Monday, 18 August 2008

”You're a Vegetarian? But what do you eat?!?!”

I think every vegetarian and vegan gets asked that question about a million times. As if there is no such thing as a meal without meat. It always makes me laugh though.

At the end of the day my diet is probably more varied than the average meat-eater. I think you are forced to become more creative with your meals and you actually know a bit more about what your putting into your body. You look at each meal a little differently and you say to yourself: ”Ok, so do I have some carbs in this meal? What vitamins am I getting here? Is there a way I can add more iron/protein/vitamin A or B etc?”

My vegetarian sister-in-law and I were talking about just that internal dialogue a week or so ago and the one thing that we both agreed was hard to maintain in our diets was a healthy protein level. I mean, there are only so many chick peas you can eat in a day and seaweed is not someting that you want to add to your average meal.

So I got to thinking and reasearching and found a great alternative called Seitan. It's almost pure wheat gluten though, so people with intolerences to such things should probably steer well clear of it, but for the rest of us it's perfect. Being almost 75% protein means that if, like me, your looking at getting between 60 and 120 grams of protein a day, they you only need to add say an 80 gram serving to your dinner and Bobs your uncle.

Seitan is often called ”Wheat Meat” and, after I made it the first time my husband tasted it and after some consideration decided that it was very tasty, but that it weirded him out. It has the flavour and texture of a piece of meat but it isn't. I think that was a bit too much of a culinary conundrum for him and so he's decided that from now on it will be ”just a Lee Lee food”. Which means more for me. WHOO!

I've adapted my recipe for it from a cookbook called ”Vegan Planet”. It's a huge brick of a book full of great tips for vegetarians and vegans alike about making sure your diet has a healthy balance and is full of yummy nutritiousness.

Ingredients

Stock:

1 onion chopped roughly (or quarted...however you want)

2 carrots chopped roughly

1 chopped up celery rib

2-3 bay leaves

1/2 cup of tamari or soy sauce

2 crush cloves of garlic

1 veggie stock cube

10 cups of water

Seitan:

9 cups of flour (most recipies call for whole wheat flour, but I have used white flour as well to great success)

4 cups of water.

Method

1. In a large pot combine all the ingredients for the stock. Place over a high heat and bring to the boil. Once its boiled turn it down really low and let it simmer while you prepare the seitan.

2. Mix the flour and water together in a big mixing bowl and stir it untill you have a firm dough. If you feel you need to add more flour to firm it up then do so.

3. Knead the dough on a flat surface untill it is smooth and elastic.

4. Place the dough back in the bowl and cover with warm water. Leave to stand for 20 minutes. Perhaps have a cup of tea, or play with your pets.

5. Now here comes the fun. Gently knead the dough while it's still in the water until the water goes milky white. That's all the starch comming out.

6. Drain that milky water out and cover again with cold clean water and knead again. Repeat this process untill the water is almost clear as you knead it. This part takes a while, but it's kind of interesting to watch this huge ball of dough reduce down to almost pure gluten.

7. Once you have a nice ball of seitan that is no longer releasing so much starch, divide it up onto smaller pieces. I make my little pieces about 5cm across cause once they cook in the stock they get to be about a 30 gram portion.

8. Put the small peices of seitan into the simmering stock and let them cook for an hour. Make sure the stock doesn't boil and that the seitan pieces are covered by water for as long as possible (they tend to float towards the top as they get to the end of the hour)

(The seitan in the stock towards the end of the hour of cooking)


9. Voila! Wheat meat! If you put the peices into a big clean jar and pour some of the stock over them to cover, you can store it in the fridge for up to 5 days. Alternatively you can wrap each piece in cling film and store them in a bag in the freezer for up to 6 months. When you need one you just pop it in the oven on 150c for 15 minutes or so to thaw it and re-heat.

What you can do with the seitan after you've made it is really up to the imagination. Tonight, for example, I'll be slicing it up to have on burgers. It's also great on a sandwhich or in a stir-fry instead of tofu.

(Sliced up and ready for noming.)

However you have it, it's pretty darn good. And cheap too!

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