Seitan – On my way to become a real veggie
No, I am not a veggie. I do enjoy a good quality piece of meat. I wouldn’t want to live without f.ex. bolognese sauce or scrambled eggs with bacon… But, as you all know, there are a lot of good reasons, to reduce our meat consumption and to aim for a more balanced diet. An average German eats 88 kg of meat per year! And US-Americans are top of the list with 123 kg of meat per person and year (2003).
Our everyday menu in fact is mostly vegetarian, although I have a kind of healthy-food-trauma (directly linked to my homemade-yoghurt-trauma) which comes from some childhood memories and 80s whole food cuisine. You could have guessed by the name, that Vollwertküche isn’t much fun. Thinking of the taste of f.ex. “risotto” made of unripe spelt grain, oat flakes patties and more of that kind today still gives me the creeps. Barbara Rütting, I know you had good intentions and I appreciate your commitment to food and nutrition policies, but, when we were young, my sisters and me at least wanted to hide your cooking books at the furthermost place.
Since those days vegetarian and whole food cuisine luckily has developed and over the years I have discovered a lot of interesting tasteful (!) products and recipes. I am still discovering new ones and experimenting for myself, f.ex. lately with different ways to prepare lentils and the long neglected quinoa. (Have a look at this and this delicious recipe – really a “tastier take on whole foods”).
When I read Stephs recipe for homemade seitan, I was curious. I hadn’t really heard about seitan before, I had no idea what pure gluten should taste like, I didn’t know that seitan is the basis for most vegetarian “sausages”, “meat balls” or “chicken nuggets” you can buy.
I was encouraged as well by Stephs confession that she never got particularly fond of tofu, cause it will never be one of my favourite vegetarian products, too. So, I had high hopes when I began to make seitan for the first time. I was still a bit sceptic, when I finally – after washing out all bran and starch of my flour dough – had this little ball of some kind of stretchy substance in my hands, and my boyfriend asked me if this was the playdough I wanted to make for our friends children…Nope, that will be our dinner!
After seasoning – I used an easy-peasy asian style marinade – and cooking I was convinced and I knew why seitan is often used as meat subsitute: The texture really is similar to meat, I would say you can compare it with german Leberkäse/Fleischkäse, for which there is no real American/English equivalent. So, for those not familiar to this great German invention, I may cite from Cooks Thesaurus:
“leberkäse = leberkase
Pronunciation: LAY-ber-ka-suh Notes: Despite its name (“liver cheese” in German), this Bavarian specialty contains neither liver nor cheese. It’s a pork, beef, and veal meatloaf with the color and consistency of bologna. Germans like to fry thick slices of it and serve them with potatoes. Substitutes: bologna”
[The pronounciation really made me laugh.]
Since my first seitan experiment, I made it a few more times, trying out different version of cooking: as a whole, cut into little pieces, in the oven, in a steamer, with spices worked into the dough…
For some further methods of cooking seitan as well as some recipes that give you an idea of the possibilities of seitan, have a look a these pages:
Seitan, marinated asian style (makes about 300 g)
1 kg flour, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 teaspoon whole cane sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon sliced ginger, 1 sliced garlic clove
1. Place 1 kg of flour in a big bowl, mix with 650 ml of water. Knead until you have a firm ball. Knead thoroughly for another 5 minutes. Put aside for 30 minutes.
2. Fill bowl with lukewarm water and let rest for another 30 minutes.
3. Now you are going to wash out all starch and bran by kneading the dough under water to be left with only protein. Therefore knead dough until water gets milky. Pour starchy water away. You can use a colander when rinsing the dough or you just use your hands to prevent your dough from going down the drain. Fill bowl with water again, knead, rinse out starch, fill with water again… Alternation of the water temperature is said to have a good influence on the texture of the later seitan as well. You will have to do the washing-kneading-procedure a few times and the dough will change its texture continuously, which is really exciting to observe: First it begins to loose its firm texture and falls apart. You can see little spots of starch in a ball that gets more and more stretchy and small. Eventually it comes together into a mass again. Continue kneading and rinsing until the water is clear and you are left with a single mass of stretchy gluten. Press remaining water out.
4. Having your raw gluten ball, there a different ways to continue processing: you can simmer or bake it. You can cook it as one piece or cut it into slices, cubes etc. You can choose between mixing seasoning into the gluten or using a marinade to give the – for itself tasteless – gluten the taste you wish.
5. For this version I made a simple marinade by mixing soy sauce, sugar, salt, sliced ginger and garlic. Together with this marinade I wrapped the gluten ball firmly into a big piece of aluminium foil and put it into a big pot of boiling water, where it simmered fo 45 minutes. You can also give Stephs boil-in-the-bag-method a try.
Chard shiitake stir fry with seitan
ingredients (2 p.)
300 g seitan, 1 small chard, 10-15 shiitake mushrooms, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 2 tablespoons tahin (sesame paste), 1 tablespoon whole cane sugar, 2 tablespoons sesame oil, 1 teaspoon sesame seed
Cut seitan roll into thick slices. Chop chard roughly, quarter mushrooms. Mix soy sauce, sesame paste and sugar until sugar mostly dissolved. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in big pan and fry seitan slices on both sides for a few minutes until they’re browned. Keep warm in oven. Heat another tablespoon oil and stir fry chard and mushrooms for about five minutes. I usually begin with the white parts of the chard and add the green parts and the mushrooms about two minutes later. Add seasoning mixture, mix and serve immediately with seitan. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top. Serve with rice.