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Meat Substitutes, Kitchen Knowledge

by Irving Beilin Chang

Vegetables and Vegetarian Foods

Fall Volume: 1994 Issue: 1(1) pages: 17 to 19

The Chinese people use many vegetables that are high in protein as meat substitutes. Legumes, nuts, and seeds make up a plethora of items from which they have developed tasty and nutritious products.

Soy beans alone are their most important legume; their uses yield at least fourteen different products. Mung beans can be used for at least six products, and wheat flour yields gluten and a semi-dried derivative from which many more can be made. At least six products can be developed from peanuts, and sesame seeds yields at least four more. Other nuts, seeds and beans are of lesser importance but known and used. Some of their uses appear later in this article. The products of all of these vegetables come as powders, semi-solids, pastes, milks and sauces. They are popular in China and well-received world-wide.

Although many of these products were originally developed as meat supplements or substitutions, they are also used to contribute taste, flavor and texture, and are sources of fiber and minerals. As combinations of them became successful, vegetable protein derivatives became essential parts of many exotic dishes.

The results of the Framingham study on diet and heart disease have made Americans conscious of cholesterol. Vegetables and vegetable products have no cholesterol. Legumes, nuts and seeds are good sources of protein with nary a drop of cholesterol. In the Chinese diet, they play prominent roles:

-As population density increases, land for grazing animals becomes less available.

-Vegetable protein is an easier, less costly and more efficient way to satisfy dietary requirements than animal protein.

-Some religious and personal preferences do not permit animals to be slaughtered for human consumption.

-There are health considerations for those on restricted diets.

-As vegetable protein becomes popular, people develop a taste for it.

-Vegetable protein is easier to store, available for use when harvests are poor, and does not need refrigeration.

Soybeans are used green as a vegetable, or they can be dried. The dried beans can be ground into and used as flour. Dried, they have many uses after soaking such as in sweet cooked soy beans, fried salted soybeans, and bean sprouts. If fermented, they can be used in additional ways such as in: sweet bean paste, salted black beans, soy bean pastes and, of course, as light and dark soy sauce. The dried beans, when soaked, can be ground and made into soy milk. If one adds a coagulant, this liquid solidifies and the mixture is then squeezed through cheese cloth and drained. The resultant cake, called dofu or tofu or bean curd, is used plain or pressed, and can be fried or fermented in wine and brine, used as soybean cheese, or fermented other ways such as in smelly fermented dofu. With no coagulant, the heated milk forms a skin which can be dried. When reconstituted, this skin is cooked as is or stuffed and then cooked.

Mung beans can also be used as sprouts and as flour. In the latter form they are made into thin cellophane noodles, broad opaque noodles, and mung bean cookies. When fresh, mung beans can be made into milk.

Peanuts are used raw or boiled or they can be roasted. When raw they can be coated and fried to make tasty snacks. They can also be pressed for oil, used raw or roasted in various dishes and in candies, cookies, and soups, or ground into peanut butter.

Sesame seeds can be used for as sesame butter and in cookies and candies. They are also pressed for oil, or used raw or toasted such as in soups and other dishes.

Wheat can be used as the seed or berry, it can also be used as flour. The flour can be separated into gluten and wheat starch. The gluten is high in protein and utilized as a meat substitute. Wheat starch is popular and used in many dim sum items.

The use of these vegetable proteins in any dish reduces animal protein intake. For instance, if a recipe calls for eight ounces of steak, use half of this. The other four ounces can be replaced with four ounces of dofu. This substitution maintains the nutritional value of the dish while it reduces the amount of cholesterol by half. Another substitution is to use dofu skin as a wrapper for egg rolls. After frying, the egg rolls are crispier, the dough thinner than wrappers made of wheat flour, and they have absorbed less oil.

Vegetarians developed recipes that make these vegetable proteins simulate the texture, color and flavor of animal protein. Mushrooms, bamboo shoots, soy sauce with monosodium glutamate(optional), are used as flavor and texture enhancers. For instance, a mock chicken drumstick can be formed by wrapping strips of gluten around spears of bamboo shoots. A mock roast duck can be imitated by using multi-layers of soy milk skins fashioned into an appropriate shape then cooked in soy sauce for color and flavor.

In China, the lack of animal protein was probably one reason that led to innovative methods of using these vegetables. Their use then and now aids those seeking a healthy nutritious diet. The recipes that follow show delicious ways to use some of the substitutions:

Pepper Steak
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
8 ounces flank steak (or 4 ounces meat and 4 ounces tofu)
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons sherry
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Dash of sugar
1 scallion, chopped
6 slices ginger root, shredded
2 peppers, one red and one green
1. Cut the steak against the grain into one-quarter-inch pieces.
2. Remove seeds and pith from both peppers and cut into one-quarter-inch strips.
3. Mix steak, soy, sherry, cornstarch, sugar, scallions, and ginger. Let stand for twenty minutes.
1. Heat oil in a non-stick frying pan or wok until hot.
2. Add steak mixture and stir-fry one minute; remove and set aside.
3. Add peppers and three tablespoons water; cover and simmer one minute.
4. Add steak mixture, stir-fry for one minute more; then serve.
Note: If you use four ounces of steak and four ounces of tofu. Cut the tofu into one-quarter-inch strips. Cook the steak and the tofu together.
Note: Irving Chang advises that many vegetarian cookbooks, specialize only in dofu recipes. He recommends Cooking Dofu Home Style by Hsu Tong Ren, Taiwan Dining and Feasting Publishing Press, 1991. He also suggests the many chapters and recipes in his books and others that include recipes not only for dofu but also for gluten and other meat substitutes.

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