Simply food



Fettuccine carbonara soia

As we move away from red meat in our diet, I’m trying out various forms of soy meat. Some of this fake meat tastes real. Others, I’m not so sure.

The move to vegetarianism is different for each individual. In my beloved Diane’s case, it is a concern how animals are treated before and when they go to market. She’s always had an aversion to lamb, having grown up in lambing country and seen the devastating effects when the little ones are separated from their mummies. She never could imagine them going off to be killed and then presented as tender lamb chops. Even worse, a television puppeteer on BBC’s Children’s Hour, of the day, had a sock puppet called ‘Lamb Chop.’ Ugh!


Chili con hamburguesa de soja

Whatever your reason, and however far you are on your dietary journey, all the evidence leans towards the fact that eating less red meat is better for your health. Diane never eats red meat, so the food I cook for us and our guests tends to be fish or poultry. However, I have to admit that every now and then I get an overwhelming craving for a thick juicy steak. That’s when I invite myself over to one of my grown-up kids’ houses for a barbecue.

Ground meat was a big part of our diet when the kids were growing up: hamburger patties, sausages, or in pies and casseroles. That’s an easy place to start replacing red meat as soy burger now comes in many shapes, sizes and flavours. Many of them are excellent and a healthy substitute. If you start with soy burger, and cook it in a spicy dish with vegetables, you probably won’t notice the substitution.

The earliest iteration of soy made to look and taste like ground hamburger was simple to add to dishes like chili. In fact, when serving this at festive feasts, I would often have two identical pots of chili with soy burger, one labelled vegetarian, the other for the carnivores. No one ever noticed or complained. With or without meat, it continues to be a tasty favourite and easy to prepare in a few minutes. The recipe is below, from my e-Book Market to Table: The Cookbook.

I’m such a fan of real bangers (English breakfast sausages) that I’ve not yet had the courage to try soy sausages. One day!


“Full English” with turkey bacon

On to bacon, which I’m finding really hard to give up. First, I try the turkey bacon as a half-way step, while presenting a full English breakfast. OK, it’s not bad, tastes sort of like bacon, but not truly like the real thing. I’ll give this version a pass in future. Clearly what the fake meats need is more disguise.

Next in the line-up is soy bacon, which on my first try I decide it looks more like Spam coming out of the package; pretty unappetising. But after chopping it up, and then frying it in vegetable oil for a couple of minutes to crisp it up, it looks better. Seems like it will go well with pasta, which I love.

One of my favourites is fettuccine. (Just so we get the spelling right, fettuccine is the plural of fettuccina and the diminutive of fetta meaning a ribbon in Italian, which it so aptly resembles.) In Weird English Breakfasts I wrote about my long-ago favourite use for left-over spaghetti and my new passion for penne, bacon and eggs, but if I’m going to try the carbonara with fakin’ bacon, I might as well use a different pasta too.

And once tossed into my carbonara, the soy bacon tasted swell. Hard to tell the difference from the real item. A winner!


Shopping list

  • 2 cups/350g fresh or packaged fettuccine pasta
  • 150g soy bacon
  • 4–5 egg yolks
  • 150g Pecorino Romano OR Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
  • 2 TBSP butter, melted
  • 2 TBSP thick (35 percent) cream
  • Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
  • Parsley, chopped (optional)
  • Pasta water, hot, reserved

Preparation and cooking

  1. Cook the pasta in a large pot of well salted boiling water. Usually about 4—6 mins for dried pasta, half that for fresh, until the ribbons are al dente (still chewy). Reserve some of the hot pasta water to add to the egg yolks. Drain and leave the pasta in a colander over the empty pot to keep warm.
  2. Meanwhile, fry the soy bacon in vegetable oil until crisp, no more than two minutes as the product is already cooked, then chop into strips.
  3. Beat the egg yolks in a bowl with up to 2 TBSP pasta water to make a creamy sauce. Add a third of the grated cheese and about 2 TBSP of melted butter. Whisk to blend all the ingredients. Add 2 TBSP heavy cream. Season with ground black pepper.
  4. Tip the pasta back into the empty but still warm pot. Add the bacon and stir in well. Add the egg mixture and keep stirring so the egg cooks. Add about half the remaining cheese and a good grind of black pepper and stir until all the pasta is well covered. If the pasta seems too dry, either add more pasta water, or more melted butter, or more cream or all three.
  5. Serve in warmed bowls and garnish with the remaining grated cheese, another grind of pepper and chopped fresh parsley.


Shopping list

  • 2 19 oz (540ml) cans red kidney beans
  • 19 oz (approx 800 ml) can peeled tomatoes
  • 5 1/2 oz (156 ml) can tomato paste
  • 1 sweet red pepper
  • 1 medium onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 5 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper (for the really fiery touch)
  • 2 TBSP dark brown sugar
  • 1 TBSP cooking oil
  • 2 packages, about 340 g / ¾ lb each, crumbled veggie burger

Preparation and cooking

  1. Heat a little oil in a deep heavy saucepan or casserole pot. Remove the stalk and seeds from washed green pepper, chop into l/4 inch squares and fry. Turn the heat down to medium. Peel and dice up the two onions and add to the green pepper, stirring from time to time. Slice clove of garlic very finely and add to the pepper and onions. When the onions are transparent, and before they start to brown turn the heat way down.
  2. Add 2 cans of red kidney beans and can of peeled tomatoes, stir together and heat so that it just bubbles.
  3. Stir in each of these separately, until well mixed: 2 TBSP dark brown sugar, 1 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper. Add the first 3 tsp chili, stir in thoroughly and leave the pot to simmer for 15 minutes, stirring every now and then. Taste a small amount of the sauce and if the chili flavor isn’t strong enough add another tsp and cook for a further 15 minutes. Taste again and if necessary add the 5th tsp. Once you have established how much you like you can, of course, add it all at once. Some people like chili so hot that it burns the roof of their mouth. You can add up to 3 more tsp chili powder to this recipe, but beware of your digestive system!
  4. Just before serving, add the crumbled veggie burger and mix in well. It is already cooked so just continue to simmer to ensure all the veggie burger is well integrated and heated thoroughly, about 10 mins
  5. Serve with a topping of grated cheddar cheese, chopped spring onions, with chunks of crusty fresh bread or toasted garlic bread on the side.

Featured image: Fettuccine carbonara with soy bacon

Please LIKE this blog, if you have enjoyed the article, or add a COMMENT — clickable at the top or bottom of each story. Click on the FOLLOW button at the bottom of the page if you would like to receive email notifications of new articles.

This is Nigel’s 269th blog on Gentleman’s Portion. The SEARCH function at the top works really well, if you want to look back and see some of his previous stories. The link to Gentleman’s Portion: The Cookbook is now live, well priced at $9.99 or £9.99.

2 replies »

  1. Over the past dozen years we have moved to a diet with less red meat, and more fish, poultry and vegetables — mainly for health reasons. Another benefit of eating less red meat, and beef in particular, is that it may slow down those who are taking valuable forests and jungles, which remove carbon dioxide from the air and produce oxygen, and turning them into grazing pastures for cattle, which produces methane gas.


  2. Thanks for letting me know about the New York Times “How to Cook Fake Meat” article by Sam Sifton. Fortunately, my article was published just before his, so I suppose imitation is the sincerest form of flattery! Or perhaps the whole world is thinking vegan and it’s just synchronicity.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.