Born-again veggie…

Finally, after farting about for months, I’ve slipped back into a mainly (for now, at least), vegetarian diet, given the nudge after writing this post, about the link between the purines/uric acid in beer, and arthritis. That’s because many foodstuffs, not just booze, contain purines (which metabolises into uric acid which, in turn, can causes kidney stones and/or gout, and aggravate arthritis, too). The highest levels are found in organ meats (offal), and some fish, like sardines. And beer.

I also need to reduce my cholesterol, and a diet high in soya products will bring it down nicely, as it has in the past.

Personally, I loathe (with the possible exception of Quorn), meat analogues – veggie products that mimic meat –  though they can be useful for novice veggies, to wean them off meat. I’ve been here before, though – I was a veggie from 1985 through to 2000-and-something. I’m not entirely certain when it fizzled out, but it was sometime in the early 2000s.

As I’m not a vegetarian of conscience, but of convenience (and, originally, avoiding a deeply suspect food chain**), that allows me access to a wider range of flavourings than I had before – for the time being, at least (soya protein – aka TVP – can get very tedious when the base flavour of a dish is Marmite). There’s also the problem that my cooking ability, while excellent in theory, is extremely restricted in practice.

**This was the mid eighties, when food matters were dominated by BSE.

Right now, I have a pan of Batchelor’s Beanfeast, the Bolognese version, sadly (the savoury mince version has vanished), in the fridge. Flavoured with ground coriander, paprika, concentrated beef stock, dried basil and thyme, plus a good handful of dried vegetables**, it’s pretty good. Total amount of actual work, pretty much zero, unless you count occasionally stirring the pan.

** Buggers are out of stock – why is it so many online vendors are too bloody lazy to keep their websites updated?

The Bolognese version can be bullied into tasting like the much better savoury mince with a little creative flavouring, in my case Knorr Touch of Taste Beef stock,  and a dash each of soy sauce and HP sauce. OK – it’s like the savoury mince with ketchup, but it’s a lot better than it was. The Mexican chilli version, by the way, is rubbish – dehydrated red kidney beans are a seriously bad idea.

And for the record, veggies, even those who eat soya, fart no more than anyone else. No worse, either, no matter what you might read to the contrary. True, novice veggies might be so afflicted, but it goes away as your body, in particular its intestinal flora, adjusts to the new diet.

Soya protein (Textured Vegetable Protein, or TVP), which basically means mince, as the chunks are fit only for dog food**, benefits from long, slow, cooking – not the 15 minutes it says on the Beanfeast pack, or the 5 minutes in the Cranks cookbook. Luckily, so do dried veggies, though if you have plenty of freezer space, there’s no reason why you can’t buy either frozen prepared veg, or pre-prepped fresh veg tossed in the freezer – contrary to popular belief they’ll be fine without blanching, for a few weeks.

**Not cats – cats are obligate carnivores and, without the amino acid Taurine, found in red meats, they’ll sicken and die.

TVP comes in flavoured (basically Marmite-ish), or unflavoured (i.e., tastes of wet paper, but hydrating and squeezing dry, plus cooking, gets rid of that). In the seventies, when I first flirted with vegetarianism, soya protein came in a range of flavours and textures – ham and chicken were OK – now all we have is “beef” or plain. Soya protein is widely available – I got mine here. Buying stores’ own-brand versions is better value than branded products.

There are, of course, other foods than soya. Last week I cooked a pan of pre-prepped diced swede, carrot and onion, flavoured with garlic salt, celery salt, coriander and smoked hot paprika**, in chicken stock, then tossed in a handful of frozen green beans near the end, followed by 2 cans, drained, of butter beans. It tasted amazing. Dirt cheap, too.

**Ground coriander and sweet paprika is a great combination. Smoked paprika is OK for an occasional change (mine is the hot version entirely by accident – both versions come in almost identical red cans.

Way back when hippies still walked the earth, Frances Moore Lappé wrote Diet for a Small Planet, which, after its publication in 1971,  became the veggie bible. Sadly, in it she wrote that you had to combine grains, or grain products, with pulses at every meal, to get a proper protein balance, thus making mealtimes a pain in the butt for a couple of generations of veggies.

She eventually confessed to getting it wrong – which perceptive veggies had already figured out by failing to die when they took no notice or, as most often happened, didn’t even know – since as long as you ate grains and pulses, your body was perfectly capable of juggling the amino acids into complete proteins all by itself, no matter when you ate them. As most people ate both at some point every day, that was fine.

As I said, I’m not fond of pretend meat products, but there is one exception, those from the Israeli company Tivall. Many Jews are veggies to avoid hassles with the Kosher laws (fine for a desert community 4,000 years ago, when refrigeration hadn’t been invented, and hygiene was patchy; entirely pointless now) – the market which Tivall originally served. Still does, presumably.

