Today I’m going to talk about seitan – a wheat gluten-based meat substitute that originates in Asian cuisine and can be very versatile in everyday vegan or vegetarian dishes. Seitan is pretty easy to make at home: if you make a batch, you can use it in different dishes over the course of a few days, thus saving time and money on meal planning.
Out of all ‘fake meats’ (including soy-based), seitan resembles the texture and taste of actual meat the most, especially duck and other poultry, depending on how it’s cooked. I’ve even heard that some vegans refuse to eat seitan because of its meatiness! While this reasoning is not for everyone, another group of people has to stay away from wheat gluten for health reasons – the gluten-intolerant folk.
A little history: the word ‘seitan‘ is believed to originate from Japanese sei (to be, of the nature) and tan, or tanpaku (protein). The word is considered to have been introduced by the founding father of macrobiotic diet George Oshawa in the 1960-s. However, different versions of wheat gluten have been used for centuries in Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese cuisines, especially by Buddhist cooks.
Just as the name suggests, seitan is very high in protein: depending on the recipe, it can contain 70-80 percent protein! That’s higher than any type of meat!
Originally, wheat gluten for seitan is derived from washing whole wheat flour and rinsing off all of the starch until you are left with an elastic, sponge-like substance. However, it’s easier to make seitan at home directly from powdered vital wheat gluten that can be purchased in grocery stores or online (I use Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Flour brand). You make the seitan mixture by combining vital wheat gluten with water or vegetable broth, and add in some seasonings and spices to make it more flavorful.
What happens next is up to you! There are a few ways you can cook seitan: arrange it into a 1/2-inch layer and bake it in the oven, tear up in pieces and put it in a steamer, or boil the pieces and then bake them in the oven for a little longer. All methods work best if you cover seitan with some kind of sauce to prevent it from drying out. Sure, this may sound like too much work, but if you power through it once and make a big batch, you can use the resulting seitan in different dishes for the next few days!
After I tried a few different ways of cooking seitan, I discovered that the best results come from the third method I’ve mentioned above (boiling and then baking). This way, the boiling broth enhances the flavor of the finished product, plumps up seitan pieces and makes them very juicy. Rubbing the pieces with rich sauce (like barbecue in this recipe) after they’ve been boiled and then sending them to the oven takes things to the next level of deliciousness!
Commercially manufactured seitan can be found in grocery stores, but I just don’t trust that stuff enough because I don’t know how exactly it was made, plus the sodium content can be too high. And of course, my homemade seitan is much tastier, fresher, and way cheaper – what’s not to like about that!
For this recipe, I decided to use homemade barbecue sauce to baste my seitan with (recipe follows). I ended up with quite a bit of seitan for just two people, so I was happy to serve it 2 times:
1. As is with some baked sweet potato fries and a salad the first night,
2. With some penne pasta, marinara sauce, and stir-fried vegetables the following day:
3. Had we ended up with more leftovers, I would have definitely made some BBQ seitan hoagie rolls with mustard, pickles, and some extra barbecue sauce! Mmm, just thinking about this makes my mouth water!
Enough with the talk, let’s see the recipe!
This seitan comes out juicy, meaty and flavorful! Double or triple the batch to feed a crowd and have some leftovers.
- 1 cup vital wheat gluten (Bob's Red Mill works well)
- 2 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1 Tbsp paprika
- 1 Tbsp chili powder
- 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
- 3/4 cup low sodium vegetable broth/water
- 1 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce
- 4-5 cups low-sodium vegetable broth/water
- 3 Tbsp nutritional yeast
- 1 Tbsp chili powder
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce
- 1/2 cup ketchup
- 1Tbsp onion powder
- 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1 Tbsp blackstrap molasses
- 2 Tbsp vegan Worcestershire
- 2 Tbsp unsweetened applesauce
- 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp Sriracha or hot sauce (more/less, to taste)
- Combine all dry ingredients in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, mix broth/water and low sodium soy sauce.
- Add wet mix to dry mix, stir until combined. Using your hands, knead mixture for 2-3 min, until thick dough forms.
- Shape seitan dough into a ball. Tear small pieces (the size of a quarter) off the big ball. The pieces will get bigger during boiling, so don't make them too big!
- Mix together all broth ingredients. Bring to a boil. Add torn-up seitan, bring to a boil again. Reduce the boil to medium, simmer for 30 min, stirring a few times to prevent sticking. Preheat the oven to 375° F.
- Once seitan is done boiling, drain the pieces. Put them into a mixing bowl, pour 3/4 of prepared BBQ sauce over them, toss well to cover.
- Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Arrange BBQ-covered seitan on the sheet with about 1 inch between pieces. Bake for 30 min, turning pieces halfway through baking, and basting with the remaining BBQ sauce if the start looking dry.
- Serve with sweet potato fries, or in a hoagie roll with pickles and mustard, or slice up and toss with pasta.
- Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Whisk well until uniform in texture. Taste and adjust sweet/salty/spicy ingredients to your liking.
- Serve with seitan or other dishes that call for BBQ sauce. This sauce can be kept in the fridge for up to 1 week.
Other vegan barbecue sauces can be used in this recipe, including store-bought varieties. Look for brands with no high-fructose corn syrup and low sodium content.
What are your thoughts on seitan? Have you tried making it at home? What recipe did you use?
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