"Bacon is the candy of meat."

Friday, March 6, 2015

All Hail Seitan!

Greetings, puny humans! After another fallow period of barely managing to rouse myself enough to put the basic requirements of Spaghetti Bolognese and chicken with rice on the table, I got off my tush and started cooking again. And in so doing, I dedicated myself to a new lord and master, Seitan.

This is the point where all gluten-intolerant readers should look away.

Seitan, for all you non-hippies out there, is a vegetarian protein made of wheat gluten. It has a meaty texture, and like tofu is very good at taking on whatever flavors you season or sauce it with. It turns up in vegetarian versions of Chinese meat dishes, like the marvelous dim sum at the Vegetarian Dim Sum House in New York's Chinatown, where Mr. Gateau and I enjoyed many a fabulous brunch during his vegetarian days.

I'd eaten seitan before, but I never tried to make it. However, once I started reading vegan cookbooks, I became convinced I should give it a try. Turns out, it's extremely easy to make and is both versatile and delicious.

Using a recipe in Veganomicon co-author Terry Hope Romero's Vegan Eats World, I made a batch of Five-Spice Seitan, which mixed up in a snap and was fun to work with. Essentially, the seitan is made by kneading together a vital wheat gluten and chickpea flour dry mix with a seasoned broth, which quickly becomes a spongy dough. The dough is shaped into small loaves or cutlets, and then steamed or baked. Once cooked, the seitan can be sliced as desired and incorporated into dishes. 

Sticky, sweet perfection.

I took three seitan cutlets, cubed and cooked them in a sweet Chinese barbecue sauce. Right there I could have stopped and stuffed my face with the bits for days -- they tasted just like bits of barbecued spare ribs -- but instead I made a batch of fluffy bun dough and created a vegan version of Char Siu Bao, everyone's favorite dim sum treat. Lucas got in on the act and helped me stuff the seitan mixture into the dough rounds, which we then steamed. These were a huge success, and even more exciting was that there was extra seitan filling left over, which I hoarded for myself the next day.

One sad leftover bun, happily consumed for breakfast.
To round out the meal, I also made the spectacular New York Times version of Takeout-Style Sesame Noodles using very thick Shanghai noodles that were about three feet long (hijinks ensued), plus a milder take on Ma Po Tofu (also modified from Vegan Eat World) with shiitake mushrooms and peas, served with rice. With a dollop of chili-garlic paste added, it was perfect and made excellent leftovers.

Tea dinner. Teapot missing.

After the vegan Chinese feast, I had one Five-Spice Seitan cutlet left over, so I decided to experiment with it the next day when organized a Pan-Asian Tea Dinner. Along with the leftover tofu and noodles, I made chicken satay for the kids (they will eat pretty much anything on a stick) and prepared the seitan the same way -- marinated in a coconut curry bath, then put under the broiler and served with homemade spicy peanut sauce and a little cucumber salad. The seitan got a little too dried out, so I would probably handle it a little more carefully in the future, but it was perfect in a satay, and looked just like beef. I also took a stab at making Japanese egg tamago, which is the kids' favorite. They said it was delicious and tasted just right, though I'm sure my technique could use some practice. A platter of pineapple "boats" rounded out the meal, and the whole thing won a double thumbs up.

Tempeh fingers.
The VB6 experiment has also gotten me testing out tempeh. I don't think I love it as much as tofu and seitan, partly because it's a little dry, and partly for the slightly sour flavor, but it does fry up nicely. I haven't had much luck yet finding unflavored blocks of it, so have been using pre-seasoned strips and the occasional burger. But I did make a nice Thai-inspired salad out of it -- I dressed dark greens with a mixture of my spicy peanut sauce and a little extra lime juice and rice vinegar, then topped with lightly fried strips of coconut curry tempeh. It was quick and very flavorful, and I got the hit of protein I tend to crave. I do hope I can find some plain tempeh to play with, because I've read several recipes for maple tempeh "bacon" that sound like they'd be very welcome at brunchtime.

Next up: I get my Middle Eastern on!