On to the last of this series!
I got a comment from a reader through my contact form
last week a few weeks ago:
Subject: Seitan, Tempah, & Tofu
All I can say is “ick”. I’m good with all grains, vegetables, etc. But how do I acquire a taste for these? All vegans I know use them and I just can’t stand the taste! Tofutti yes but not tofu in its natural state. Help! Example: I use lentils for taco “meat”.
Most of us aren’t born into veganism, so there’s a learning curve for most of us. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t grow up eating any of those.
Without further introduction…
What is seitan?
It’s the protein part of wheat flour, also known as gluten. It’s made by using flour- often white and whole wheat, in combination (it needs to be a high-protein flour, so pastry flour won’t work), which is then “washed” of all the starchy part, leaving behind a gummy, glue-y substance, which is then baked, boiled, simmered or steamed, usually with some type of flavorful liquid.
This seitan is breaded and baked, served with
spinach and mashed potatoes.
An easier way to make seitan is using something called vital wheat gluten. This is the protein part of the flour, dehydrated, which you simply mix with a liquid and cooked however you like to make your seitan. You can also buy seitan pre made in any Whole Foods or natural foods store (but not Trader Joe’s, at least that I’ve ever seen). You can also buy it online- I’m really partial to Upton’s Naturals Italian Style seitan- I love it on pizza!
Seitan (wheat gluten) is also the primary ingredient in many mock meats, such as Field Roast and Gimme Lean.
Calorie for calorie, seitan is higher in protein than either tofu or tempeh. Of course, traditional seitan is off-limts for anyone with Celiac Disease or who otherwise needs to be gluten-free.
Why does it sound evil?
The emphasis is on the “tan.” It’s fully non-evil, but you may well get strange looks and comments when wearing a Praise Seitan t-shirt.
Even if it’s not evil, it sounds weird and gross. Am I right?
Like tofu and tempeh, it’s not gross!
It is however, not very flavorful on its own. This is why you have to cook it in a flavorful liquid, or add flavor to it when you’re cooking it up. My lemongrass-seitan sandwich is a good example- you can even take pre-cooked seitan and simmer it in flavored broth as you’re preparing everything else, and it can still take on a wonderful flavor.
How should I try seitan if I’ve never had it before?
Buffalo seitan was also something I made a lot in my early vegan days. I served this a birthday party once- non-vegan friends couldn’t stop eating it!
I don’t have a picture because I haven’t made it in ages, but I used to also like to make “seitan stew” just like a beef stew, as well.
Can I use seitan just like meat in recipes?
Seitan may look a lot like meat, but it’s not quite the same in a number of ways. Even very lean meat has fat (and cholesterol), which influences the way that it cooks. Since seitan is plant based, it won’t cook up quite the same way- it doesn’t release fat in cooking, which means that it won’t help thicken sauces or get crispy by the same means.
This seitan bourguignon needs some slightly different treatment than one made with beef.
Any other tips or inspiration for seitan?
Recently I’ve been eschewing store-bought meat substitutes in favor of less processed versions (and more veggies, of course), and seitan is ideal for making many of these!
There are two great recipes for sausages made with vital wheat gluten in Vegan Brunch, but there are so many more ways to use it.
I’ve been into making vegan ham out of seitan (recipe based on one in La Dolce Vegan!) fairly frequently. I served it just like traditional ham at Christmas, but I bet it would also be awesome in this wild rice soup!
I used to make this with a store-bought vegan ham sub with 293847293874 ingredients, but I can make ham-style seitan now. Much simpler!
Seitan also works well ground up in the food processor for things like chili, sloppy joes, tacos, Bolognese sauce and other places you’d use “ground beef,” but you can get fancy with it too, like in this celeriac puree.
Mashed potatoes, ground seitan, celery root purée, golden zucchini and green beans. Just another way to have some seitan in your life!
The same recipe I use for the lemongrass-seitan I mentioned above can also work for making vegan pho. I made a batch of the lemongrass seitan in the slow cooker over night last night- in the middle of the night, I woke up smelling its divine goodness. I saved the (strained) broth for pho later this week!
Pho is a great way to get in vegetables! And yes, despite the title of that post, I know that’s not how you say “pho.”
Despite the fact that seitan is not technically a whole food, it’s a good one. It’s easy to make, and it’s really easy to to eat healthfully with it. I personally think no vegan kitchen is complete without it!
Now that you’ve learned a bit more about tofu, tempeh and seitan, I hope that you’ll try some of the recipes, especially if you’ve been intimidated by these foods in the past. And remember, the key to any balanced diet is variety, so don’t forget about beans, lentils, nuts and veggies, too! No vegan diet should be based on processed foods alone.