Cooking Adventure: Vegan Steaks

The Mission

So as part of my daughter’s interest in vegetarianism we have been trying different protein options like tofu, seitan and tempeh.  Seitan is made from vital wheat gluten (so if you do not tolerate gluten then skip this recipe) and has been a part of Buddhist vegetarian culture since the 6th century.  Today a 4oz package of seitan can run almost five dollars! For that price I was pretty motivated to see if I could make it myself.  The internet was happy to accommodate, and lead me to Sam Turnbull’s website:  who provided lovely photos and encouragement.

Encouragement which was needed because not only do you need to mix and knead the ingredients but you also need to steam the steaks and then grill them- Whew! This puts the project solidly in what I call the “casserole zone” which is a zone of contempt; because I have no patience for double cooking (e.g. cooking noodles, mixing and baking) takes hours- ugh.  At the moment I have more time than money so here we go!

Seitan being made at my home.

The Adventure

Ingredients for the vegan seitan steaks were simple and included lentils, vital wheat gluten and some seasonings; including nutritional yeast and smoke flavoring which I had on hand but many people may not.  I was instructed to mix well, which I did in the food processor, knead the dough on the counter, and shape with a rolling pin. So, I forgot the pepper (oops) and swapped ketchup for tomato paste because I was out.  It was very much like making bread.  My steamer is an insert designed to work with a sauce pan and encouraged the steaks to curl but they did puff up like suggested.  I used maple syrup for the marinate and added the pepper forgotten previously. Here are some photos of the steaks before and after being steamed.

The whole process takes quite a while; 15 min. to make the dough, 5 to knead it, 25 to steam them and another 30 to marinate the steaks…where are we? Oh, two hours later you can deliver them grilled to the table.

Grilled Seitan steaks.
Seitan steak sliced with broccoli and egg noodles.

The Results

Overall we were pretty happy with the results.  It was tasty, and had a better basic flavor then the prepared seitan from the store.  I’ve had better results getting a crunchy caramelized finish with frying smaller un-marinated pieces and glazing them with sauce at the end (instead of marinating.)  For example, sauces having a higher sugar content like Soy Veh Marinade & Sauce- Veri Veri Teriyaki or Stubbs BBQ Sauce.  In this instance the sugar in the marinate burned pretty quickly and prevented the seitan from getting crispy around the edges. Many recipes will have you boil the dough for up to an hour in broth; which is an approach I have not tried but I imagine would change the texture and make it softer, less meaty.

As a basic starting point this recipe was very good.  The spice profile of a basic seitan dough could be changed to suit your recipe (Mexican, Italian etc) and it can be frozen for use later; which makes the long prep worthwhile when it means quick prep for less coin on a busy week night.  I will put the leftovers in some burritos with grilled bell peppers and onions.  I think I will defiantly make this again to use in soups and stir fries.  I also like getting the long strips this approach facilitates because the prepared packages often come in irregular shapes.

If you are interested in seeing how seitan is made from basic all purpose flour (instead of packaged vital wheat gluten) I found this video from 2009  It is worth checking out just to read the funny comments- comments earned honestly!  But I doubt I will ever go to the trouble of making seitan from scratch.  If I do, I think I will have to create a “seitan-zone” to use when I refer to something with contempt for being overly complicated and arduous.



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