)

15ml ketchup – Heinz, natch

5ml Worcestershire sauce (a veggie version is that’s your thing, otherwise Lea & Perrin’s)

5ml balsamic vinegar – nothing fancy

¼ teaspoon chilli powder

¼ teaspoon each fine sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper

Sufficient cider vinegar to make up to 190ml. Aspall organic is nicely mellow.

Put in a screw-top jar and shake until well mixed.

I also originally put in 10ml of olive oil – damned if I know why, now, but put it in if you feel like it.

When marinating slices, turn them over half-way through – careful, they’re still fragile. I put the chunks in a jar and turned it over every so often.

5 thoughts on “Some thoughts on vegetarian food…

  1. Do you know I’ve been craving spanakopitta lately! 🙂 And I’ve been experimenting with meat substitutes for the first time. I could never buy these in Tenerife, so all my vegetarian dishes there were never a mimic of anything, but I’ve found a cardboard mince substitute in our local health shop which makes a most acceptable Chilli or Rustic Domicile pie!

    Oh and Tofu is new to me too.

    Sadly, I like the texture though and yes, I can confirm that I have not killed either it or myself by freezing it too. 🙂

    • Hi Pamela,

      I’ve been fancying a fried marinated tofu sandwich since I wrote that. It was freezing the tofu twice without cooking it in between that I meant – a cardinal sin in freezer terms. I’ve done it with pretty much everything, from tofu to meat and fish, and never come to any harm, though.

      If you possibly can, try and get your tofu from an oriental food specialist, rather than the dismal little packets from Cauldron Foods. It tends to have a slightly more open texture, than the homogeneous supermarket stuff. The stuff I used to buy was made in Manchester (odd, since Liverpool has a large Chinese community), and delivered fresh a couple of times a week).

      TVP mince, well-flavoured, is reasonably acceptable – the plain version, not flavoured (which, to me at least, is pretty vile). If you pour hot water over it, let it soak for a few minutes then squeeze it dry before use, it gets rid of the wet-paper taste you often get with TVP.

      When I first flirted with vegetarianism, in the early seventies – I was looking for food for backpacking trips – you could get TVP as fake ham chunks (excellent texture), or chicken, but all that’s survived is mince and chunks. A shame really. I know I was a bit sniffy about meat analogues, but they can be valuable for people making the switch to vegetarianism – at least the food looks familiar.

      Unless it’s too late, avoid veggie bacon – it’s terrible.


  2. LOL, I’m afraid the “dismal little packets from Cauldron Foods” are the height of modern innovation for this area. In fact, I’m surprised I can even find that. This is the bottom of the New Forest, a.k.a. the Costa del Geriatrico or The Land That Time Forgot. All retired folk 80+ see, who are not noted for being adventurous. No demand, so shops limit the choices of goods they supply. There is so much less choice here than I was used to finding in Birmingham 20+ years ago. It’s so bland and uninspiring, I could cry.

    The lack of decent fresh fruit and veg, after a decade in a rural valley where I got most of it from the earth or trees and it had flavour, does make me weep.

    Yes, thankfully, I have not yet come across veggie bacon, but I’ll bear it in mind to give it a wide berth. 🙂

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