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Soy or other ground beef substitute?

The cafeteria at work sometimes serves a vegetarian chili that I found to be really good (imagine my surprise). I know I can recreate it, but there's a ground-meat-like substance in there that lends a nice texture, and I don't recall ever having seen a ground soy or other "ground meat substitute" product at the grocery store. Have I just been missing it?
I guess I could process up some extra-firm tofu, but I know damn well they didn't do that at work, they don't make anything from scratch any more.

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  1. Look for TVP (texturized vegetable protein) preferably in a bulk store. Come sin all shapes and sizes: ground beef like, bigger nuggets for stew likeness, etc. A byproduct of making soy milk.
    You need to hydrate it to meat like consistency when using it.

    1. I'm guessing that you're looking for TVP (textured vegetable protein.) It's a soy based ground beef substitute. You can sometimes buy it dehydrated in bulk at health food stores, and you can also usually find it in the frozen section with the Morningstar Farms veggie burgers and the like - typically labelled soy crumbles or something similar.

        1. Morningstar has a nice product that mimics ground beef quite nicely. It is Veggie Crumbles and can be found in the frozen food section at many grocers. It cooks up like ground beef, absorbing the flavors of the dish it is used in (ie, spaghetti sauce, taco or enchilada sauce, etc.), and doesn't lose volume due to fat. I have served it to many an unsuspecting carnivore. :-)

          1. Trader Joe's also sells a house brand ground beef substitute, as does Lightlife.

            1. The cafeteria almost certainly uses TVP. It's so inexpensive that many institutional kitchens use it in place of ground meat even in non-vegetarian dishes. But for home cooking, I would recommend the Morningstar or Boca-burger frozen crumbles. I'm not a vegetarian, but I like those better than ground beef in a lot of dishes.

                1. I agree with others, most likely its tvp.
                  The tvp will absorb the flavors of the chili very well and has a very "meaty" chew.

                  1. My favorite fake/TVP ground beef is Smart Ground by Light Life. They have it in a lot of regular supermarkets as well as at health food stores, and they sell a bulk version to restaurants and cafeterias. In a highly flavored dish, it's almost impossible to tell it's not ground beef.

                    Vegetarian or not, TVP is basically a junk food though. It's full of processed corn, soy and sugar, and the "texturizing" of the proteins makes them almost impossible to break down in your digestive tract, so you can't really call it a protein source. If you want something that's less processed, crumbled marinated tempeh comes closer to the texture of ground meat than tofu.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: ninrn

                      +1 for Smart Ground….but I guess I have to agree about the vegan "junk food" thing. I just made a chili without it for the first time, and it was actually better than with the TVP!!! There is a slightly discernible aftertaste to the product,even when masked with the potent chili flavors.

                      1. re: ninrn

                        if tofu is frozen it is much "meatier" than if not. TVP really is just junk

                        1. re: ninrn

                          I've made chili with the GimmeLean beef product (in a tube) from Light Life many times. I can't really taste the difference between GimmeLean chili and turkey chili.

                          There is no processed corn or sugar in GimmeLean.

                        2. my favorite is from Upton Naturals - http://www.uptonsnaturals.com/ a seitan based ground beef/sausage substitute

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: weinstein5

                            I forgot about Upton Naturals! If you can handle gluten well, EWSflash, this is probably the most healthy of the fake meats. It's not TVP at all, just ground up seitan, -- no sugar, no GMO's, no weird starchy fillers. Not as convincing as the junkier ones, but can hold its own in a chili. I think they make a really good seitan chorizo, too.

                            1. re: ninrn

                              I eat meat but my husband doesnt and we are both very happy with Upton's. Their chorizo is a frequent taco filling in our house.

                          2. TVP as others have said, but I would try the things out there that don't use processed soy - some good options which are based on seitan and / or actual tofu. The Upton one mentioned is not bad, and there's a new European brand that Whole Foods sells that seems promising as well.

