For vegetarians looking for faux ground beef products, it’s not like there aren’t any on the market. Gimme Lean makes a wonderful faux beef product, and so do other well known, quality brands. So, why would you want or need a recipe to make your own? There are several reasons.
First, the prepared brands are fairly pricey. That’s fine of course, if you plan in advance for a specific recipe, but because of the price and short storage life (they are refrigerated products) these products are probably not pantry or fridge staples. That means that if your family is craving tacos or burritos, you may have to skip the faux ground beef.
The recipe below for making your own Mexican style ground beef is cost effective, and all the ingredients are easily kept in the pantry and freezer, and are standards in any vegetarian kitchen. However, the biggest reason to make your own ground “beef” is that it is truly outstanding. Below are the ingredients, directions, and notes on making Mexican Ground “Beef.”
1 lb. package firm tofu, frozen, thawed, and wrung out (see note)
1 package taco seasoning
1 garlic clove
½ cup white wine or sake
½ cup water
Vegetarian beef bouillon (optional)
Olive oil, several tablespoons
Roughly, and non-uniformly cut tofu into very small pieces, about the size of a pea. Don’t worry about larger pieces, they can be broken up later. Pour about a tablespoon of olive oil into a large sauté pan. Add the tofu, and let brown lightly, stirring as necessary. Add more oil if necessary (the tofu is like a sponge-very absorbent.) Add the garlic, and cook until softened and fragrant.
Add about half of the water, the bouillon, and the contents of the taco seasoning packet. Stir the mixture, and when the liquid is absorbed, add the wine. Using the blade side of a burger turner tool, break the tofu up as well as you can. Add a bit more water (or wine) as needed. Stir the mixture until it has softened, and all the flavors are melded.
Use in tacos, burritos, enchiladas, tostadas, taco burgers, taco salads-any way in which you would use and serve ground taco beef.
A note about freezing and defrosting tofu
One of the things that makes this recipe work is the step of freezing the tofu prior to use. If you’ve never used frozen tofu, you’re missing out. Freezing it changes its texture, from mushy to sturdy. It becomes very porous, almost dehydrated, and wonderfully takes on the flavor of whatever liquids it is cooked with.
Nicely, tofu can be stored in the freezer for a long time, making it possible to have a good stock always on hand. It defrosts at room temperature in several hours, but can be defrosted in the microwave in about 15 minutes on the defrost setting.
Remove it from the package, (it will be contained in a big block of ice) and place it in a microwave safe casserole dish or bowl. Remember the ice is going to turn into water, so make sure the receptacle is going to be big enough to hold it.
Check on it every five minutes, taking it out of the microwave, and removing any ice chunks. Dump the old water, rinse the tofu, and add a bit of fresh water to the bowl, to keep the tofu from drying out (it doesn’t have to be immersed, just a little wet.)
When it is finished defrosting, squeeze the tofu block over the sink. Get as much water out as possible; the more water that is squeezed out, the more the cooking liquids will plump it out.
A couple final notes here, about those cooking liquids, and seasonings. Using the wine or sake isn’t absolutely necessary, but I’m convinced it’s the ambassador of flavor in this recipe, perfectly carrying the spices into the tofu. Any taco seasoning packets you normally use are fine.
If you’re looking for one with “healthy” ingredients, Simply Organic makes some good ones, and they can be found in natural foods grocery stores and sections of regular grocers stores. There are also many recipes online for homemade taco seasonings-a thrifty option if you happen to have all the spices already on hand.