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How to Make Seitan Like a Pro

While living in Chicago, I attended a cooking demo at Native Foods, a vegan restaurant chain. I never pass up the opportunity to attend a free cooking demo because every time I go I learn something new. The Native Foods chef taught us how to make several recipes, including seitan—a meat alternative made from vital wheat gluten.

I’ve made seitan many times. The first recipe I learned was from a cooking class also in Chicago. It was good, but this Native Foods recipe is better. The first time I made it, I followed the regular recipe as is. I’ve attached a PDF of the handout from the demo below. You will see that the chef provides a couple of different spice combinations to change the flavor profile. You can adapt the recipe for a spicy Mexican dish or Swedish meatballs.

I had been wanting to make a summer sausage seitan for years and now I had a solid base recipe to use as a starting point. We ate summer sausage a lot when I was growing up and I remembered I liked the seasoning (as well as the fat and salt). This summer sausage seitan recipe is much healthier–lower fat and sodium content, not to mention no cholesterol.

Before we started cooking, we opened a bottle of wine and enjoyed it with homemade nut cheese and chips.

Before we started cooking, we opened a bottle of wine and enjoyed it with homemade nut cheese and chips.

This past summer my husband took some of his colleagues to Native Foods while they were in Chicago for a conference. Alex, who is from France but lives in San Francisco, loved the food and enjoyed the meat-like dish he ordered. So, my husband offered up my services and invited Alex and his girlfriend, Nazanin, for dinner, where I would teach them to make seitan. It was a fun evening and I can’t think of a better way to introduce omnivores to vegan food. We made enough seitan so they could take some home. At the end of this post, you can see what they made back in their own kitchen. Seitan is a versatile meat alternative that you can use in a variety of dishes.

Summer Sausage Seitan (say-tan)

Adapted from Native Foods’ Homemade Seitan recipe

To start, make the broth to cook the dough in:

Broth

For the broth, start by filling a large stock pot with water, 2/3 of the way full. Then add:

  • 1 c Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (or low sodium soy sauce)
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 10 whole black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves

Bring the broth up to a boil and reduce to a simmer for cooking the seitan.

Dry ingredients.

Dry ingredients.

Seitan
Makes two rolls

  • 2 c vital wheat gluten
  • 6 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1 c vegetable stock (low sodium)
  • 1/2 c Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (or low sodium soy sauce)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder (or ground cayenne pepper)
  • 1-1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1-1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1-1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1-2 drops liquid smoke (optional)*
  • Cheesecloth
  • Cooking twine
  • Skewers

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients: vital wheat gluten, nutritional yeast, chili powder, mustard seeds, black pepper, onion powder and coriander. Mix well.

In a smaller bowl, add the vegetable stock, Bragg’s, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and liquid smoke, if used. Whisk together.

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Kneading the dough.

Little by little, add the liquid to the dry ingredients. Use a wooden spoon to mix until the dry mixture is moist. You may need to add a little water to combine the ingredients, but you don’t want the mixture to be wet. Once the mixture is well combined, knead the dough with your hands for 3-4 minutes.

Divide the dough into two equal size pieces. Using your hands, roll into two loaves.

Tightly wrap each loaf in cheese cloth cut-to-size, tie up each end with kitchen twine, and then stick a skewer through each roll.

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Using tongs, place each roll in the pot of simmering broth. Cover the pot halfway with a lid so the steam can escape. Simmer for 45 minutes, turn off the heat and let the seitan sit in the pot for an additional 15 minutes with the lid off. Using the tongs, lift each roll out of the pot and take the skewers out to make sure the rolls are well cooked. The skewers should come out clean (like using a toothpick to test a cake). If done, remove the cheesecloth immediately. (If you need to cook the seitan longer, try simmering in 3-5 minute intervals.)

*I have made this recipe with and without liquid smoke. Either way is great. If using liquid smoke concerns you, learn more about the potential risks here.

Native Foods Seitan Recipe

Once the seitan was done, we made pizza for dinner. It was a group effort. We made the dough using our bread maker. I like to chop the seitan into chunks and pan fry for a few minutes in a bit of vegetable oil. In addition to the seitan, the pizza included our homemade tomato sauce, three kinds of mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh basil and Daiya cheese.

