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Monday, May 6, 2013

Pepperoni-spiced seitan & veg packets

This is one post that can be read for 2 distinct recipes...the first is a dinner-in-a-packet recipe that works for both vegetarian and carnivorous proteins, and the second is for a pretty darn tasty (and new to us) vegetarian protein called seitan.

Say what??  Seitan (it's pronounced say-tahn).  It's made from wheat gluten (which is wheat flour with most of the starch removed...I don't know how they do this, but you buy it in "specialty flours" part of your baking aisle) which is the proteiny part of the grain.  You combine it with some flavoring ingredients and liquid, then shape it and simmer it in broth or bake it to make a product that can be used as a vegetarian protein substitute in any number of ways.

I really like it for two reasons...1) the wheat gluten is a little pricey (about $7/lb.) but one bag makes several batches and it winds up being a very inexpensive vegetarian protein (only beans are cheaper), and 2) you can throw it together out of pantry and refrigerator staples (beans are also a good pantry staple, but I know a lot of folks don't care for beans...seitan is a toothy vegetarian protein in the vein of frozen tofu or tempeh).  It is also a soy-free vegetarian protein, if one wants to avoid soy.

Seitan takes some time to make in the first place...you either have to simmer it for an hour or so or bake it (my preferred method) for 60-90 minutes, depending on the exact recipe.  But you can make several batches at once and freeze them for future use.  A good basic (i.e. seitan with a pretty plain, versatile flavor profile) recipe can be found here (there's also a recipe for using vital wheat gluten as an egg-replacement binder in bean burgers on this site...that recipe is good too!)

I've used seitan in stirfries, either just plain cut-up or "velveted".  I've grilled slices of it after basting with barbecue sauce.  And I've made these packets with it.  I've also made the packets with actual sausage and they're good both ways. For the purposes of these packets, I like the following seitan recipe which mashes up this seitan recipe with the seasonings called for in the pepperoni recipe in Michael Ruhlman's Charcuterie.

Something that is obvious in hindsight is that wheat gluten is what gives bread its structure as it rises.  I prefer baking seitan to simmering it and you need to make sure to keep the seitan dough compressed by wrapping it very well in foil to keep it dense and chewy.  At least two full wraps around with the ends twisted or folded off.  If you wrap it so the ends of the foil overlap by just a little bit, the seitan will rise (like bread), bust out of the foil, make a mess and lose the dense, toothy texture you're after.  I screw up so you don't have to.

Last note...seitan is often a vegan recipe.  The recipes above call for something called nutritional yeast to provide a salty umami depth of flavor and a hit of vitamin B12 in the absence of all animal-derived products.  I'm not particularly invested in keeping my seitan 100% vegan, so I use parmesan cheese (the kind out of a can) instead of nutritional yeast.  It's been working for me.  Also note, if you are cooking for a vegan, the velveting process uses egg whites and will be not be suitable.

Pepperoni-spiced Seitan
Makes 4-6 servings

1 1/2 cups vital wheat gluten
1/4 cup nutritional yeast or parmesan cheese
1 tsp salt
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp ground fennel
1/8 tsp allspice
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp water
2 tbsp red wine
4 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp worcestershire sauce (vegan, if that's your thing)

Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl.  Dissolve tomato paste in the water and wine.  Mix all liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients.  Combine thoroughly.  Knead several times.

Roll into a log shape about 2 inches in diameter.  Lightly spray a piece of foil with cooking spray.  Wrap the seitan dough in the foil, making sure to wrap the foil around in the log completely at least twice (I screw up so you don't have to) to keep it under wraps while it bakes.

Put on a baking sheet and bake at 325F for 90 minutes, rolling the log once during baking so the top and the bottom both get time on the baking sheet.  Cool completely in the foil, then freeze or fridge as desired.

Roasted Vegetable Packets
Makes 6 servings

1 recipe pepperoni-spiced seitan or 1 lb. kielbasa, cut into 1/2" slices or chunks
1 eggplant or 2 medium zucchini, cut into 1" cubes
2 bell peppers, cut into 1" pieces
1 lb. small potatoes, halved
olive oil

Place potatoes in a microwave-safe bowl and nuke 3-4 minutes to parcook.

Evenly divide all ingredients among 6 large foil squares.  Drizzle with olive oil and fold up tightly to seal.  Fridge now if desired for same-day or next-day cooking.

Bake packets 30 minutes at 400F or grill them about 30 minutes.

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