                            Frozen tofu, as mentioned above, also has a great texture in stews, though not as literal as some of the other options.

                            1. If you want to stay away from soy products, try using lentils. They give a great texture when mashed up a bit. I often use it to make vegan bolognese.

                              1. Upton Naturals makes an excellent ground beef substitute made out of Seitan - http://www.uptonsnaturals.com/

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: weinstein5

                                  You can also make your own by putting cubes of seitan in a food processor. I start with Seitan O Greatness. Here is the original recipe transferred from the old Post Punk Kitchen forums: http://recipes.sparkpeople.com/recipe... I use different spices - sage and fennel instead of cinnamon and allspice. Sometimes a lot of chili powder. Depends on how I want to use the seitan.

                                  After you've made the seitan and cooled it in the fridge it's ready for the food processor. I also throw in some onion and garlic to make it a little more flavorful when pan frying for a recipe.

                                  This is less than half the cost of prepackaged seitan. You can decide the flavor depending on your needs.

                                2. Several times I have made vegetarian chili using minced black olives, and it often fools meat eaters into thinking it is ground beef. Tastes pretty good, too.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: Tripeler

                                    Do you brown them before adding to the chili? I'm intrigued.

                                    1. re: MplsM ary

                                      I sauté them just a little bit before adding to the chill.
                                      But whatever you do, DON'T add salt. Plenty of it in the olives, but in moderate amounts it doesn't taste overly salty.

                                    2. re: Tripeler

                                      That's got to be a hell of a lot of olives in there.......!

                                      1. re: Tripeler

                                        Are these deli style olives - pre-marinated, pitted or from a can?

                                      2. Quorn makes my favorite ground beef substitute. It is a mycoprotein (mushroom-like), and a perfect meat sub in chili or other highly spiced dishes. It is in the frozen section of my hippie-granola stores :) I can't eat soy and have never seen the seitan ground product, so this is my go-to.

                                        10 Replies
                                        1. re: powella

                                          I LOVE the meatless balls that Quorn makes! I've been buying them since TJs meatless balls are still being "reformulated" and they really have a great texture and flavor, no fakey weird crap ingredients and a bizarre ton of protein. The only downside is they are pricey at my store so i keep my eyes out for sales and stock up.

                                          1. re: Ttrockwood

                                            I wish I could eat them. I snapped up Quorn when it first came to our market. Sadly I am allergic. Don't know how or why.

                                            It's my only food allergy (and I know how lucky that makes me!) and it's a serious and instantaneous reaction. I know I'm lucky but I wish I could eat it.

                                              1. re: gourmanda

                                                Wow, that is good to know, gourmanda. Sorry, MpisM ary. I became soy intolerant after pregnancy so I feel your pain. I don't eat a lot of Quorn (1-2 x per month at most) but I'm so glad it's out there. It is rather disturbing to read how highly processed it is, though.

                                                1. re: powella

                                                  Do you ever buy field roast products? Although it is of course processed its really delicious and soy free vegan. The sausages sometimes go on sale at my market too

                                            1. re: Ttrockwood

                                              LOVE the meatless meatballs from TJ's but its been over 6+ months of this reformulating BS. .
                                              Can I get these Quorn at WF or Sprouts?
                                              I miss my meatballs!!

                                              1. re: Beach Chick

                                                Yup, the Quorn ones are available at whole foods- i've never been to sprouts so not sure... And yeah, i'm not holding my breath on TJs getting their act together...

                                              2. re: Ttrockwood

                                                Do the meatless balls have a different flavor than the regular Quorn ground beef substitute? I find that totally unacceptable for chili and the like since I find the taste too similar to Quorn's chicken substitute (which I'm a big fan of) and inappropriate for a beef stand-in.

                                                1. re: azveggieguy

                                                  The quorn meatless balls are very good but not much different from their ground product.
                                                  Yves makes a good meatless ground round that might be more like what you're looking for

                                              3. re: powella

                                                That sounds like a great ingredient

                                              4. I normally am not a fan of "meat substitutes" for all the reasons stated . . . often they are full of crappy ingredients and sometimes they even taste like meat, which I don't like.

