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TVP: Tasty Vittles for People

tvp tacosI was looking for some good freeze-dried or dehydrated products with a long shelf life that would add both great nutritional value and some satisfying taste to my campsite recipes.  I wasn’t expecting to find fillet mignon flakes, but I was hoping for more than oatmeal and navy beans.

I had seen this Textured Vegetable Protein, or TVP, around for a while, but didn’t pay much attention.  Usually it was already flavored and formed into “fake beef” veggie burgers or chicken salad.  I’m more of a real meat and potatoes guy.  Then I saw a bin full of plain, unflavored TVP and took a look at the information.

Turns out it’s a dry soybean product, which is one of the few vegetables that has the kind of protein you can usually only find in meat.  I’ve been eating it in artificial bacon bits for years and didn’t know it.  It’s the big vegetarian meat substitute.  You can use it by itself, just adding spices and flavors, or you can mix it together with ground meat for an extender.  That might be good if the price is right.

Well, I was curious, so I bought a couple pounds of it for $5 and headed for my backyard “kitchen.”  Now, I’m no Emeril Lagasse, but I can put together some tasty dishes that I like, and I know how to add a little bit of “bam.”

First, I thought I’d fry up a little of the plain stuff to see what I was working with.  You hydrate it with an equal amount of boiling water, and one pound of dry TVP will give you four pounds of meaty product when you add the water.  That’s about 63¢ a pound, compared to $2.50 to $3.50 a pound for ground beef.  I’m liking this already!

I started by making one pound of “meat,” which was one empty baked bean can about 3/4 full of dry TVP (okay, about one and a quarter cups, I guess).  I mixed it in a bowl with the same amount of boiling water and let it stand for about 10 minutes.  It smelled pretty good, and tasted okay.  Nothing special, but maybe like boiled chicken breast.  Not a lot of flavor, but decent.

I fried up one small plain patty; I added a little egg, flour, and beef bullion to another; and I spiced up a third one (with the egg and flour and beef) with some seasoned salt, pepper, dried onion flakes, and a sprinkle of chili powder.  It browned up pretty nicely, though it didn’t hold together so well.   The plain stuff was okay dipped in some ketchup or hot sauce, and the others were not bad for an all-veggie alternative.

I fried the rest up like loose meat for tacos or Sloppy Joes with a little ketchup and more spices.  Even tastier.  I’m thinking I might be on to something here.  I could survive nicely on this TVP stuff if I had to, and it has more than half the protein of beef too.  A lot better tasting and more nutritious than squirrel-on-a-stick and pine cones.

The best results I got were mixing it with ground beef.  A 50/50 mix for meatloaf tasted just like Mom’s, and I didn’t need any breadcrumbs.  It holds together really well with some meat in it too.  Meatballs were also moist, and no one could tell the difference.

My favorite was Italian sausage.  I tried a two-to-one ratio of meat to TVP this time.  I mixed two pounds of ground pork with a pound of re-hydrated TVP, threw in a tablespoon each of fennel seed, dehydrated diced onion, dehydrated garlic, and dried parsley flakes, a couple teaspoons of salt, and a teaspoon each of onion powder, black pepper, and red pepper flakes.

Bam! I might have to package this stuff and sell it.  If it weren’t for a little thicker crispiness of the shell, it would have been just like the real thing.  I can’t wait to try it in chili, spaghetti sauce, lasagna, Sloppy Joes, and on pizza.

Bottom line, it tastes great, has high protein, is easy to measure and use, lasts forever, and saves me a bundle of bucks.  Although it’s best as a meat extender, it can also get me by as a healthy stand-alone main course in a pinch.

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