Adventists believe that meat-eating is
unhealthy. All meals served at Yerba Buena are vegetarian. Often Doña Lilia provides the
student nurses and me with extraordinarily savory dishes based on meat substitutes.
Commonly used is texturized soy protein, which comes in a 400 gram plastic bag, looking
like bread-crumbs. This is produced by Alimentos COLPAC, in the Mexican state of Sonora.
With appropriate soaking and additions of onion, garlic, sauce and the like, texturized
soy protein can be mixed deliciously with such items as scrambled eggs, vegetable
mixtures, fried potatoes and cheeses. Though this plant-based protein comes in beef and
chicken flavors, to me their tastes resemble very little what I recall beef and chicken
tasting like before I became a vegetarian many years ago. However, it has its own
wholesome flavors, which is unique and desirable. In the small store next to Yerba Buena's
post office, small cans of "sausages," also made from soybeans, can be bought.
Though very tasty, they cost too much for me.
One of the finest dishes I've tried at Yerba Buena is prepared weekly by María
Bercián, the Pastor's wife. She calls it carne, which is the Spanish word for
meat, though it's made of white wheat-flour. To make the basic "meat" all that
is needed is a good quantity of wheat flour -- not whole-wheat flour -- just regular,
white, processed, off-the- market-shelf wheat flour, and a little salt.
Much of meat-making is "having a feeling" for when things are ready. Probably
a person needs to make meat two or three times before developing adequate
"feeling" that will permit good meat to be made every time. Today Doña María
invites me to help make meat, and here's what we do:
- A little less than three pounds of white wheat flour is poured onto a water-repellent
section of the kitchen counter. Then with her hands, Doña María forms this heap of flour
into a low, broad-mouthed "volcano" about eighteen inches across, and with a rim
about one and a half inches high. A pint of cold water is poured inside the volcano's rim.
- Now the idea is to mix the flour with the water. When the flour inside the crater is
well mixed with water, then more flour is scraped from the crater's wall into the pool.
She mixes until she has a moist dough of the kind used in baking bread. She kneads the
dough vigorously until it's nice and gummy. Often Señora Bercián uses the same
hand-action that Indian women use when washing clothing on rocks. Anchoring the slab of
dough's bottom with the left hand, the palm of the right hand stretches the rest of the
dough toward the top. Doña María says that she knows her dough is ready when, as she
pushes her right-hand palm up through the dough, she can hear sharp little puffs of air
escaping from it. Also, if you prod the dough with a fingertip, it bounces right back,
leaving not a trace of the poking. The Señora accomplishes this perfect state of
doughiness after twelve minutes of vigorous kneading. Probably most of us will knead
- Finally the well-kneaded dough is formed into a ball and deposited into a dishpan into
which cold tapwater is run until the ball is completely submerged. Now the idea becomes
for the starch in the dough to leach into the water, leaving just gluten -- the part that
will be used to make "meat."
- The Señora lets the submerged dough sit overnight. The next morning I'm back again to
see that the water has turned milky white. This milky water is poured off, and new
tapwater is introduced. For about five minutes Sra. Bercián squeezes and kneads the dough
with her fingers, trying to get as much starch to go into solution as possible. New water
is added and the squeezing and kneading process is repeated for seven or eight times,
until the water remaining after squeezing is more or less clear. By now the dough has been
reduced in size to a little less than half of what it was originally. And it looks like
pale, stringy, sticky... lung tissue.
- Finally we cook some dough, which now can be referred to as gluten. Into about a quart
of water, Doña María pours a cup of soy sauce, adds the broad, leafy tops of two sticks
of celery, about half a clove of garlic, and a quarter of a medium-sized onion,
half-heartedly sliced or semi-chopped. This mixture is brought to a boil. Then the gluten
is cut into tenderloin-sized hunks -- the whole hunk of gluten makes four or five of them.
With her fingers the señora forms these hunks of gluten into flattish shapes and drops
them into the boiling broth.
- After about five minutes of boiling with the pot's top on, the hunks of gluten puff up
and look like spongy sections of liver. The cooking continues for twenty or thirty more
minutes -- until the pieces of gluten more or less have the texture of meat.
- At this point we remove the cooked gluten, drain it (helping it drain by pressing on it
with a large fork) and store part of it in the refrigerator. The rest, we fry. Before
frying the gluten, Sra. Bercián smears and smashes a fresh clove of garlic across a
four-inch-long, smooth rock she keeps in a drawer, and then rubs the rock across her small
hunks of gluten. Then she coats the gluten with a mixture of pungent, powdery ingredients
that certainly never could be gathered together in most U. S. cities. Probably the best we
can do is to coat our U. S.-made gluten with our own home-designed mixes, using spices
that sound good. Three important ingredients in Sra. Bercián's, which are available in
the U. S., are half a cup of brewer's yeast, a cup of whole wheat flour, and a cup of
- While coating the gluten, a heavy, cast-iron skillet has been heating on the gas stove.
The skillet's bottom is covered with about one eighth inch of cooking oil. When the oil
becomes so hot that a drop of water splatters dangerously, then we put in the coated
gluten and fry it for about ten minutes.
And that's it! And it tastes wonderful!