I was at a vegetarian restaurant in Vienna the first time I came across seitan. It was the main ingredient in a couple of the mains and I had never heard of it. I asked, got the wrong end of the answer stick and thought it was a type of bread. Christopher tried it. I can’t remember what he thought so I’m guessing it was unremarkable.
Time passed, and I came across seitan again. This time I looked it up: it’s gluten. All you need is some vital wheat gluten (its a type of flour) and you’re off. I’ve been experimenting.
For those of us who can eat gluten, seitan offers a chewy, high-protein ingredient that can be used in the same way that meat products are. I’ve been using seitan to make Bolognese sauce, moussaka, doner and sausages. It can be made into convincing meat replacements but that’s not quite how I use it. I’m not looking for a 1:1 likeness, but rather something I haven’t already got in tofu, a texture and a flavour-carrier that adds something new to my culinary toolbox.
Vegetables is my dinner. And pulses. Mostly pulses.
Ours is a vegetarian household. (It’d be vegan if it wasn’t for cheese. And kefir. I could live without kefir but life without cheese? That’s asking too much.) I’m not vegetarian, a fact that confuses many people. I’m asked, more often than I wish whether
- that means I cook different dishes for Christopher and me, and
- I miss meat terribly?
No. And no again.
Firstly, we both cook. And we eat the same dishes most of the time. I’m not vegetarian but I’m also not an obligate carnivore*. I just don’t eat meat at home. Saying that, there are food stuffs that pulses can’t replace: sausages, for example. I love sausages. In stews, with mash, in a bun. So that’s where my seitan experimentation started.
Playing with my food: forays into seitan
The first seitan outing in our flat wasn’t that great. Gluten flour, a little gram flour and water; knead like mad; chop into pieces, boil in stock for 45 minutes. Very filling but not that tasty. Simmering seitan makes the texture quite soft (unless the dough is really dense) and I find I don’t much like it. Also, most of the flavour goes into the water. (And makes a stock perfect for lentil soup, but that’s another story.) We also tried to bake it in the oven but the resulting ‘nuggets’ were too bread-like, too odd.
I found this recipe from Vegan Dad and made my very first seitan sausages. The sausages are steamed and retain all the flavour I’ve put into the dough. They’re chewy, satisfying and tasty. I’ve upped all of the spices and make these on a regular basis (with a few adjustments).
Increasing the spices is a bit of a thing for me. I made vegan doner using Mrs Vegan’s recipe. After a first attempt, I doubled all of the spices, halved the fat and steamed instead of simmering. It made flavourful, textured strips that meet all my doner cravings. (And I have those. More so since I first tried Henderson’s seitan doner a couple of summers ago.) Doner is about what comes with it as much as the slivers of ‘meat’ themselves.
Serve thinly sliced in a pitta bread with a crunchy salad (cabbage, sweet corn, red pepper, parsley, coriander, mint, courgette or cucumber, grated carrot – all the crunchy good things). Drizzle generously with chilli or garlic sauce. I make a garlic sauce from vegan yogurt mixed with a little salt, crushed garlic, and coriander or smoked paprika.
Having made seitan quite a few times, I’m now happy to freewheel. For one cup of vital gluten flour I use about 75 ml stock and 1/3 cup nutritional yeast. Spices go with the dry ingredients, tomato paste, miso, soya sauce go with the water. I like the mix to be loose enough to shape fairly easily. Grate the cooked seitan to make mince, or slice into steaks or chunks. This could work for sausages too. (Try Vegan Dad’s sausages first. The beans – top tip: use a full tin, use any beans you like – do great things for a really sausage-y texture.)
- 1 cup vital gluten flour
- 0.33 cup nutritional yeast
- 2 tsp chilli flakes
- Spices (2 tsp ground cumin, 2 tsp smoked paprika, and 1 tsp ground coriander for a chorizo-style flavour; 1 tbsp fennel, 1 tbsp oregano, a handful of chopped olives for a Mediterranean twist)
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 0.75 cup cold water
- 1 tsp stock powder (or a cube of mushroom stock for extra umami)
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 tbsp oil (something flavoured works well: sesame, or olive)
- 1 tbsp soya sauce
- Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl.
- Whisk the wet ingredients together in a measuring jug.
- Mix the wet ingredients with the dry and knead for a couple of minutes. The dough should be manageable but not so wet it runs through your fingers.
- Divide into four pieces, shape into sausages or rough squares.
- Wrap the seitan in foil (or or muslin).
- Steam for 45 minutes.
* An animal who can only thrive on meat.