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What the fuck is seitan?

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In my ongoing exploration of the vegan foods that stump non-vegan people most, I bring you:

SEITAN

noun |  sei·tan  | say-tan

Pronounced sort of like everyone’s favourite pitchfork carrying demon (y’know, Satan), this mock meat substitute is actually as good as it gets…unless we’re talking about serving it to someone with a gluten allergy because it’s pure gluten. That would be evil. It’s main ingredient is vital wheat gluten, the protein left over when you wash the starch and bran out of wheat.

Vital wheat gluten is made by hydrating hard wheat flour to activate the gluten, and then processing the hydrated mass to remove the starch. Only the gluten is left behind, where it is then dried and ground back into a light coloured powder. Some people still rinse flours and make their own vital wheat gluten, but Bob’s Red Mill is saving us all a lot of time. Time that can be spent eating seitan.

To make seitan, vital wheat gluten is mixed with spices and water to make a dough. Then, a variety of methods including steaming, baking, or boiling the dough makes the substantial, high protein chunks, cutlets, and strips we vegans have come to know and love.

With the recent media vendetta on gluten, you might be thinking, “gluten, isn’t that responsible for ending life as we know it?” Well, the gluten bandwagon is yours to get on, or not. But when it’s compared to tofu for subbing meat, the nutritional info stacks up! Check out what an average 85 gram serving of each gives you:

Seitan:

calories: 90

fat: 1g

protein: 18g

carbs: 3g

iron: 1.2mg, 6% RDA

Selenium: 10 mcg, 14% RDA

Phosphorus: 65mg, 5%RDA

Tofu:

calories: 98

fat: 5g

protein: 10g

carbs: 3g

iron: 1.6mg, 9% RDA

Selenium: 13 mcg, 19% RDA

Phosphorus: 136 mg, 14%RDAs


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Often bounding between ingredient lists with pseudo names like wheat meat, wheat gluten, and gluten meat, it’s more easily recognized as that chewy stuff vegan restaurants use to make faux chicken, beef, duck, and pork. Look cutting tofu into a cube and adding some grill marks doesn’t make you all that steak-like. It’s all about texture, and in this case, we’re craving more jerky than jello. But seitan doesn’t have tofu’s history or bitchin’ PR team. It was scarcely known prior to the 70’s, enjoyed by only Buddhist monks prior. Seventh century monks get bragging rights for it’s discovery, but a Japanese macrobiotic diet advocate named George Ohsawa named it seitan in 1961, after a student’s glutinous work. Now, you can find it in stores as Gardein and Tofurky products, or you can try out the basic recipe below. Then, get creative by cutting and seasoning it to suit your favourite dish!

Ingredients

2 cups vital wheat gluten

½ cup nutritional yeast

2 tsp garlic powder

5 cups vegetable broth, divided

2 tbsp soy sauce

½ small onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, diced

Directions: In a large bowl, whisk together the vital wheat gluten, nutritional yeast, and garlic powder. Then, stir in soy sauce and one cup of vegetable broth. Knead the dough with a wooden spoon or your hands, adding small splashes of broth if it feels dry. Continuing kneading for a few minutes until it pulls like elastic. The longer you knead it, the firmer it will be. Separate the dough in to two equal loaves, and place them in a large pot. Add remaining broth, onion, and garlic, and top with water until both loaves are submerged. Cover, bring to a boil, and allow to simmer over medium-low for 45 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool in broth. From there, sky’s the limit. I usually, at the very least, fry it up until browned on both sides before putting it in to a fancy sandwiched (like the one pictured). Seitan can store for a week in the fridge when left in the broth, or can be drained and frozen.

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The applications of seitan are endless. I like to use it in tacos, stir fry, and to make ribs – seitan is SO much better for barbecuing than tofu. Try it, and soon you’ll be hailing seitan, too. 

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