Note: This is based on Beanfeast, Bolognese flavour. I doubt that there is anything can be done to redeem the generic soya mince and chunks available from health food shops. Except maybe a packet of firelighters and a box of matches.
First of all, never lose sight of the fact that the first use of textured soya protein was as insulation in the doors and body of very early Ford cars. It was never intended as people-food!
Back in the mists of time – well, OK, the very early seventies – I took up backpacking.** The done thing was to carry everything needed for survival on one’s back, including food, but I very soon realised that carrying money (with a little food for emergencies), was a hell of a lot lighter, and mostly limited my carried food to breakfasts.
**Long-distance walking, not gap-year nonsense, pestering third-world indigenes, getting regrettable tattoos, and picking up weird diseases!
But, on my early trips I got through a lot of soya protein – known then as TVP – Textured Vegetable Protein. As well as the “beef” mince and chunks that we still have, it came in ham and chicken varieties too. Hell, it even had the correct texture and colour (taste was less successful, as I still is). Add some Surprise peas, with your favourite herbs and/or spices, and some quick-cook rice, or instant mash, and you had a pretty decent meal that cooked reasonably quickly.
In very short order, though, the chicken and ham varieties disappeared and all that remained was pretend beef.
Then I discovered Cadbury’s Beanfeast, in Chilli, Bolognese, and Mince and Onion flavours and, of the three, Mince and Onion was far and away the best, for my tastes anyway. So – Sod’s Law – Mince and Onion was eventually discontinued and today all we have is Bolognese and Chilli (I simply can’t believe that the Bolognese and Chilli outsold the Mince and Onion, not least because it was – if you wanted it to be – just a starting point. Your basic Mince and Onion was immensely versatile, and if you could actually cook, would become a far better Bolognese sauce, or chilli, than the two named varieties. But it’s gone, and the Chilli is crap – dehydrated red kidney beans cook up like gravel – and is best ignored, but the Bolognese, with a little ingenuity, in the form of dehydrated vegetables (carrots, onions, peas), an Oxo cube (I wasn’t a veggie back then), and some dried basil and thyme and, hey! Welcome back Mince and Onion! .
Hell, with a small can of red kidney beans, a packet or two of instant tomato soup, chilli powder or Tabasco, and a few herbs, the Bolognese was a far better chilli than the Chilli would ever be.
To this day I still make the occasional batch of Mince and Onion, from Bolognese, but with fresh veg, and Marmite instead of Oxo now I’m a veggie again (more or less, I still eat fish occasionally), but today I’m trying out a new recipe, one without Marmite, which is widely loathed. In fact, while I used to like the stuff, I find I’m less fond of it the older I get.
This is the recipe (my 3-litre stainless steel pot, as usual), and the ingredients are a little more adventurous than in the past :-
2 packets Bolognese Beanfeast
4 medium-sized carrots, peeled, quartered lengthways and sliced
½ of a medium swede, peeled and diced
3 medium onions, chopped small,
2 Kallo organic veg stock cubes
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 ½ teaspoons dried basil
1.5 tablespoons Teriyaki sauce/marinade (or soy sauce/Tamari)
1 tablespoon Mushroom ketchup
A squirt of HP sauce
24 pitted black olives
2 tablespoons mixed sour and sweet cherries, chopped (optional, but good)
1 teaspoon garlic granules
A knob of butter, preferably clarified
A splash of olive oil
Maldon sea salt and black pepper to taste
Frozen peas, as many as you like, cooked separately, drained and added near the end.
A dozen or so Deglet Nour dates, chopped up
1 scant teaspoon Harissa (my blend, for preference) – optional
The method is very simple. Sweat the onion in the oil and melted butter until soft, add everything else except the salt, pepper and peas, Add boiling water to within an inch or so of the top, stir very thoroughly, being sure to break up any lumps of mince that form.
Bring back to the boil, stirring frequently – it WILL stick at this stage if you don’t, then reduce to a simmer and leave, stirring every 15-20 minutes, until the veg are cooked.
Alternatively, hold back the mince, and add just enough water to cover the veg. When they’re almost done, then add the mince, top up the water, and proceed as above. The mince only needs 15 minutes, but I find it tastes better if it’s cooked along with the veg. Your call. Unlike Quorn, you can’t overcook soya protein because, remember, it’s insulation, not food!
Whichever method you use, the dates go in either when the veg are almost cooked or, with the mince if you opt for the second method. Ditto the Harissa, if used. And you can use more than a teaspoon, should you wish – just beware of the heat in commercial versions. This isn’t supposed to be chilli!
It smells good so far, but tasted a little sharp (probably the mushroom ketchup), which is what prompted me to add the dates and Harissa, and I’m more than happy with it now. It even tastes meaty, though it is 100% vegetarian.
Once cooked, adjust the seasoning, if needed, allow to cool and refrigerate overnight – even pretend meat benefits from a chance to snuggle up in the dark.
NB: No reason why you can’t use one packet of mince and halve everything else. I made a lot because most is going in the freezer.
Sorry, forgot the Spoonie rating. Basically it’s a 2-spooner in prep terms, but the need for stirring earns it a third. Worth it, though, if you cook a load for the freezer, as I did.