They do schnitzel, Frankfurters, sausages, Kievs, burgers and a few other items, and Sainsbury’s or Tesco, I misremember which, used to stock them. These days they’re hard to find (better if you live in a Jewish area, I suppose), but you can buy them here.

If you are, or have in the family, a novice veggie, this company sells quite a range of meat and fish analogues, but I’ll be very surprised if they can equal Tivall.

Back to the beginning, and the purine problem, quite a few dried pulses have moderate levels of purines per 100g but, of course, when soaked and cooked, that will diminish substantially.

I still have some sausages in the freezer, plus quite a bit of fish which, for me at least, isn’t a problem (I’m certainly not going to waste it!), as long as I can avoid meat. Partly because of the purine content (I’m fond of liver, which is very high), but also because there seem to be quite a few problems creeping into Sainsbury’s meat  quality of late.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a pack of “British Traditional Beef  Frying Steak” (such labels can mean no more than it was cut up and packed here – and nowhere does it say in was sourced in Britain), which, it was claimed, was “matured on the bone to guarantee outstanding flavour and tenderness”.

Given that it was matured, I’d love to know why it was so wet it seemed to have been dipped in a bucket of blood before packing. Luckily I was braising it, as it would have been quite impossible to have fried it – it would have poached in its own liquid – I didn’t even bother trying to brown the meat first, it would have been futile.

Earlier, I’d bought a pack of roast silverside (I’d wanted pastrami, but they had none), to fill a couple of rolls before going to the pub. That, too was wet though, perversely, the label advised me that it had lost  moisture in cooking. So what did they do – bloody well put it back?

Talking of pastrami, a friend bought a pack from Sainsbury’s a day or two earlier. Yep you’ve guessed – that was wet too. It goes without saying that it was fat-free also – an obsession with Sainsbury’s, removing much of the flavour with the fat. Look, just leave it on; those who don’t like it can leave it, those who know better will thank you for it).

So what’s going on? Are the meats deliberately moistened to boost the weight (a few grams per pack, on a nationwide scale, soon mounts up)? I have no idea.

If anyone at Sainsbury’s is reading this, feel free to tell me how roast beef gets wet (no, it wasn’t rare), and why allegedly matured steak is as wet as if the animal had just been killed. Because I’d love to know.

And those are the reasons why I’ve changed my diet. And before someone asks why I don’t shop elsewhere, like Tesco – it sucks! Type Tesco into the search box to see why.

2 thoughts on “Born-again veggie…

  1. Hi Ron
    I am very much into quorn products and have been more or less meat free since 2005.
    I have no real problem eating meat and will most probably tuck into a T Bone when i am lucky enough to be taken out for tea but…much like you i resent paying top dollar for some of the muck coming out of supermarkets ( Real butcher costs way too much).
    I find Quorn to be pretty decent as a compromise, cheap too and unlike yourself i don’t mind the meat flavoured products like Bacon rashers and sausages, my favourite is Quorn Steak strips, excellent in stir-fry!
    I suppose your TVP is even cheaper but i have never gone that far yet, Quorn seems to be my happy medium and as long as i can enjoy a few pints (forcing myself to drink lager- less purine) i have no complaints with my diet.

    All the best

    • Hi Ranald,

      Back in the eighties, Sainsbury’s sold a family steak pie that was partly Quorn (before Quorn was released onto the retail market), and it was impossible to tell what was Quorn and what was meat. That version of Quorn I’d be happy with (though I’ve eaten plenty in my time anyway). Based on what they did for Sainsbury’s, there’s no real reason why it had to be beige – a really unappetising colour – which it was for so long.

      I see, though, that there are a lot of new Quorn products I haven’t tried – some are even brown, the reckless devils! The suet puddings look promising. . .

      Just had a plate of soya mince, with crushed spuds drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt flakes. Way better than meat – no mysterious bits of tubing and cartilage in it, for a start!

      I do have a bag of Quorn fillets in the freezer, but they’re pretty versatile – they’re pretty good cut into thick slices and braised.

      Next job – pickle some beetroot in sweetened cider vinegar. Goes really well with soya mince. And stock up with beans and lentils.

      And I have a project – making a vegetarian sausage that’s actually worth eating.

      TVP can be very good if you bend the rules and use a beef stock (or chicken for the unflavoured variety), otherwise the standard “beef” flavouring is Marmite, and it takes quite a bit of work to make it not taste like Marmite! It makes good burgers too (TVP, not Marmite).

      I’ve got a whole book of veggie recipes I wrote way back when – I must dig them out and see which I can update successfully.

      For now, though, I’m sticking with bitter – lager is a sacrifice too far. I’ll jack up my meds before and the following day.


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