                                                So I'd like to share a recent good experience with a "meat substitute" called "soy curls" made by Butler Foods in Oregon. I'd not tried them but ordered a 12 lb box anyhow. I figured that I'd be able to use them up even if they weren't *all that* . . . since the ingredients are only 1. soybeans and 2. spring water. I found the proprietors to be friendly and helpful. The owners responded to a couple of email inquiries very promptly.

                                                So the big box arrived the day before yesterday and I've been eating them non-stop. They have a very nondescript flavor on their own but the texture is just right. As a person who is mostly vegan, I'm always looking for texture and I've got to say, this product delivers. Just re-hydrate for 10 minutes and add whatever you like for flavoring. Can be eaten as is (I like to use for wrap filling) or saute, bake, broil, add to soup, stew, etc . . . as far as I can tell, there are no limits on what you can do with soy curls.

                                                I used a foodsaver to package the 12 lb bulk pack into 8 oz bags and it's nearly all in my freezer now. BTW it is not necessary to refrigerate or freeze, but I'm sure the product will store better in the freezer and since I've got 12 lbs, I figured that the freezer was the best place to keep my stash.

                                                There aren't too many recipes on the company's website (http://www.butlerfoods.com/) but I found quite a few ideas on Pinterest, of all places.

                                                Obviously, this is not a product for anyone looking to avoid soy, however, I'm a soy lover and this is now one of my favorite soy foods!

                                                15 Replies
                                                1. re: MrsPatmore

                                                  Thank you Mrs. Patmore for pointing out the soy curls. Love them and the lack of extraneous ingredients, including the ever present canola oil! Made my tamale pie using them and it was the best ever. Will be trying them in many other recipes. Thanks!

                                                  1. re: ElsieB

                                                    I'm so glad that you took the time to respond, ElsieB. I'd love to have the recipe for tamale pie. Sounds delicious!

                                                    1. re: MrsPatmore

                                                      Here it is. Not totally precise on measurements.
                                                      Tamale Pie
                                                      4 cups corn kernels
                                                      I cup stock
                                                      1 1/2 cup dry masa harina
                                                      1 tsp baking powder
                                                      1 tsp salt
                                                      2-3 Tbls melted butter
                                                      Puree the corn and stock in blender (I leave it a bit lumpy but it can be total puree). Mix dry masa & baking power in bowl. Mix in corn puree and melted butter. The mixture should be spreadable but not too thin. If it is too thick the top layer over the filling is hard to spread, if too thin it is hard to coat up the sides of you pan. Add water or masa to adjust the thickness of the mixture.
                                                      I use a 13.5"x9.5" rectangular baking pan, buttered.
                                                      Spread about 1/2 or a little more of the masa mixture over the bottom and up the sides of the pan.
                                                      2-3 cups black beans, 1 tsp cumin, 1-2 tsp chile powder, 1/2 tsp oregano, 1/4 cup tomato puree, 3/4 cup chop poblanos or green chiles, 1/3 cup chop scallion, 1/4 cup parsley and cilantro, about 1/2 pkg of butler soy curls-reconstituted and sauteed.
                                                      Mix all filling ingred and spoon into masa lined pan.
                                                      2-3 cups grated cheddar or jack cheese - sprinkle over the filling.
                                                      Cover the top with spoonfuls of the rest of the masa mix and spread to cover with rubber spatula (or wet fingers).
                                                      (I have also substituted my new mexican chile sauce for the tomato puree, if I happen to have some frozen).
                                                      Freezes well too.
                                                      Serve with salsa, sour cream and salad.

                                                      1. re: ElsieB

                                                        Oh my gosh, maybe I've been living under a rock, but I've never seen a recipe like this and it sounds absolutely fantastic! I'm attending a rustic family reunion next week in a rented farmhouse in Vermont - I'm going to serve this recipe one night. I'm sure some good Vermont Cheese will go perfectly! Thank you for taking the time to share your recipe.

