How to Cook with Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)

As the trend for plant-based cooking gathers steam, more chefs are experimenting with meat substitutes.

One product that is popular with some vegan chefs is textured vegetable protein (TVP), also known as textured soy protein (TSP), a defatted soy flour product that is a by-product of extracting soybean oil.

 

It is easily available in most countries, and affordable. These are two big reasons why chef Reinis Kluss at Terapija, a vegan café in Riga, Latvia, uses textured soy protein in his kitchen.

 

“We use TVP for now,” says Chef Reinis. “Beyond Meat is very expensive in Latvia and Impossible is impossible to get. Our primary goal is to make vegan food affordable for everyone.”

 

The coronavirus pandemic has led to the café being temporarily closed, but before it closed its doors, the global health crisis was already having an impact on his cooking.

 

“This is a weird time for my menu. Before the pandemic we made some fancier food, showcasing ingredients that are forgotten or not used as often and are indigenous to Latvia. We fermented potatoes, cabbages and ancient grains. But people want comfort food now, so potatoes, burgers and schnitzels. The world is changing and we are as well. Who knows what the future holds.”

 

Some of Terapija’s comfort-food dishes, such as lasagna, include TVP. He also uses the soy product in various shashlik dishes.

 

It is texture that makes TVP ideal for some dishes, and better than substituting meat for legumes, for example, or meatless meat products such as Beyond or Impossible, according to Reinis.

 

“It’s impossible to get that chewy, mouthwatering and amazing feeling of biting into well marinated soy chunks from falafels or beans,” he says.

 

When it comes to cooking, he suggests treating TVP as tofu.

 

“For meat replacement products like Beyond or Impossible, manufacturers try to replicate meat, so treat it like meat. But TVP is different – treat it like tofu.”

 

 

Mélissa Astier, who owns vegan restaurant, Munchies, in Bordeaux, France, has further cooking tips. She says it is important to rehydrate TVP first, and then it is easy to cook.

 

“If you caramelise it, you have to be careful when the caramelising starts. Cook it at about the same temperature as for meat, but, while you won’t dry it out like you might with meat when overcooked, you can still burn it if with temperatures that are too high,” she says. “At first I didn’t know how to prepare it correctly so it wasn’t tasty enough. It’s important to add flavour because it’s tasteless. It doesn’t remind me of meat because it doesn’t smell like meat and you don’t see any blood.”

 

Chef Melissa uses dehydrated soy protein in many shapes, including steaks, nuggets, and peas.

 

“The different shapes are useful for different recipes, and you can cook them in many ways – fry, boil, oven bake, mix them for filling vegetables,” she says. “In my opinion you can make any dishes with soy protein. When you know how to cook it, it’s really easy. You can cook lasagna by mixing it or using TSP peas, nuggets, fish and chips (marinated with seaweed), burgers, bourguignon, or sauté …”

 

Like Reinis, Melissa chooses to use TVP for the texture: “It’s often about texture more than taste because you can easily get taste from vegetables or spices.”

 

She uses the brand HelloBio, which is a non-GMO soy protein that fits the ideals of Munchies – local and organic. She says it tastes good and it is made close to where she lives, reducing the transport carbon footprint. The company delivers to restaurants in bulk (packages of 6kg), at an affordable price.

 

Melissa says that vegan food is a constant source of excitement.

 

“I think vegan/ vegetarian food is more creative. You can play with colours, textures and flavours,” she says. “You can experiment with cooking traditional dishes but with plant-based products and vegetables, trying to get the same taste.”

 

Melissa has been a vegan chef for 10 years, and opened Munchies 4 years ago. With an allergy to diary products since childhood, she never ate cheese, milk or butter. As a teenager she became vegetarian, and thereafter turned vegan.

 

“It’s been a long time that I’ve cooked vegan food, and so it’s natural for me. I was raised in a family where food was important, and we often went to producers and markets to buy local and organic food,” she says. “I think when you cook vegan you must have a knowledge of products, and know how they taste so you can combine them correctly. You have to know the spices and how to accommodate them to non-animal protein.”

 

Munchies’ vegan Asian Buddha Bowl with soy protein nuggets

 

You can get good texture and flavour through cooking textured soy protein but it takes time. First, put soy protein nuggets in boiling water with vegetable stock and lemongrass. Once they are rehydrated, squeeze the water out. Then cook the protein. I put sunflower seed oil in a pan, and when the oil is hot, put in the protein. When it starts to get colour, add spices, dried fennel and dried hot pepper, plus tamari to add salt. Let this cook for a while and caramelise with agave syrup. Serve with Thai rice, local vegetables, fresh spring onions, and fresh basil sprinkled on top. Delicious!