Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Why I Hate the Concept of Meat Substitutes

Tofu and I are old friends. We met over one Lent more than a decade ago over La Soyarie Herb Burgers and the long held mutual dislike for each other magically evaporated. Before I moved to Japan on the JET Programme, we had a cooking class that involved pan frying cornstarch dredged tofu in a little sesame oil and deglazing the pan with some soy sauce and mirin.

I swear to you, in that first hot month in Sakashita, when the grocery store was a total mystery to my illiterate eyes, pan fried tofu was a staple of my diet. Tofu was easily recognizable and I could pretty much guarantee that I wasn't going to ingest a surprise fish product or mayonnaise based treat when I opened up the package.

In my second year in Japan, my yearly teachers' trip took us to a tofu restaurant in Kyoto where I swear to you I had the best kaiseki of my life.

We get along just fine, tofu and I. We have an understanding.

Tempeh and I... well... that's another story. If you don't know what tempeh is, allow me to give you the gist. Like tofu, it's made from soybeans, though tempeh is an Indonesian product formed in blocks made of fermented soy beans often times mixed with other ingredients (like rice or barley). It's got a nutty and slightly sour flavour, which sounds way less appetizing, doesn't it?

I actually have pictures of what my first meal with tempeh looked like. I never blogged about it because... well... I really didn't like it. As part of one of our first Vegan Mondays, Kat made a recipe she called Vegan Crab Cakes that were made, not with crab (obviously) but with tempeh.

They looked delicious. My husband and Kat scarfed them down.

But for me, there was just something SO awful about them. They didn't taste like crab. Clearly, they were just pretenders.

And that's where a lot of people (read: omnivores), I think, get hung up in their dislike with soy products. Too often are soy products billed as meat replacements.

In my less than humble opinion, tofu is never going to taste like chicken. Or beef. If you think it does, you haven't been eating very good chicken or steak. Where are your taste buds, I ask you, where?

Don't even get me started on soy luncheon meats. Sweet Jesus people, the processed meats are terrible in the first place, what in God's name are you thinking trying to replace a processed product with another processed product?

Before you start accusing me of hating on soy, let me assure you that I'm not. I just think it's a shame to try and force to be something it's not. It's not meat. Let's not pretend it is.

That realization was a huge turning point for me. I needed to stop thinking about tempeh as a meat replacement and to start thinking of it as just another food. Once I'd done that, I discovered I didn't hate the stuff anymore. On the contrary, I learned to appreciate its flavour for being unique to it and it alone.

I'll be posting a recipe with tempeh in it later this week. It's marinated in soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, garlic and honey and it's totally delicious.

But please don't, for a second, think of it as a meat replacement.


Richard Gaywood said...

Yes. Very much this!

I feel the same way about low fat cooking, too. There are some foods that need a lot of fat in... say, a meaty bolognese sauce. If you use turkey mince instead of beef because it's healthier, you end up with a really quite horrible meal.

If you want to cook low-fat, cook meals that are inherently low fat, like veggie-heavy stir frys or something. Don't try and remove the fat from a meal that only worked in the first place because of the fat content.

janet @ the taste space said...

I agree that the meat alternatives should never be billed as a replacement for meat. I love tofu and tempeh (just need to know how to cook them properly!) and I am glad you finally found a tempeh recipe you like. I've even made seitan sausages, which can't compete with real sausages, but when you throw them in with braised cabbage, it is the flavours more than anything that is so important. Anyways, look forward to seeing how you learned to love tempeh.

I have a few tempeh recipes on my blog but this one is my favourite:

Alyson said...

That's so funny Richard. I just made a turkey bolognese and while it was good, it wasn't bolognese. I totally agree.

Janet, I will definitely check the recipe out! You know I love so much of what you do.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...