                                                      2. re: MrsPatmore

                                                        You are welcome. I used the curls in fried rice last night. Soaked them in stock with a bit of soy sauce and sauteed them in walnut oil with a dash of roasted sesame oil.

                                                    2. re: MrsPatmore

                                                      I'm intrigued by this product and curious about the nutritional info, since it isn't on their website. How much protein/ounce is there? Just trying to figure cost/protein ratio here. The "6-8 oz" packages are $20 + shipping! Would that be essentially one meal for 2 people, or do you not have to use that much because of the rehydration process?

                                                      1. re: Science Chick

                                                        I Googled soy curls and found them not only on Butler's site but on Amazon too:

                                                        Directions: Soak Soy Curls for 10 minutes in warm water. Drain. Season to taste in skillet. Serve.

                                                        Ingredients: Delicately textured select non-GMO soybeans, grown without chemical pesticides.

                                                        Nutritional Information:
                                                        Serving Size: 3/4 cup
                                                        Servings per Container [8 oz. Bag]: 8
                                                        Calories: 100
                                                        Fat: 4.5g
                                                        Sodium: 5mg
                                                        Carbohydrate: 5g
                                                        Fiber: 3g
                                                        Sugar: 1g
                                                        Protein: 10g

                                                        I am sold. Will be ordering from Butler.

                                                        1. re: MplsM ary

                                                          It was a leap of faith for me to order TWELVE POUNDS when I'd never tasted the product, but the cost between six 8 oz bags and 12 lbs wasn't all that much. Now I'm happy that I went "all in" as they say in poker. Check out Pinterest. . . there are lots of great soy curl recipes there (I don't know why, but that's where I found lots of recipes for soy curls). I hope that you enjoy them. I'm seriously addicted to them now!

                                                          1. re: MplsM ary

                                                            So about 1 oz of dry per serving...sounds great! Amazon actual offers a 6-pack of the 8 oz bags for $34 with Prime free shipping! That's $5/bag, compared to $20 from Butler direct.

                                                            1. re: Science Chick

                                                              Just to clarify, from Butler it's 6 - 8 oz. Bags Butler Soy Curls™ $19.95 + $8.00 shipping, so 6 dollars cheaper than Amazon.

                                                              1. re: MplsM ary

                                                                From Butler, the 12 lb bulk box is $49.95 + $11.00 shipping (about 32 cents per ounce including shipping). And yes, that's a lot of soy curls!

                                                                1. re: MrsPatmore

                                                                  I just can't commit that much shelf space for anything in my tiny kitchen. I will probably have to store most of it in the front hall closet (which also has no room).

                                                                  I put my order in yesterday and am busily looking up low carb barbecue sauce recipes. So excited.

                                                                  1. re: MplsM ary

                                                                    Hello MplsM ary, I hope you enjoy the soy curls. I haven't yet tried any BBQ recipes, but I'm sure they would work quite well!

                                                                2. re: MplsM ary

                                                                  LOL, I thought it was a single bag with a 6-8 oz range in weight, which confused me because I didn't understand how there could be a potential 2 oz fluctuation between bags!!! I already placed my Amazon order, but good to know for the future. Thanks for clarifying!!! :)

                                                                  1. re: Science Chick

                                                                    <<I didn't understand how there could be a potential 2 oz fluctuation between bags!!!>>

                                                                    Hahahaha!! Spoken like a true scientist!! :-)

                                                        2. Just tried a new meat sub. in the grocery store over the weekend. It's called 'neat' and is made from pecans and garbanzo beans. They were using the Mexican variety with a (very) little salsa and a nacho chip. It was OMG delicious! I bought a bag and will be making nachos tonight. You mix it with 2 eggs and 1T water--so not vegan, but delicious!

                                                          1. Not quite as meaty in texture as crumbles but still good - bulghur wheat. It adds texture and doesn't add any off flavors.