‘Scary’ Seitan

Seitan not only is spelled funny, but when spoke aloud, evokes thoughts of a fiery devil- just waiting to strike anyone who dares to mess with it. That pretty much sums up how I felt about seitan (say-tan) until I read Vegetarian Times’ recipe over winter break and realized that despite its intense versatility and presence on many experienced vegetarian/vegan menus, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s inaccessible for the home chef. I figured with a small enough ingredient list and amble time on my hands, all I had to lose was a few dollars worth of food and potentially my bragging rights about being able to tackle pretty much any recipe…I used Vegetarian Times’ instructional video to get my bearings before starting off and I highly recommend it for anyone who’s wary of making their own seitan at first.

We made the seitan loaves exactly as called for, just adding a dash of sage into the dough for some additional flavor. We boiled them in the seasoned broth, and realized they have the appearance of a meatloaf with a similar external texture to a matzo ball – that dimpled, cloud-looking, puffy look. If we had packed our loaves a bit more tightly before boiling, I imagine we would have gotten a smoother external surface.

Asian marinated seitan loaf with ginger glazed carrots

Asian marinated seitan loaf with ginger glazed carrots

Our first seitan entree game-plan was to treat the seitan almost like meatloaf – we made a glaze of soy sauce, hoisin, and some sesame oil (in addition to about 2 tablespoons of the cooked, diced onion from the cooking broth) and drizzled this over 1 of the seitan loaves. Just as we did this, our power went out! We wrapped the baking dish in foil, quickly stuck it in the fridge, and went out to dinner. As a result, we unintentionally marinated our seitan loaf for 24 hours before cooking it the next day, which I recommend- the flavors penetrated the ‘meat’ and were delicious! To serve, we baked the seitan uncovered for about 20-25 minutes to warm it and allow the sauce to thicken – we basted it about 3 times throughout the cooking process. We then steamed some carrots and tossed them with just a bit of butter, brown sugar, and grated ginger. Together it was a really hearty but not overly dense meal – and we still had 1 loaf of seitan left over for another night! While it may be a 2-day process (1 to make the seitan and another to make the entree) it was well worthwhile to have a new source of protein that is so easily adaptable to any flavors.

A depiction of our night in photos...

From good, to better, to best…the dogs thought so too!

With our extra loaf of seitan, we opted for a more casual meal and made a faux BBQ brisket sandwich. We marinated our leftover loaf in the cooking liquid doctored up with some additional Worchestershire sauce and Liquid Smoke, and sliced the seitan loaf paper-thin, then seared the pieces in a large skillet. As they cooked, they started to shrink up a bit and crisp around the edges, reminding us of cooking bacon or slabs of ham on a flattop (we may not eat it anymore, but we still watch Food Network!) We toasted some of our homemade dutch oven loaf of bread and spread our favorite BBQ sauce on each side, then topped the bread with thinly sliced pickles. Once the seitan was well seared and developed a bit of a crust, we made 2 piles of seitan in the skillet and topped each with some cheddar cheese. We added about 1/4 cup of the marinading liquid to the pan and covered it, allowing the cheese to melt and the seitan to aborb back some of the flavors from the marinade. Once the cheese had melted, we added the seitan ‘pile’ onto the bread. If the dogs’ faces (above…both chins resting on my knee!) are any indication, this smelled phenomenal and tasted exactly like the BBQ we’ve grown to miss just a bit (a natural result of living in the South). With this recipe, however, I know we’ll be satiated when the craving strikes. It has the smoke from the marinade, the sweetness of the sauce, and the exact texture of soft, crunchy, and chewy meat. The cheese is evocative of the mac n’ cheese served alongside BBQ here in South Carolina, and the sour pickles broke up the richness of everything with a little punch. We wolfed down these sandwiches and were amazed by just how believable the seitan was in this preparation.

