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All about seitan

Seitan is a natural food of cereal origin, largely used in vegetarian cooking as an alternative to meat to prepare tasty and healthy vegetarian dishes, providing an important supply of protein. A most versatile cooking ingredient highly proteic and fit for all diets, 100% fat and cholesterol free, made from processing wheat flour with water.
Often we hear about Seitan and gluten, and may be worth spending a few words about it. Like most cereal flours, wheat flour also has two main component parts, starch and gluten. Gluten being the proteic part of wheat, about 15% of the total amount. A simple process enables the separation of gluten and starch, first making a dough mixing the flour with water, then washing several times the dough in fresh running water, thus extracting the gluten from the flour. The result is a yellowish and rubbery stuff, inedible at this stage. After boiling the gluten in water, together with soy sauce (tamari or shoyu), sea salt, sea weed, and aromatic herbs or spices to taste, we finally get the real Seitan, ready to be cut, seasoned, prepared and cooked in many different ways.

Meat? no, thanks!

After the shocking “mad cow effect”, and the oncoming world nightmare of “chicken flu”, the vegetarian choice has become more topical and needed than ever, and people are more concerned and aware of their food, considering the consequences of what they eat. Many people nowadays decide to become vegetarians, and the vegetarian world population is increasing very fast, that’s why the use of Seitan is spreading very quickly. And we can also presume that more people will eat it in the future, being a good source of proteins 100% vegetarian, allowing us to eat tasty nutritious food without killing animals.
Just like meat, Seitan absorbs well all the tastes and flavours of the ingredients that is cooked with, and due to its peculiar look, texture and taste, it’s easily used in the preparation of dishes usually made with meat.
With seitan however we don’t want to introduce a bogus meat in the kitchen, but a new proteic ingredient whose cooking versatility we fully need to understand and realize .

Kofu and Seitan

Kofu, wheat gluten”. This is what Seitan was called in the ancient Japanese culinary tradition, introduced into the country from China by some buddhist monks and become very popular in zen temples, later on largely used all over the world in vegetarian and macrobiotic cooking. In her book “The art of just cooking”, Lima Ohsawa says “Kofu is a valuable source of protein that may be eaten during any season. It has always been popular among vegetarian people throughout the world……It is delicious in soups and stews, and mixed with sautéed vegetables. Kofu cutlets look, feel and taste just like meat.”
Seitan, wheat gluten, kofu, many different names for the same food, well known in the past and nowadays appreciated by many. A valuable source of vegetable protein used as a base in the preparation of many dishes, and a real masterpiece of vegetarian cooking, enabling to change our daily menus and realize a variety of excellent recipes.

Homemade seitan

Seitan is easily found readymade in supermarkets and health food stores, but it can also be made at home by a simple process using wheat flour. This process is quite long, but gives full self-made satisfaction while saving money. The preparation is simple and consists in 3 different phases, you only need some patience and time: first make the dough, then wash it in water, and finally boil the dough for quite long time together with the other ingredients.
This the homemade Seitan basic recipe. Fill a big pot up to 3/4 full of water, add aromatic herbs or spices to taste (celery, carrot, parsley, basil, little tomatoes…), 2 tablespoons sea salt, 10 tablespoons tamari or shoyu (soy sauce), and 3 or 4 big pieces of kombu seaweed. Then bring the water to the boil. To make the dough mix 1 kg wheat flour (better organic) with a pinch of salt, slowly add some water while mixing, knead well, like making a bread dough without yeast. Let the dough set in a bowl for a while covering it with a cloth. Then put the dough in a thin strainer and wash it in running water, keeping the strainer in a bigger bowl to collect the flaking pieces.
Washing the dough separates the gluten from starch, making the water whitish, and when the water is transparent the gluten will automatically stick together and be ready. A yellowish and rubbery tuff, that you will put in the pot to boil with the other ingredients. Let it boil for 30/40 minutes or 1 hour on high heat stirring frequently, so it does not stick to the bottom of the pot. After this Seitan will be ready, a spongy loaf irregularly shaped, ready to be cut, sliced, minced, cubed, seasoned, etc., to prepare many tasty dishes.

The long dough-washing process can be avoided using gluten flour to make the dough, mixed with ¼ white wheat flour and water. Or using Seitan-mix, a readymade mixture of gluten flour and white wheat flour, shortening the long Seitan preparation. Using gluten flour or Seitan-mix we can also make Seitan more tasty, adding aromatic herbs or spices to the dough, or other ingredients like minced capers, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, etc., preparing different appetizing Seitan loafs.

Nutritional values

Seitan and other proteic food chemical composition and nutritional values (in 100 g of edible part).
Fresh Seitan
g 100
Dried beans
g 100
Beef meat
g 100
Parmesan cheese
g 100

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 Seitan gourmet – 300 vegetarian recipes