When I decided to become a vegetarian, I personally made a conscious decision that I did not want to start to eat things that resembled the meat products I was used to eating before. For some reason, I thought that would not help me modify the way I thought about a plate of food.
People always think of a plate of foods in the terms of – animal protein, starchy and vegetable side dishes, as opposed to looking at a rice dish or a veggie gratin as their main course accompanied by a salad. That’s why many meat-eaters always ask us the tired question… “You’re a vegetarian??? Then, what do you eat???”
Because of this I consciously decided to keep soy products at a minimum when I first made the decision to become vegetarian. But soy products are good and have a very useful role within vegetarian cooking. One of them is textured soy crumbles. One of my pet peeves is when people call it “soy meat” or “carne de soya”, arrrrgh!!!! The correct name is textured soy protein or, in Spanish, “protein de soya”. It’s not meat, so why even mention it in the name??
Textured soy protein is sold in bulk at most health food stores and it resembles cereal – a bit like Grapenuts, I think. It comes in a variety from light to dark and from medium to even little cubes. I particularly like the medium ground, the lighter the better. Here’s a picture of the one I refer to, but a bit darker in color than what I usually prefer, but it still works for our purposes.
When cooked, textured soy protein takes on the characteristics of ground meat. And just like any meat product, the key is in the seasonings. If not seasoned well, that’s when vegetarian cooking starts getting a bad rep. But seasoned well, it can even fool the biggest meat-eater out there…. Believe me, I’ve seen it happen.
Picadillo is the Cuban/Latin terminology for ground meat in a tomato sauce. It’s super versatile – to eat on top of rice, to use in a lasagna, to use as the filling for alcapurrias or pasteles, to use inside a pastelón… you name it!!! So here I’ll show you my version of Soy Picadillo… a great basic to have in your vegetarian arsenal…
SOY PICADILLO – Revised on 01/31/2013
2 tbs olive oil 2 tbs sofrito ½ of a vegetable bouillon cube with sea salt 1 medium onion, chopped 1 cup textured soy protein 1 15oz jar of stewed tomatoes 1/2 cup water 2 tbs tomato paste ¼ cup ketchup 2 bay leaves 1 tsp vegan Worcestershire
powdersauce 1 tsp Herbamare seasoning ¼ cup green olives (optional) 2 roasted sweet bell peppers (optional) 2 tbs of capers (optional) Kosher salt to taste
- First, we start by hydrating the soy protein. Soak the crumbles in a medium-sized bowl and cover with filtered water. Soak for about 20 minutes, until the crumbles are soft to the touch.
- After the 20 minutes are up, drain the soy crumbles using a colander, rinse with new running water and squeeze dry as much as possible, just like you do to frozen spinach when you defrost it. Set aside. The soy will smell a lot like cereal at this point… do not get discouraged. This will all change once we cook it with all our seasonings.
- In a medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat, add olive oil, sofrito, the bouillon cube and the chopped onion. Sautee for a few minutes until the onion softens a bit. Add salt to season the onions and a bit of pepper if you fancy.
- Add the drained soy crumbles to the pot. You could possibly add a little stream of olive oil to this to prevent the soy to stick to the bottom and sides of the pan. Remember, soy does not contain fat. To this, add the stewed tomatoes, tomato paste, water, ketchup, bay leaves, Worcestershire powder and Herbamare seasoning. If you’re adding the olives, capers or sweet peppers… this is the time to add them. Check the sauce level… you should have a fair amount of liquid that will become a sauce, if you feel the mix is a bit dry, add a bit more water.
- Cover and let the mixture come to a boil, then lower the heat to medium-low and let simmer for about 40-45 minutes. You can just turn the heat off, and let it continue to cook with the residual heat for about 15 minutes more… besides, it’ll be too hot to handle immediately.
It’s ready… now you can use this Soy Picadillo in your favorite application. I used it first as the filling for lasagna.
Ok…. I know some of you might be thinking… IS SHE NUTS?!?!?! Worcestershire sauce traditionally has anchovies!!! How can she tell us to use it on a vegetarian dish!!!
Well, this Worcestershire powder from McCormick’s is a new discovery for me. All the ingredients and seasonings of the traditional L&P sauce I used to buy before SANS the anchovies. Now, be careful with the pepper, because this has pepper and you can over-pepper your dish. Ever since I published this recipe originally it was brought to my attention that the “natural flavor” on the ingredient list might possibly be anchovies. So I do not recommend using this product anymore. I do use vegan Worcestershire Sauce available at health foods across the country. Make sure you buy vegan to make sure there are indeed no anchovies in the product.