This week's recipe was new territory for me. Lots of you - vegans and vegetarians in particular- will be familiar with Seitan. It's basically a dense dumpling which is sliced and used as a meat substitute in a variety of ways. You can buy delicious takeaway seitan dishes from local vegan restaurants, and you can also buy it prepped and ready for you to cook at home.
Or…like so many of our vegan customers, you can make it from scratch!
Seitan - or 'wheat meat' - is made almost entirely from vital wheat gluten aka gluten flour, which is simply the protein component of regular wheat flour after the starch is removed. It looks like regular flour, but becomes very sticky and elastic when moisture is added.
To make seitan, water and spices are added to vital wheat gluten, and the mixture is kneaded, shaped and simmered in a pot. Then it's sliced and ready to add to whatever recipe your heart desires, as a meat substitute in stir-fries, casseroles, even roasts.
Think of seitan like tofu. It doesn't have a lot of flavour on its own, but it's a wonderful carrier for other flavours.
Being an omnivore, I haven't attempted to make seitan until now. Recently I discussed all things seitan with one of our regular seitan-cooking customers, Don, and I decided to bite the bullet. Don is vegan and steered me towards his favourite recipe to start me off. His recipe came from the glorious vegan bible of sorts, Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. I used their recipe as a springboard, and played around with it a little. I was really pleased with the result, and found the process fun!
So, to any fellow newbies, let's jump in together and go on a seitan adventure.
Prep time: 30 mins, Cooking time: 1¼ hours
1 cup vital wheat gluten flour
3 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
6 tsp vegetable stock powder
8 cups water
½ cup tamari or soy sauce - ¼ cup will be used in the seitan dough, ¼ cup will be used in the cooking liquid
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
First, get your cooking broth ready: In a large cooking pot on the stove, combine the 8 cups of water with the stock powder. Don't turn the stove on yet; first we will make the seitan.
In a large mixing bowl, add the two dry ingredients - vital wheat gluten and nutritional yeast. Mix them together well to get an even distribution of the nutritional yeast.
In a smaller bowl, mix together the oil, soy sauce, and garlic. Now add 1/2 cup of the still cold liquid stock you just made in the cooking pot, and add that to the oil, soy and garlic. Stir to combine, then pour this wet mixture into the gluten and nutritional yeast mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until the wet ingredients are absorbed. Now use your hands to knead the dough for about 3 mins. (Alternatively, feel free to use a kneading appliance if you have one & you'd rather not knead by hand.) Everything should be evenly distributed as much as possible and the dough should be elastic.
Divide the dough into three equal parts with a knife. Now you have a choice of forming the 3 pieces of dough into small loaf-shapes or stretch them into long ropes and make a knot. Why two choices? Read below if you are interested in this experiment. If it's information overload, just skip past these next italicised paragraphs and go straight to the how-to. I think it's worth the read, but I am hardly objective :)
Shaping options for seitan:
Our 3 little pieces of dough will expand quite a bit during simmering. When they've cooled, they will be cut into slices before then used in your choice of recipe as a stand-in for traditional meat.
When the dough is simmered in a ball or loaf shape, the slices of seitan will be smooth and uniform. This can be a good thing, and many people prepare seitan this way.
On the other hand, making a knot in your dough before placing it in the water to cook provides a different finish after it's sliced. It gives you different layers and shapes, and some think it more closely replicates the aesthetic of sliced meat.
If you look at the photo accompanying this recipe, you might spot that I've used both methods to demonstrate the differing results.
For the skewers, I used the loaf-shaped seitan, which I cut into generous cubes after simmering and cooling.
For the slices, I used the knot method.
Shape the 3 pieces of seitan:
For a standard loaf shape: Form into neat balls, then pull gently to elongate them a little, so they resemble little loaves.
To make knots: Start as above for loaf shape, but when you reach the stage of pulling the dough to elongate it, keep going. Roll it out back and forth on a lightly floured surface, using the palms of your hands, kind of like you do when making a coil pot with clay or play dough. Soon you'll have a bumpy rope that's about 4 times the length of your original dough ball and quite a lot thinner. Now just make a single knot in it, like the first stage of tying your shoelaces. Tuck ends underneath the knot if necessary.
Now place the 3 formed pieces of uncooked seitan gently in the cold vegetable stock.. Cover and bring to a boil, but watch it very carefully to make sure it doesn’t boil for more than a few seconds as boiling rapidly can create a spongy texture. The moment your stock reaches boiling point, turn heat way down to reduce to a gentle simmer. Place the pot lid partially on and maintain that low, gentle simmer for 1 hour. Turn the seitan 2 or 3 times during the hour to ensure it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot.
After 1 hour, turn off the heat, remove the lid and let the seitan sit uncovered for 15 minutes.
Remove the seitan from the broth with a slotted spoon or tongs (but don’t throw away the stock!) and cut into desired thin slices or pieces when cool enough to handle.
Store any seitan slices in the stock, in a sealed container in the fridge until you need to use them. Use within 7 days if storing in the fridge.
Seitan freezes well too. Slice then wrap well, and freeze for up to 6 months. To use, simply defrost and pan fry as above.
Now to turn that seitan into a delicious meal! Simply stir-fry or pan fry the slices or pieces of seitan in a wok or frypan with a little oil in order to achieve the golden colour and some crispy edges, then add whatever sauce you fancy to the pan - or serve sauce on the side! Here are a couple of sauce ideas:
Sweet Sticky Soy & Sesame Sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1-2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tablespoons cooking oil for shallow frying
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tablespoon sesame seeds for garnish
1 tbsp chopped green shallots
In a jug, combine soy sauce, water, vinegar & brown sugar; stir well. Once the seitan has been fried until golden, add the mixture into the frypan with your seitan. Stir for around 1 minute, then remove from heat and transfer it to a serving bowl. Drizzle with the sesame oil and garnish with sesame seeds and shallots. Serve with rice or noodles.
4 tbsp peanut butter
1 tbsp Soy sauce
200ml Coconut milk
½ tsp Chilli flakes (optional)
2 tsp Brown sugar
Juice of 1 Lemon
Put all ingredients except lemon juice in a small saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer, stirring with a wooden spoon. Maintain a gentle simmer and keep stirring until it thickens a little - it takes about 5 mins. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the lemon juice.
Dollop the sauce over fried seitan. Garnish with crushed peanuts and coriander if you like.