Overall, our seitan experience was nothing less than eye-opening, and far from the mess and stress I had built it up to be in my mind. The preparation of the dough is incredibly simple and leaves amble room for experimentation and personalization of the recipe, and the cooking technique is very hands-off and simple. Once cooked, you have a myriad of ways to prepare your seitan and all are relatively quick, as the ‘hard’ part is done upfront. For our next seitan adventure, we’ll shape our dough into nuggets before cooking and see if we can imitate a dippable, bite-sized meat substitute. We also plan to customize the dough more by planning in advance what the final preparation will be; perhaps paprika and garlic powder for ‘chicken’ dishes, sage and tarragon for ‘turkey’, and some liquid smoke and Worchestershire for ‘beef’.

While seitan is available pre-prepared in stores, I had never tried to cook with it, instead leaving it to the experts at vegan restaurants nearby. I can now safely say that it will be a staple in our meal preparations, since it’s so easy to make, fun to come up with new combinations, and relatively cheap…especially compared to other meat substitutes that come frozen. Locally we can buy vital wheat gluten (the key ingredient for seitan) for about $3 per 6 oz box, and it takes 2 boxes to make a batch of seitan (each batch makes about 8 servings). Now that I’ve gotten over my fear of seitan, I’ve started ordering it in bulk from Amazon for much cheaper, knowing I’ll go through the volume associated with a full case (they don’t sell the Bob’s Red Mill vital wheat gluten at my local store). With this new source of protein, I don’t think we’ll ever scour the sales for pre-packaged meat substitutes again!

What kinds of recipes do you want to see us tackle using seitan? What are your suggestions for incorporation seitan into our weekly meals?

Note: We stored our leftover seitan loaf in the broth it was cooked in to keep it moist in between meals. You could easily use this time to marinate remaining seitan for another entree, but if you don’t have another meal in mind it’s best when stored in liquid. The liquid is a flavorful base for  many other sauces, so don’t throw it away once the seitan has finished boiling!

Better late than never

About this time last year, I mentioned some recipes that we had in the hopper to try out in the cooler winter months. For our RSVP cards for the wedding, we had asked our family and friends to return a postcard with a vegetarian recipe on it that we could add to our repertoire. Two recipes caught our eye as we flipped through the cards over the weeks leading up to the wedding, and we have been anxious to make them ever since. Admittedly it’s now been 14 months…but better late than never!

front of the postcard

front of the postcard

Shakshuka (suggested by our friend Harry)

  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 1 white or yellow onion, diced
  • 2 peppers, diced (Harry likes red/yellow bell peppers, we like a combination of bell pepper with Cubanelle and Poblano)
  • 2 14oz cans of fire roasted tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons tahini
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 loaf of reallllllly good crusty bread (we particularly love this Dutch Oven Crusty Bread recipe…easy, low maintenance, and incredible texture!)
  • Spices to taste: paprika, za’atar, cumin, chili powder, salt, pepper, and basil

Saute garlic and onions in olive oil in a large saute pan until softened, then add in peppers. Once soft, stir in tomatoes and season to taste – you want a warm, slightly spicy combination of flavors from the spices. Drop in the tahini and stir, it will melt into the onion/pepper/tomato mixture. Bring to a boil  and then simmer for 15 minutes. Taste the tomato base and adjust seasonings as desired- when you’re ready crack eggs one at a time into a small bowl and then gently nestle into the tomato base. Cover the skillet until the eggs are opaque and soft boiled- about 4 minutes. Serve with slices of crusty bread and try to avoid eating the whole pan – but good luck! The tomato sauce is a combination of marinara sauce and a minestrone soup, with a creaminess from the tahini. The eggs are perfectly tender and if allowed to remain just a bit raw, the rich yolk mixes with the acidic tomatoes for a winning combination.

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Look at those eggs, nestled perfectly among a simmering tomato base!

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The sign of perfect homemade bread- air bubbles throughout and a crusty exterior!

Mujadara (courtesy of Aunt Jane, culinary mastermind behind the blueberry chutney!)

