Protein revisited – and a recipe…

I’m still looking to reliably improve my protein intake, especially now my leg is leaking again. Serous blood at present (but a lot of it), but it can’t be long before the corrosive and protein-heavy lymphatic fluid makes another bid for freedom now it has a way out. And I find myself amazed by the number of food items described as high in protein which are, in fact, either extremely average or even low.

Take tofu – please – you can have my share! I still have an ambition to make this crap edible (and I did it!), but I’m at a loss to know why it’s routinely described as high in protein. What it’s high in is water. The protein content is about 8.5%. That, to me, is pretty moderate (an average boiled egg is 14% protein – that’s highish).

Mushrooms, as I’ve said before, can be up to 30% protein, but more in-depth research shows that this figure applies to dried mushrooms only. Fresh chestnut mushrooms are a dismal 1.8% while the best seem to be fresh shiitakes, at 5.5%, or 20% when dried (which goes back down again once hydrated). Dried porcini weigh in at a whisker under 30% but, again, plummets, when hydrated, to 3%. (Sources – Sainsbury’s and various reputable nutritional websites.)

Fungi, then, as major contributors of protein, can safely be ignored. And I’m talking now about easily available varieties – there may well be others that are higher, but that’s no help if you can’t access them or don’t even know about them.

That’s not to totally rubbish tofu and fungi – they do have a contribution to make in terms of protein and much else, especially the latter – just don’t be taken in by the high-protein hype. It’s just not true.

I covered beans in a previous post but, oddly. completely overlooked soy beans (or soya, if you like). These, unlike other beans, have a perfect amino acid balance, meaning their protein is genuinely meat-equivalent. So why have I neglected them? No idea, but that’s about to change.

In today’s Sainsbury’s order I got a bag of Birds Eye soya beans (£2.30/480g, 12.4% protein). I wasn’t impressed to find them frozen into one solid lump, which suggests strongly that they’d been at least partially thawed and refrozen. However, in a day or so they’ll be going into a pot of soup with some shiitake mushrooms.

Given the condition of the beans, I’m going with dried soya beans in future,** not least because they’re very much cheaper, at £1.37 for 500g which, when soaked, will yield about 1400g of edible beans. Organic, too – always good to know with so many GM soya beans on the market. Birds Eye are non-GM but not organic.

**On that page the protein content given is for the dried bean.

Staying with soya beans, they do come on other forms than Tofu. Tempeh for example is made from fermented soya beans and makes a very acceptable meat substitute. Were I still able to get to Liverpool I could buy fresh Tempeh, but I can’t so I’m trying the linked product, which has a claimed protein content of 18.4% (confirmed online – Tempeh averages 19%). Amazon have the same brand in 6-packs, and it’s worthwhile checking out their Grocery section for Tofu and Seitan. And if you want to try making Seitan yourself, you’ll need this.

Goodness Direct offers 2 forms of Tempeh, the Impulse Foods version being the more natural product. They also have a wide variety of Tofu. Keep an eye on the delivery charge for frozen or chilled products – it can mount up.

Goodness Direct say the protein content of Impulse Foods Tempeh is 10.9%, which is odd as it’s lower than the actual ingredients (fermentation is supposed to enhance the protein content, not deplete it). The Impulse Foods website offers no nutritional information at all.

Tempeh isn’t as easy to come by as you might think, as most oriental stores online seem not to stock it as it’s Indonesian, not Chinese or Japanese. Even some online Indonesian stores don’t carry it.

On a different tack, there’s Seitan (often sold as Mock Duck or Mock Ham – with, I’ve always thought, the emphasis on mock!**). I’ve not eaten Seitan, but maybe I should as it’s up to 75% protein, depending on purity – time to give it a try maybe? Not if you’re coeliac, though – it’s almost pure gluten, and the higher the protein content the higher the gluten (gluten is the protein in bread – the “stronger” the flour, the more gluten – bread is a valuable source of protein in a normal diet).

**I’ve also seen mock fish, which doesn’t bear thinking about. sells a range of Tempeh, Tofu, and Seitan products, along with much else.

And if you’re not really into cooking, but prefer convenience foods, the Vbites range (previously Redwood), should have something for you. It appeals to me not at all – I tend to view veggie and vegan convenience foods with a very jaundiced eye. Most make dog food look good but, hey, each to their own. Personally, I prefer a wholefood diet.

And it occurred to me, typing this, that I’m approaching the end of my life** as I started it – as a veggie.

**Nope – not being morbid – damn lucky to have made it this far, and a minor miracle to have survived last year, the more so with my Addison’s mostly untreated.

When I was a toddler my mother was in a tailspin because I wouldn’t touch meat, but got by, in terms of protein, mostly on cheese and fish. And bread, of course. We were still deep in post WW2 rationing at the time so there was no fruit to speak of and I never developed a taste for it as a result. In addition, we were also deep in one of the most deprived slum areas of the country, Ardwick, in Manchester, so there wasn’t a hell of a lot – period.

Anyway, our GP, in exchange for half-a-crown (pre NHS), proffered the advice that I should be left alone, as I’d be fine, an enlightened attitude at the time. I have little memory of that time but, knowing my mother for the psycho bitch she was (seriously, today, she’d be in jail for child cruelty, and I’d have been in care), she probably beat the crap out of me for not eating meat. Anyway – the recipe…

Marinated Tofu Chunks.

