Home Economics


In the 2009 film ‘The Road’, the man and boy stumble upon a subterranean bunker stocked up in readiness for the advancing apocalypse and inevitable downfall of civilisation, an untouched treasure trove from which they could feed themselves for months.

Our larder looks a bit like that.

We’ve developed a habit which I can only assume comes with age since I vividly remember laughing at my own parent’s hoard of tins and packets not more than ten years ago. We’ve an abundance of dried pulses bought with the worthy intention of soaking and boiling up stews and bakes and casseroles that would have made Rose Elliott flush with pride, tins of similar more ready versions for when time is short, and cans and cans of fish. It’s not just the larder that’s groaning under the weight of all this Harvest Festival fare. The top of the large fridge (we’ve two fridges, yeah I know) is covered with more ingredients, the fridges themselves are overflowing and finally we’ve got two deep drawers where we keep the breads, crackers, biscuits… you get the idea. So this January, after the excitement of Christmas had faded away and after assessing the cost of the season we decided to make a concerted effort to cook as much as we could from what we already had and to limit our purchases to only the essential fresh items we couldn’t do without (although I’m sure we could do without them, an exercise which would make for a much more interesting challenge).

One of the packets which has been sitting on an eye level shelf and offering itself to me hands on hips every time I’ve opened the pantry door was a box of soya mince, or as I know it from Home Economics lessons at school, Textured Vegetable Protein or TVP (not to be mistaken for Thames Valley Police). It’s one of those classic 70’s and 80’s ingredients that was a staple for sandle-wearing, intense-burning, long-haired, drug-taking vegetarians until Quorn bullied it’s way onto the market. It wasn’t something we cooked with at home because, well, we weren’t vegetarians, but in one of my first practical Home Ec. lessons with the retrospectively hugely influential Miss Kell (Sedgehill School, South East London, 1984/85) I worked it’s magic. The class made a bolognese and I assume for reasons of budget, speed and maybe health and safety, we used TVP instead of meat. I’m sure it was a lousy sauce but my memory is of a delicious rich red/brown ‘meaty’ dish which I brought home and shared with the family.

I’d not used TVP since, but decided to make it into something, and something which turned out to be really rather delicious. I’m going to make it again soon as it was really popular. The texture certainly is,  …interesting. It doesn’t really taste like meat. Well, it tastes a bit like meat. You know when you’ve got a bit of meat stuck in one of your molars and after a weekend’s ‘tonguing’ it works it’s way loose? It’s like a load of those. And of course you need to add flavour too it. And colour. Doesn’t sound that appealing does it? Trust me though.

Chilli-Con-TVP with a potato topping
1 onion (finely chopped)
1 cloves garlic (sliced)
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon or more cayenne pepper
1 or 2 red chillis
a bunch of chopped parsley stalks
a bunch of coriander (stalks separated from leaves and stalks chopped)
2 carrots (finely chopped)
100g TVP
1 tin tomatoes
a few squirts of tomato puree
2 tins of beans (I used 1 x red kidney beans and 1 x black beans)
woody herbs (dried or fresh, whatever you’ve got)
gravy browning

for the topping
5 or 6 potatoes (peeled and sliced to about 4mm thick)
olive oil

Fry the onion, carrot, stalks and one of the chillis (whole) in a generous amount of olive oil with the cinnamon stick and after they’ve had a good fifteen minutes or so add the garlic and the cumin. After another 5 minutes add the cayenne pepper and the TVP (having rehydrated it by pouring boiling water over it and draining off the excess). Stir it all around, add the tinned tomatoes, the tomato puree, the tins of beans, a teaspoon of marmite and a bit of water. Then let it cook on a low heat for 30-40 minutes. Adjust the seasoning. I think I added a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of demerara sugar and lots of black pepper, and some salt.

At this stage, however nice it tastes, it’ll look revolting – insipid, pale, lifeless, not unlike sick. Not appealing at all. So here’s where you apply your magic trick. Gravy Browning. A little goes a VERY long way and you just want to bring it to an appealing meaty brown, so bearing in mind that while you can add you can’t take away pour in the smallest trickle and give it a good stir, keep going until it looks right. It’s cheating in a way of course it is, but just don’t tell anyone else.

For the topping, boil the potatoes in salted water until just done. Let them cool, toss them in a little olive oil and cover the chilli mixture in a pretty pattern. I sprinkled mine with some more pepper before baking at about 190 degrees for 40-45 minutes. Finally I sprinkled generously with chopped coriander leaves.

I may have added a teaspoon of Bovril to the mix instead of Marmite. Because Bovril is better.



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