  • 3/4 cup lentils
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup brown rice (see directions below – you could also use cooked white rice)
  • large pot of water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 6 cups onions (about 3 large onions) – halved and sliced thinly
  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  • 2 TBSP butter
  • Spices: cinnamon, cumin, coriander, paprika, chili powder

Cook lentils in 4 cups of simmering water (with 3 cloves of garlic and 2 bay leaves) until soft, but not mushy (approx 15-20 minutes). Set aside.  In a separate large stock pot, bring a full pot of salted water to a boil. Add 1 cup of brown rice and boil uncovered for 30 minutes (think of it like pasta). Drain, turn off heat, and return rice to the pot – cover and let steam for an additional 10 minutes. Set aside. In a deep, wide saute pan, cook onions, butter, and olive oil for 5 minutes on low, seasoning with salt and above spices – a sprinkling of each. Raise heat to medium and cook 10 more minutes. Cook another 3-4 minutes at high heat until caramelized. Combine rice, lentils, and onions in a large bowl.

In a small bowl, mix together 1/2 cup Greek yogurt with 1/2 tsp each of cinnamon, cumin, coriander, and paprika. Add a dash of chili powder and 3 TBSP chopped mint, the juice and zest of 1 lemon, and salt. Serve lentils with a dollop of yogurt.

The texture of the rice and lentils together, plus the sweet, crunchy onions and the tang of the yogurt was a winning combination. This is such a hearty meal due to the lentils (protein) and the rice (starch), and yet isn’t overly heavy – it still feels fresh and light because of the brightness of the yogurt on top. The leftovers are even better than the first time around, so if you have the time plan to make this the day before you plan to serve it. This may be our new go-to potluck dish, as it’s incredibly simple to assemble (basically 3 components all combined together at the end) and is well spiced without being overly aggressive. It also travels incredibly well- just 1 container for the mujadara itself and another for the yogurt! Try this for your next weeknight dinner or group get-together and thank us (and Aunt Jane!) later!

The best things are worth waiting for…

With winter break just barely over, I already find myself missing the abundance of free time that is a little-considered benefit of working in education. Each year, I start a list right around Thanksgiving of things I want to do, make, or take care over the long break and this year the list became a collection of recipes I’ve been intending to try, but haven’t because I didn’t think that they were accessible enough for a weeknight meal after a long day of work. Boy was I wrong…

Tempeh Piccata 

Ever since a recent (disappointing) trip to a local Italian joint, I have been craving piccata. I didn’t think tofu would be an appropriate canvas for such a fantastically textured sauce, so some exploring on the magic internet brought me to Vegetarian Times’ recipe for Tempeh Piccata. Admittedly I was hesitant of how much you can actually tranform tempeh, but figured I had the time, the ingredients, and the curiosity to see this through, and Vegetarian Times has rarely steered me wrong!

IMAG1041 (1)For the tempeh triangles, we cut each ‘bar’ of tempeh into 3 squares like the recipe calls for, then cut each square into 2 triangles. We then split each triangle lengthwise, creating a thinner ‘steak’ of tempeh. We altered the timeline for the recipe a bit, starting by soaking the tempeh in milk and dredging it, then frying them in two batches. After the first batch, we dropped some orecchiette in water (the shape was perfect to nestle and catch the sauce!) and while the second batch was cooking, we made the sauce in a separate saucepan so that everything would be hot at the same time. Drop a tablespoon of butter into the sauce right at the end for added smoothness and to round out the flavors.

We really liked how tender the tempeh got because of how thin it was, in addition to the ratio of breading to tempeh…I think the normal thickness of a tempeh bar would be too dense in relation to the crust. The crunch on the breading was fantastic and offset the richness and tartness of the piccata sauce. From start to finish, dinner was less than 30 minutes to prep and cook, and I don’t think it was just anticipation that made us savor every last bite! Sometimes putting aside a project for a while lets you truly appreciate the fruits of your labor upon eventual success. Happy New Year from our family to yours!