Textured vegetarian protein or soy meal or soy meat is a forgotten delight. When I first became a vegetarian in 1989, textured soy chunks were the meat replacement staple for vegetarians: they were rich in protein and low in fat and were able to ably compensate vegetarians for the sudden loss of protein from meat.
These chunks are made from defatted soy flour, made by extracting soybean oil. It contains no fat which is good but, on its own the chunks were quite tasteless as they contained no MSG or other artificial flavouring. My mum used to cook them in curries, seasoning the chunks with curry powder and other spices. You could still taste the strong protein of the soy, though. Simply put, we ate them because they were good for us not because they tasted amazing or were deceptively like meat.
The popularity of soy meal took a dramatic nose dive when other, tastier meat analogues came into the forefront in the early 1990s. The alternative? Wheat gluten or seitan that is flavoured to taste like meat. Definitely a tastier option as you could replicate any meat dish using seitan. Curry Fish, Beef rendang, pork chops, vegetarian ham, butter chicken, spare ribs … you name it, you can have it. The texture of the wheat gluten products were also more refined. If the soy meal was a little springy, the wheat gluten products were smooth and, for want of a better word, meaty.
For a while, I too was taken up by the possibilities that wheat gluten brought to the table. And, for a while, I too forgot about the humble soy meat. Just for a while though for while gluten is tasty, eating too much gluten made me feel bloated and uncomfortable. So I began reading up on gluten and found that the protein from gluten comes from hard-to-digest protein that can cause indigestion. Check this out. While I still use gluten-based vegetarian produce from time to time, it’s no more than once a month.
Instead, I decided to go back to soy meal and try and make it more appetising. Playing around with seasoning and cooking techniques, I admit I may have brushed off the flavour of soy meal too easily.
This soy meal burger was my first successful soy meal experiment and I do want to share my joy. Try it, you’d be surprised too.
Soy meal burger
1 cup soy meal
4 cups water
5 fresh mushrooms (shitake/swiss brown is fine)
1 clove garlic, chopped
Mixed spices *
1/2 cup cheddar cheese
1 cup breadcrumbs
salt and pepper
* I used a spice mix that Marty got me from Morocco but you can use cayenne, cumin, chilli (or curry), coriander powders or experiment with any other spice you fancy.
Boil the water in a saucepan. When it’s bubbling, add the soy meal chunks and cook for a minute. Turn off the heat and let them soak in the hot water for about 5 mins. They should be soft and spongy. Drain the water, squeezing as much water from the soy chunks as you can.
Rub your spices and black pepper all over the chunks and transfer them into your food processor/blender. Pulse a couple of times till their chunks are broken up but DO NOT blend till smooth.
Tranfer to a bowl. Mix in the cheese and breadcrumbs and season with salt and pepper. Don’t use all the breadcrumbs at a go. Use a half cup and add more if its necessary to bind the mixture together.
Form patties from the mixture, make sure you compress them tight. Place them on a lightly greased baking sheet and bake for 20-30 mins or till they’re nice and golden and have firmed up. Let them cool. They may be a little soft when out of the oven but will firm up as they cool. If they’re still soft after 10 mins or so, let them rest in the switched-off (this isn’t a word, I know) oven for about 5-7 mins.
I assembled my burger using lettuce, apple and raisin chutney and mustard.