Discolor Online

Weblog of the sweetest person you never want to piss off.


Seitan Success

The Seitan Jambalaya came out great. In thinking about the taste and texture of the faux beef from House of Vegetarian, I was pretty sure I was going to have to both marinate and fry the seitan to get what I was looking for. To judge by the jambalaya, I was correct.

The Cafe Flora Cookbook warns "Because seitan develops a "wheaty" flavor when it sits in a stew or sauce for a while, it's always best to add seitan at the last minute, just before serving." This does make me suspicious of the Seitan Potpie from The Voluptuous Vegan since it involves essentially stewing the seitan and vegetables in a soy milk bechamel, but the Seitan Sancocho from The Passionate Vegetarian follows Cafe Flora's rule and makes me even more hopeful for that recipe.

The technique for the jambalaya included marinating the seitan (I did it overnight) and frying it in a little oil before adding it to the rest of the ingredients. A couple of the pieces that were cut more like strips (vs. chunks) did come out too soft and "wheaty" and, while still edible, were not the fake-meat experience I was looking for. The larger pieces came out great, like pieces of chicken or pork, with less of the soft texture.

I'm sure this information is thrilling to, oh, Colin and maybe Rob but I'm pleased with how the seitan experience has gone so far.

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New Cooking Obsession

Ever since we came back from New York and our fantastic outing to House of Vegetarian, I've been craving more of that Faux Orange Beef with Broccoli. Surely, I thought to myself, it's possible for me to make that dish (or something very like it) at home. It's not that I want Orange Beef with beef...I'm specifically craving the fake meat version. I need to learn to cook with seitan.

So on a whim, I picked up a couple of packages of seitan to have on hand. I've cooked with tofu for years. I've made the occasional tempeh dish. I've got a shelf full of vegetarian cookbooks. I can find something to do with seitan until I'm confident enough with it to try recreating House of Vegetarian's Orange Beef.

But noooo. Straying off into seitan territory put me off the charts. I searched through four Moosewood cookbooks, not even a mention of seitan. Laurel's Kitchen? Nothing. Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone? Almost Vegetarian Entertaining? Nothing, nothing. Googling for seitan recipes was similarly frustrating. Apparently, people who eat seitan are content to just dump some barbecue sauce on the stuff and broil it. It's the bland, uninspired, no-fun vegetarian cooking that I suffered through in my high school/post-high school years (when my dad thought "going vegetarian" meant I was going to eat iceberg lettuce salads two meals a day and shopped accordingly). Many of the recipes I did find included instructions for making your own seitan from scratch at home: considering my general inability to make break, biscuits, or even grow herbs in a pot, I generally leave that kind of thing to the professionals. I'm not ashamed to buy my bread from a baker and my yogurt from the store, thanks. I started to worry that I'd made a mistake.

Thumbing through The Voluptuous Vegan I finally found a few bona fide seitan recipes, though in the end I chose not to make them. Just knowing they existed calmed my seitan panic. The Passionate Vegetarian has the largest selection of seitan recipes in my cookbook collection and even has a two-page spread talking about the ingredient, makers of commercially available seitan, and the different forms seitan takes. It also includes a little lecture (because what's some vegetarian cooking without a little lecture on whole foods or sustainability or how gosh darn fun veganism is, really...) on the imperfections of seitan: "Before you go deep into seitaning, here's one important caveat: Seitan is not a whole food. It is made of of part of the wheat grain--its protein--and as such it is as fractionated and inherently unbalanced as white flour, bran, or wheat germ. Since one of my core beliefs is that foods should be eaten as whole as possible as often as possible, seitan--easy and appealing though it is--should be an occasional choice, not a several-times-a-week or daily vegetarian mainstay (unlike soy, beans or soyfoods)." Ah! Poor, imperfect seitan; not lavished with attention by judgmental vegetarian cooks because of its imperfections? I started to feel bad for my little packages of wheat gluten.

To give ol' Crescent Dragonwagon her due, she does go on to give several references for people who would shun her advice and want to get into cooking with seitan anyway, and she includes a dozen seitan recipes in her cookbook. In fact, she gives seitan pretty thorough coverage and plenty of opportunities for use. And really, she says right out that she's the "passionate vegetarian" so I can hardly hold it against her that she has strong opinions. Still, I hate to be lectured now as much as I ever have and I was put off from trying anything out of her book just yet.

Thankfully, the Cafe Flora Cookbook came to my rescue. I have Seitan Jambalaya marinating in my fridge at this very moment for tonight or maybe tomorrow. I'll report back on how it turns out.

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