Soya protein nuggets aren’t exactly a thing of beauty, are they? They’re certainly not what I’d describe as “a joy forever”, either.
Once or twice I’ve tried soya protein – Nutrela, as I knew them in the 1990s – but I have to say that they’re very difficult to work with. The first time I experimented with Nutrela was to try out a recipe from some women’s magazine – it could have been Women’s Era, that weekly insult in printed form to women of all ages. The magazine’s articles were all uniformly irritating, a disservice to women’s emancipation every last one of them. The magazine also had recipes, and after trying their recipe for Nutrela, I realised that their cookery section was on par with their “advice” to women – pretty rubbishy, in other words.
I’m not certain now what exactly the recipe was for, but I think it was something Indo-Chinese(ish), without the addition of too much oil. A Manchurian-style starter, I think. I remember toothpicks being involved in the final consumption, so it can’t have been meant to be a gravy dish.
Whatever it was, I soaked the Nutrela in 2-3 changes of hot water and washed the spongy rounds and squeezed the excess water and did everything the recipe said to get rid of the weird taste of the soya chunks. But despite the addition of ginger and garlic and much frying - and, little by little, the addition of much more oil than specified – the soya chunks still tasted like soya chunks. I don’t know where all the seasoning and the masala went, or the oil for that matter, as the soya stayed spongy and never even came close to crisp. The soya tasted like soya, and that was that.
Not very encouraging in the way of cooking with Nutrela, I can tell you.
I know they’re meant to be a good source of protein, but I couldn’t help being reminded of a story written by William Hope Hodgson – “The Voice in The Night”, which I had read when I was 11 or 12 years old… it was a horror story, but not one with explicit descriptions of murder and torture. Rather, it was the subtlety with which the author conveyed the feeling of horror that took over my imagination and memory.
This isn’t a pointless digression, honest. The thing is, the look and feel of the nuggets once they were soaked and softened reminded me irresistibly (and not in a nice way) of the awful sponge/fungus mentioned in the story. That, of course, made me even less inclined to cook with Nutrela … and I didn’t, for many years, in fact.
Last weekend I was at a Sri Lankan grocery shop in Wembley (Ganapathy Cash & Carry, for those who care) and among other things, I bought a small bag of soya nuggets. These weren’t the large boulder-type nuggets, they were more the size of peas – a lot less intimidating at that size and, I imagined, more likely to be edible. They didn’t remind me (much) of the grey nodding things, at any rate.
After all that, if you still like Nutrela and are still willing to read on for the recipe, I am not only surprised but also pretty pleased! I used three different kinds of greens to make the masala, but if you use only spinach, or a mixture of mustard greens and spinach, I don’t think it will affect the curry much. I don’t know if cress is meant to be cooked at all, but hey, there’s always a first time for everything. I don’t think it made a great deal of difference to the taste, in any case.
So, did I like this curry? To be honest, I personally would only give it a possible 6 out of 10 – but that’s because of the soya. The greens base was as good as it gets, and I’m certain the curry as a whole would go down very well with anyone who likes soya nuggets. But for those, like me, who can only muster a lukewarm liking for these spongeballs, it can only be a last-resort sort of dish.
Give it its due, though, when it was hot, the curry actually tasted quite good. But when I had some later in the day, the soya nuggets had done their usual trick of sucking up all the water content from the curry while leaving behind all vestiges of taste. Which meant that while they were “juicy”, not dried out, they also tasted only of soya, not the flavours of the masala. If somebody could explain why this happens – and more importantly, tell me how to prevent/redress this – they would have my eternal gratitude.
That said, I will still give the soya some more trials, perhaps in cutlets or some such preparation... at some point in the future.
Recipe for: Soya nuggets greens curry
1 cup small soya nuggets (or large ones chopped up)
2 small onions
3 medium tomatoes
1" piece ginger root
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp butter
1 tsp oil
2 cups assorted greens, sliced (I used mustard, cress and spinach beet)
1 tbsp kasoori methi
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp red chilli powder (or to taste)
3-4 green chillies, sliced thin
1/2 garam masala
1 cup milk
Salt to taste
1. Pressure cook the soya chunks with 1/4 cup water for 2 whistles.
Wash the soya in a bowl of cold water, changing the water a couple of times. Then squeeze as much water out of the soya as possible and set aside.
2. Slice the onions thickly, put in a saucepan with a cupful of water, then bring to a boil.
Simmer the onions for 5 minutes or till it turns translucent.
Drain any water that is left (you can use it to cook the greens in the next step).
3. Cook the sliced greens with 2-3 tbsp water, covered, till wilted. Mash the cooked greens roughly.
4. Grind the tomatoes, boiled onions, cumin seeds and ginger into a smooth paste.
5. Heat the butter and oil in a pan and fry the sliced green chillies and garlic till the garlic begins to turn colour slightly.
Do not let it get any darker. Stir in the garam masala, red chilli powder and turmeric powder.
6. Add the ground tomato paste and fry it for 4-5 minutes.
7. Now add the mashed greens
and mix it in well.
Pour in the milk along with 1 cup water,
stir, and let the mixture come to a bubbling boil.
8. Add the soya nuggets now along with the kasoori methi and salt to taste, and stir it in.
Let the curry simmer for 5-7 minutes, till the gravy is thick. Serve hot with chapaties.