As I type this I have a pan of Tofu pieces marinating in what, basically, is a very intense gravy.

Tofu comes packed in water, and it also holds a lot more, so the first thing to do is freeze it. This does several things – it extends the shelf life for about a year for a start (ignore the pack instructions to use by the BBE date even if frozen – doing that means there no point at all in freezing it for most people), as well as firming up the texture and causing the colour to take on a yellowish tinge (its natural colour is white).

This morning I set a grill rack over a small bowl, put the drained block of tofu on the rack, covered it with a small polyethylene chopping board and plonked a 1.25kg weight on top. Apart from turning the block over from time to time, it was left alone.

After about 4 hours it had stopped dripping so I wrapped it in a dozen layers of kitchen towel, which immediately became soaked, was removed, wrung out, and binned (never flush this stuff – it WILL block your toilet!). Repeated it twice more, the last time applying firm but gentle pressure to extract as much water as possible – take care not to break up the block. If you’re one of those people for whom the word “gentle” is alien, you will have problems!

But let’s assume you’re not, and you now have a block of Tofu that’s as dry as it’s going to get. Cut it into slices about a centimetre thick, and each slice into pieces about the same width (precision doesn’t matter – give it your best shot).

Then make the marinade.

To about a pint of hot water add the following:-

A level tablespoon each of:-


Worcestershire sauce (a veggie version)

Balsamic vinegar

HP sauce

1.5 tablespoons of these:-

Reduced Salt Marigold Vegetable Bouillon Powder

Bisto Caramelised Onion granules

Bisto Vegetable Gravy granules


1/3 of a bottle of Sharwood’s Rich Soy Sauce

2 Knorr veg stock cubes

½ teaspoon white pepper

2 teaspoons dried basil

Now then, all those ingredients might look like overkill, but I know from experience that Tofu’s ability to take on flavours is over-rated. And, of course, some of what it does absorb will be later lost when it’s used in a dish. And, a bonus, the marinade can be re-used a couple of times, so it’s not as extravagant as it seems.

So, stir well so that everything is dissolved that should be, then tip in the Tofu. It will tend to float at first, but as it absorbs the marinade it’ll sink.

Bring it all to the boil then simmer for half an hour, covered. Remove from the heat, stir to ensure nothing has stuck, but gently so you don’t break the pieces, then replace the lid and leave to cool.

Every now and again, remove the lid, and submerge the pieces with the back of a tablespoon. Eventually, they’ll mostly stay submerged. You can hasten this process by plonking a suitably-sized plate in the pan and sinking the Tofu. I don’t have one, so I’m doing it the hard way – my leg’s letting me know it doesn’t appreciate it!

Either way, after a couple of hours put a colander, or a large sieve, over a bowl and drain the Tofu chunks.

When the Tofu is well drained, tip onto kitchen towel and pat dry, removing as much of the bits of veg from the stock, and the basil, as you can, then deep-fry it at 160Cfor just a few minutes, to firm it up a little. ##It might froth, so take care to keep it in the basket then, if it does, just lift it out until it subsides then dunk it again## Mine did froth, but not enough to be a risk.

This will help prevent it losing too much of its acquired flavour when used. You can also eat it as it is at this point.

When cold, unless you’re using it immediately, tip it into a plastic bag, label, date, and freeze it.

And you’re done.

And I’ve tried it, fresh from the fryer and cooled a little – it’s remarkably good!

I intend, in the near future, to resurrect an old recipe of mine for veggie stovies, using the marinated and fried Tofu chunks, sliced, instead of meat. If it works out I’ll post the recipe here as usual.

2 thoughts on “Protein revisited – and a recipe…

  1. the bit about being deprived of fruit during the war then not being particularly fond of it for rest of your life rang a bell with me. i was in same boat. not until this last year have I begun to enjoy some fruit, namely, bananas strawberries, tinned peaches, grapefruit, few grapes.the odd cox’s apple.and blueberries (though prefer those juiced and sieved as cannot abide the seeds.)
    BUT now im enjoying them, i find i cant eat much of them and periodically have to have a rest from them when my IBS starts off. as a diabetic i am limited as to how much of each type i am allowed per serving. plus citrus fruits are a no no due to acid reflux. so grapefruit is out along with oranges and other citrus anything else that can turn to acid.(tried grapefruit again the other day. love it. but doesnt love me.). IBS is in flare up mode at the moment and im having serious withdrawal symptoms as i leave fruit alone for a few days (hopefully).but so annoying.

    • Never – ever – eat grapefruit or drink the juice if you’re taking any medication. It can be a lethal combination as grapefruit reacts adversely with so many drugs, and new ones are coming along all the time.

      I actually do like some bottled fruit – I can happily sit with a spoon and polish off a kilo of bottled peaches at one go. And I like my fruit cake, loaded, as it is, with cherries. And a couple of weeks ago I opened a jar of Bonne Maman apricot conserve – it was gone in 10 minutes! Can’t abide fresh fruit, though.

      Right now I’m being annoyed, as always, by Nigella. For someone who cooks for a living she is just so amazingly cack-handed and messy! Damn sure half the time she puts it on for the cameras!

      Today, though, I’ve realised the sporadic ambition of half a lifetime – the Tofu is absolutely perfect – great taste, great texture, hot or cold (though hot is better).

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