Seitan. If you don’t know what it is, the word might conjure up images of Beelzebub, The Father of Lies, etc. If you do know what it means, there’s a good chance it will give you visions of, well… hippies. I bought a jar of the stuff at the local health shop when I had just ditched meat and threw it out two years later because it scared me too much. Shop-bought seitan looks like something that should be floating in formaldehyde. I’m not particularly wimpy when it comes to strange-looking foods but this was one bridge too far even for me.
One of the reasons why it repulsed me (aside from its appearance) was that I didn’t really know what it was or how it was made. The only solution? To cook it myself
So, what is seitan and how do you make it? Well, essentially it is nothing more than a dough made with water and wheat gluten/gluten flour, which is boiled in water or a broth and then left to cool. Once cooled, you can dice it and use it in stir-fries, salads, basically in everything where you would otherwise use tofu, tempeh (or other sources of protein). I don’t know about you, but that took the scary out of seitan for me.
The reason why I wanted to know more about seitan is because I discovered a wonderful Dutch cookbook called ‘Oosters vegetarisch’ by Jolande Burg and Erik Spaans. It’s full of gorgeous Asian, vegetarian recipes, including a brilliant Thai nasi with seitan (nasi literally translates as ‘fried rice’ but it can be so much more than that).
So, knowing what seitan was, and because I really wanted to make that nasi, I went ahead and made my own. And, as you’ve probably gathered from the title of this post, I’m a convert. Okay, seitan doesn’t look all that pretty as it cooks (think Roswell incident), but keep an open mind, because it has a brilliant meaty texture and absorbs flavour very well, both good things in my book. Now that I’ve tried it, I won’t look back. Satan, sorry, seitan will loom large in my kitchen from now on.
And the great news is, I can share the recipe for the seitan and the nasi with you, because Erik and Jolande have very generously given me permission to blog about both!
Now, I’ve adapted the recipe a bit to serve two (with leftovers) and the amount of rice I usually boil to fridge or freeze and fry later. The seitan makes a double portion, so you could make this nasi with it and freeze the other half. It will be like having money in the bank, trust me.
A note on fried rice. You need boiled and chilled rice here, or you’ll end up with mush and a wok that needs a long soak and a lot of scrubbing.
In order to prevent nasty bacteria developing, it’s important to cool your rice asap and sling it in your fridge as soon as it has. In winter, I put my cooked rice on the balcony to cool as soon as it’s boiled, in summer I spread out the boiled grains on a lined baking tray. When it has cooled enough, which for me is when there’s no more steam coming off it, I put it in the fridge and chill until stone cold. I tend to cook three portions (3 x 150 g of raw rice ) to divide up and freeze, so I can turn any leftover vegetable, tofu, tempeh, etc, into a delicious meal at the drop of a hat.
Enough chat, let’s get cooking!
For the seitan
140 g vital wheat gluten/gluten flour
200 ml water
For the broth
1 1/2 l water
2 shallots, peeled and halved
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and slightly flattened
piece of ginger, sliced in about 4 thickish slices
1 tsp ground white pepper
5 tbsp/75 ml light soy sauce
2 star anise
– Mix gluten flour and water in a food processor for about two minutes. A warning: I used my Magimix, which is pretty powerful (I’ve driven cars with less horse power) and it almost jumped off the work top. Hold on to it as it mixes the dough, 1 1/2 minutes would also have done the job, I think.
– Rest the very elastic dough for 20 minutes. No need to oil the bowl but I did cover with cling film.
– Meanwhile, put all the ingredients for the broth in a pan and bring to the boil.
– Divide the dough into two balls, stretch out one of the balls, twisting it as you do so, fold back on itself, repeat this five times. Do the same with the other ball of dough.
– Put both pieces of seitan in the boiling stock and let simmer for an hour, lid slightly askew. I left the lid on initially, causing the seitan to swell up and try to escape from the pan, which was a bit unnerving, given its alien appearance.
– Turn halfway through (see, this side looks prettier. Well, slightly.)
– Let cool in the broth, then use straight away or freeze.
Thai Nasi with Seitan
– vegetable oil (anything except olive oil, really)
– 2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
– 2 tbsp fresh ginger, chopped finely
– 300 g (1 home-made piece) seitan.
– 200 g French beans/string beans, sliced finely, sideways. (I buy this ready-chopped.)
– 2 tbsp light soy sauce (I use a bit less than the original recipe says, because the seitan is already flavoured)
– 2 tbsp tomato ketchup
– 1 chilli of your choice (I used a bird’s eye chilli, seeds in), finely chopped
– 300 g cooked, cold rice (150 g when raw)
– lime juice, to taste
– 3 tomatoes, seeds removed, diced finely
– 4 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
– 6 tbsp coconut flour, lightly toasted. (I forgot to add this, but I think it would be very nice in it. Shop-bought fried onions would work well here, too.)
2 fried eggs, fried in oil, to serve on top of each portion.
– Heat the oil in a wok and fry garlic, ginger, and seitan.
– Then add the green beans, soy sauce, ketchup and chilli. Let this boil down and thicken slightly.
– Add the rice and stir-fry on a high heat.
– At the last minute, add lime juice to taste and stir in half of the tomato cubes.
– Warm through and serve topped with the coriander, the rest of the tomato cubes, the coconut flour and the eggs, if using.