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Daiya cheese is my preferred cheese alternative. It melts and has a good flavor. I suggest trying several vegan cheese options to find your favorite. There are many on the market but some melt better than others. While eating dinner, Alex and Nazanin wondered what in the heck was in the cheese and then asked what was wrong with eating dairy. Read this post on why vegans don’t eat dairy.

Daiya Cheese ingredients: Filtered water, tapioca and/or arrowroot flours, non-GMO expeller pressed canola and /or non-GMO expeller pressed safflower oil, coconut oil, pea protein, salt, vegan natural flavors, inactive yeast, vegetable glycerin, xanthan gum, citric acid (for flavor), titanium dioxide (a naturally occurring mineral).

As I mentioned, Alex and Nazanin took a roll of summer sausage home. They made Bolognese sauce with it. Before adding the seitan to the sauce, he turned it into “ground beef” using a blender. He calls it The Seitanic Pasta.

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Ask a Vegan: How to be Vegan in a Meat-Eating Family?

Ask a VeganDear Christine,

I am a vegetarian in a meat-eating family. I would like to be a vegan but its difficult to even be a vegetarian. I am the primary cook in the family and while my husband and kids are supportive, they still want me to cook meat. How can I make my family happy and start to be a vegan? I have 4 kids at ages 12, 6, 5, and 2 — all picky eaters. I would love some advice. Thank you for you time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Sara

Hi Sara,

Thanks for writing. I understand that change is hard, especially when it involves other people. I find it hard enough to make changes for my sake. Add family to the mix and it can be downright overwhelming. However, it can be done. First, I’m wondering if you have explained to your family why you want to be vegan? It’s helpful to keep an open mind with these types of conversations, so that others don’t feel defensive. Everyone has a right to their own feelings and forcing change on others is a disaster in the making. You may want to watch Vegucated together? It’s a wonderful documentary infused with humor and facts — building bridges for veganism. This film may help open up your family to the idea of eating less meat.

Now to your real question: How can I make my family happy (at meal time) and start being vegan?

Begin by empowering your family in the kitchen. Teach them how to cook. Even supervised youngsters can learn to cook and help with simple tasks. Knowing how to cook will give them choices. If they don’t want to eat what you’re making for dinner, they can cook for themselves. I started cooking at a very early age because I was a picky eater. Cooking is a skill I wish more people had. It will serve your kids well for their entire lives. When people eat at home, they typically eat healthier — less salt, sugar, fat and calories — then if they eat out.  You may find your family enjoys planning meals and cooking together.

Mark Bittman wrote this wonderful essay in the form of a short e-book a couple of years ago called Cooking Solves Everything. If all families cooked together, the world would be a very different place.

An optimal vegan diet includes a variety of plant-based foods. I believe that everyone can find some vegan options they would enjoy, especially meat alternatives since meat is what your family wants. Seitan is an easy meat alternative you can make at home. The kids could help make this. (Soon I will be posting the best seitan recipe I have ever made.) You may need to experiment with different foods. You can also make a game of it by letting your children pick out a new vegetable to try each week. They are bound to find a few they like. Just make it fun for them.

Or, you could simply draw the line. I never had the chance to meet my husband’s mom. I have heard a lot about her over the years including her approach to mealtime. She had six kids and it’s easy to imagine there was at least one picky child in the bunch. When one of her children would say, “I don’t like this”, she would reply, “You must not be hungry then.” There was no special food offered to the complainer. There is truth in her words. She was teaching them to be grateful for the food in front of them. A truly hungry person would eat just about anything. But, we’re spoiled in our culture. We’re used to having our wants met at every turn. It’s estimated that we waste 40% of the food in the U.S., so there’s good reason to encourage a grateful attitude towards the food on our plates.

Or, you could continue “trying” to keep everyone happy with multiple entrees at one meal and drive yourself mad. I believe a happy mom makes for a happy family. An unhappy mom, not so much. Change isn’t always easy but if it’s important to you, then you deserve the opportunity to be successful at making the change.

