Thursday, April 9, 2009

Textured Soy Protein – A Cheap, Delicious Alternative to Meat

Though the US Dollar to Mexican Peso ratio has been fairly good in recent months, we aren't living a more luxurious lifestyle than we have in years past. Nor do we find we have lots of money left over at the end of the month. That's because inflation has increased rapidly and has kept pace, or even exceeded, the favorable increase in the exchange rate.

Fortunately, our landlady has not increased our rent…yet. The utilities have increased a little, but not enough to make much difference in our monthly budget. Our other expenses…transportation, medication, entertainment…have remained fairly constant for the past couple of years. The expense that has hit our monthly budget the hardest is food.

Many basic items like milk, eggs, cheese, tortillas, and rice have at least doubled in price since we moved to Guanajuato six years ago. Some cuts of meat have tripled in price. Fortunately, fruits and vegetables still are fairly inexpensive, especially in the neighborhood markets where local farmers bring their produce to sell.

Even shopping at the local market and taking advantage of sales at the supermarket were not enough to keep our food budget from soaring. I had to find a way to make healthy meals that were cheap, delicious and satisfying.

One Sunday at church, I asked a friend what kinds of meals she made for her family. She and her husband have three teenagers of their own and have adopted a brother's two preteen girls. Feeding five growing children plus two adults isn't cheap and I knew the family didn't have a great deal of money. I was sure she could give me some money-saving hints.

Part of her advice was to buy the cheaper cuts of meat, shop at the neighborhood market for produce, and incorporate lots of beans and rice into our diet. We already did all those things, except for eating lots of beans. My husband seems to be prone to gout and beans exacerbate gout.

The other part of her advice was to use textured soy protein in place of part or all the meat in many recipes. I was surprised to find that it is available in central Mexico and not just in health-food stores, but also in the neighborhood markets and even in the supermarket. It is healthy, high in fiber and protein, and low in sodium, fat and cholesterol. It contains isoflavones, which some scientists believe can prevent some cancers, as well as heart disease and osteoporosis. On top of the health benefits, textured soy protein is very inexpensive…about 50 cents a pound. A pound of soy protein is equivalent to about three pounds of ground meat.

I was skeptical about the taste and texture. I'd tried some soy products years ago while I was in college but was put off by the chemical taste, the strange smell, and the mushy texture. However, my friend gave me some dehydrated textured soy protein chunks to try and I felt that I had to give it a chance.

Since I had no idea how to use the stuff, I did a search on the Internet. I found that textured soy protein seems to be very popular as there were pages upon pages of web sites with nutritional information and recipes. One site had a recipe that sounded similar to my homemade hamburger helper, only with rehydrated textured soy protein instead of meat. I worked up my courage, bought the ingredients, and forged ahead.

It was a hit! The soy tasted like meat and the texture was like meat. My husband said if I hadn't told him I was using soy, he would have thought I'd used hamburger.

I think the secret is adding flavoring to the water used to rehydrate the soy, as it is flavorless alone. I added beef bouillon to the hot water, so the soy tasted like beef.

One cup of soy needs a little less than one cup of water, broth or other liquid to rehydrate. Hot water speeds up the process, which takes five to ten minutes. One cup of soy plus the liquid yields two cups of rehydrated soy or four servings.

The dehydrated textured soy protein crumbles can be used in any recipe calling for ground meat.

Give textured soy protein a whirl. I think you'll like it!


A Walk Through México's Crown Jewel: A Guanajuato Travelogue

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