All about Seitan – the high protein meat-alternative

Sei…what? What’s that? I get this often from people when I mention “Seitan”. Everyone  knows about tofu as a meat alternative but “Seitan”? Well, seitan is a food made from gluten, the main protein of wheat and has been around for quite a long time, though not as long as tofu. Another Chinese invention (like the afore-mentioned tofu), it has been documented there since the 6th century as a meat substitute and first apseitan2.jpgpeared as an ingredient for… noodles. You can buy it in most organic/vegan/health food shops nowadays and it usually comes vacuum packed in ones or twos. It looks like a wet, brown ball and to be honest, not very appetizing until one day, I bucked up and bought some. And haven’t looked back!

Unlike tofu, seitan has a stringy, chewy texture and this meat-like quality makes it the perfect meat alternative. Though it lacks lysine ( one of the 9 essential amino acids our body doesn’t generate) and is therefore not a complete protein, it does have a very high protein content – seitan contains about 20 grams of protein in each 3-ounce (85 gm) portion, which is similar to the amount of protein in lean meat. For example, a 3-ounce portion of sirloin steak contains about 26 grams; 3 ounces of shoulder steak provide about 21 grams; and a 3-ounce portion of ribeye steak contains about 25 grams of protein. Three ounces of grilled chicken breast contain about 25 grams and 3 ounces of lean ground beef provide about 21 grams of protein. Team it up with any of these and you have a complete protein!

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I added veg bouillon to the gluten

You can bake /fry /stew /roast etc. seitan and it can be delicious. My only problem with seitan was the fact that it came plastic wrapped! And you know, by now, how much I hate plastic. So I started to look at ways to make it, while avoiding plastic and guess what? It wasn’t very difficult and wayyyy cheaper than buying it. The basic recipe requires gluten flour, water, soya sauce and soup granules. Here is one of many online recipes you will find.

Personally, I prefer to give you tips about getting the best out of seitan as I have seen that you can find recipes every where but tips are hard to find – learnt through experience which always ended with me gritting my teeth!

HANDY SEITAN TIPS:

1: You can make seitan without gluten flour if you can’t buy it. You simply make a dough with whole or white wheat powder first. Gluten is what is left after the dough is washed, yeah, literally washed. This shows you how. I personally prefer to use readymade gluten powder as I can’t bear to use up so much water and see so much starch/bran etc. being washed away. Sad to see  about 20% of your dough left- not satisfying at all! 😦

2. A good ratio to make the dough is 1:3/4. That means, say, 1 cup of solid ingredients (gluten powder and condiments) and 3/4 cup of liquid ingredients (water/ broth with soya/tamari sauce).

3. Make sure to season the dough – by adding any or all of the following:tomato paste, bouillon, spices, herbs and soya/tamari sauce (this last goes in the wet ingredients). You don’t want a tasteless ball of dough. And obviously, if you add soya/tamari sauce, DO NOT add salt.

4. You need to knead the seitan once the dough is formed. This is VERY important as kneading helps develop the gluten. Give it 10 minutes but not more as you can end up with chewing gum textured seitan, as I once did. It was odd, must say. Edible but odd.

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I added onion and garlic cloves to the broth

5. You can create seitan, once the dough is finished,  either by: simmering, baking or steaming. A lot of recipes call for simmering the dough but you can avoid large pans of flavoured broth by the other 2 methods though the broth is very nutritious and a good soup base.

6. If simmering, make sure to put the seitan in with the  water/broth while it is cold, so the texture is chewier. Bring to a boil and then lower your heat. The key is to keep the water at a simmer. If the water is boiling, the seitan will become spongy, soft and jiggly.

7. If baking, do add some broth/water to the roasting dish so you don’t end up with a product which is hard, unless you want a really firm texture like for ribs and roasts.

8. Timings for cooking the dough:

Simmering time is roughly 45 minutes. Make sure to leave your seitan in the broth for

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Ta-taaan!

another 15-30 minutes afterwards so it absorbs the flavour of the broth to a maximum.Baking time is about 40-60 minutes ( make sure to turn the seitan over in the middle of your roasting period).

Steaming time is about 30 minutes.

8. Remember that as the dough cooks, it absorbs liquid and grows so, leave space for this in your cooking pot/tray.

If you look on the internet, there are a thousand and one ways to cook your seitan, be it Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican etc. ENJOY!

 

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Step 2: Going Organic c: Meat Alternatives

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Seitan stir fry – delicious!

Every year, food pundits retract what they say about a certain food item being good or bad for you – eggs are a great example- I still can’t figure out if it is ok to eat one every day or not? But alas and alack, they remain pretty steady in maintaining that a largely meat based diet is harmful for you- was it only last year that U.S. News and World Report put the Paleo diet in the lowest ranking of diets?

Be that as it may, we are lucky that in most countries, either traditionally or recently, there are plenty of meat alternatives, so don’t get too worried about where your protein intake comes from. And best of all, even when organic, they’re wayyyyyyyyy cheaper than buying meat and poultry!

Let me divide meat alternatives into 3 categories:

1. The Meat Mimics: These include tofu, textured soya, tempeh, quorn and seitan.

a. Tofu

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Tofu is also called beancurd and is equivalent to cheese but made from soya milk. I LOVE tofu and have been known to simply slice it and eat it raw without anything (Shock! horror! Carnivores pull their hair out in anguish when I admit to this in public – which I rarely do so as to maintain the peace). It is the king in Southeast and east Asia and any number of their cookbooks have whole chapters devoted to how to cook this cardboard tasting thing into a delight to swoon over. It comes in a number of forms – soft, hard, smoked etc and is very versatile.

I have, alas, stopped eating this as it comes wrapped in plastic. Boohoo. But can make soya milk so will experiment at making my own tofu, at some point, and will put up the recipe 🙂

b. Tempeh

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This is originally from Indonesia and is made by fermenting soya beans together to form a somewhat thick wafer. I am not very fond of it and, just as well it comes in a plastic wrapping coz I have given this up.

Here is an article comparing tofu and seitan and, you can find loads of Indonesian recipes online.

c. Texturised soya

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This is the byproduct of soya bean oil and is used either to mimic meat or make it go that bit further – you get it mainly as chunks or as a kind of mince. I find that Indians make amazing dry and wet curry dishes with this. Or just take an Indian cook book and substitute this for any meat/poultry in the recipe.

This is quite a processed food item so don’t go crazy over it!

d. Quorn

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Quorn is intended to replicate the taste and texture of meat and contains mycoprotein which is derived from the Fusarium venenatum fungus and is grown by fermentation. You can almost believe it is meat/poultry/bacon etc…almost! Again, I don’t buy this anymore as it comes, at least in Spain, in plastic packets, in the frozen foods area. Somehow I don’t think I will be growing a fungus deliberately….so, bye bye, Quorn.

 

e. Seitan

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This is made from wheat gluten ( therefore not for those intolerant or sensitive to gluten) and is, by far, my favourite meat alternative which is also very high in protein. The best thing is that I know how to make this and make a monthly supply, at almost a quarter of the price of the commercial one and tasting exactly the same. We will go into the recipe in a later post.

2. Lovely Legumes:

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These include:

a. Beans

b. Peas

c. Lentils

d. Peanuts

This is an exhaustive list!

3. Go nuts (and seeds):

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Nuts and seeds are super healthy and most of us aren’t eating enough of them. They are a great natural source of vitamins, minerals, protein, fat, and fiber.