Keep me posted,
Christine

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Not sure of your way around the kitchen?

Empower yourself and learn how to cook. Just like any other skill, once you learn the basics, it just takes practice. And yes, time, but it’s worth it when you can feed yourself healthy and tasty vegan food easily. Before you know it, you’ll be a highly skilled vegan cook and know what’s what in your own kitchen.

There are several cooking schools, restaruants, and other businesses around town that offer vegan cooking classes. I suggest taking hands-on classes, but it can be interesting to watch demonstrations too. Besides taking vegan cooking classes, it’s also a good idea to learn proper knife skills as a starting point. Check out the class schedules at some of the following places for more information. Enjoy and happy cooking!

Cooking Schools
The Chopping Block in Lincoln Square and River North
Fundamentals of Vegan Cooking on May 5 at the Lincoln Square location. Knife Skills offered several times a month for $40–one of the least expensive knife skills classes in town. I took this hands-on class years ago and recommend it for anyone who wants to use knives more efficiently in the kitchen.

Heat and Spice Cooking School in Uptown
Learn how to cook vegan Thai, Indian, and Mexican cuisines. I have taken the vegan Thai class and highly recommend the chef and the food. Spicy and delicious!

Cooking Fools in Wicker Park
Currently no vegan classes on the schedule, but this is where I learned to make seitan. Call and ask for a vegan class! Perhaps they will add one to there schedule.

The Wooden Spoon in Andersonville
Currently no vegan classes on the schedule. Call and ask for a vegan class.

Raw Food Preparation
Cousin’s Incredible Vitality on West Irving Park
Interested in the raw food movement? Learn how to prepare raw food and become a certified raw food chef. Check the website for upcoming classes.

Cru Cacao
This raw food catering company also teaches raw food preparation in your home.

More Classes
Lakeside Cafe in Rogers Park
No classes are currently scheduled. Check their website in the future because this local veg restaurant offers inexpensive vegan cooking classes on a wide variety of topics.

Whole Foods
Class schedules vary by location, but I have often seen vegan cooking classes offered. Some demonstrations are even free.

Cooking Shows on TV
Christina Cooks: Check your local television schedule. (It is on Saturday afternoons on my local PBS station.)

Delicious TV Totally Vegetarian with Chef Toni Fiore
Check local listing for TV schedule.

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Celebrating three years!

January 1 marked my three year anniversary of becoming vegan. In more ways than I can count, this has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. When I made the decision, it was all about the food, the clothes, and the animals. I never expected all the great people who would come into my life because of this one decision. I have met the best people over the past three years including many new friends from volunteering (my tribe) and my boyfriend from veggiedate.com (more on this later!).

If I would have known then what I know now, I would have made the decision much sooner. Something to keep in mind for the next big decision. Perhaps you are considering going vegan this year? Consider the possibility that this change will grace your life in more ways then you could ever imagine. It’s easier than ever to be vegan in this world. Check out this press release on market trends for proof. So what’s stopping you?

Questions on going vegan welcome and encouraged. Come on…give me something to write about!

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Animal Ingredients List for your iPod

The list of animal ingredients in food and beauty products is extensive, overwhelming, and can seem like a foreign language at times.

For example: Civet is an unctuous secretion painfully scraped from a gland very near the genital organs of civet cats.  Used as a fixative in perfumes. Alternatives: labdanum oil (which comes from various rockrose shrubs) and other plants with a musky scent. (from HappyCow’s Animal Ingredients List A-Z.)

Ughhh. No need to despair. Of course, you can go old school and buy the book, Animal Ingredients A-Z, Third Edition

Better yet, try this electronic version (Save some trees!) that can be downloaded to your iPod. Check out Animal Ingredients List A-Z for iPod. It’s simple to download and includes short instructions for loading to your iPod. The site sources happycow.net and The Vegan Society for the information. Download it today and the next time you are at the supermarket reading food labels, you can whip out your iPod to check questionable ingredients. Very convenient. After all, it’s easy being vegan!

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