So I’ve been experimenting with making my own seitan, not from vital wheat gluten as one might purchase from Bob’s Red Mill for a goshdarn mint, but from whole wheat flour. Boy howdy has this been an adventure! This week, I soaked a bunch of flour, which went great except that I hadn’t made it into dough first.
In the hours of sieving and rinsing that followed, it became abundantly clear to me that one must first make the flour into a dough, then rinse and knead such that the carbs on the outermost layers consistently wash away, leaving you with a ball that gently shrinks into gluteny goodness instead of a whitish soup that you then have to pass through a strainer and mush with your fingers.
Anyway, I did get seitan out of this, but it was grainy (bran!) and needed to be cooked. Brilliantly, I thought I’d stir-fry it. Halfway through this process it became clear that the seitan either wasn’t rinsed as thoroughly as I’d thought or it needed to be boiled first, because it was falling the heck apart. So I decided to boil it in situ – did I mention I’d marinated it for a while before all this went down? Well I did – and dumped a bunch of water on it. Then I went back to work, because most of this was happening on my lunch break, and essentially forgot about it.
I came back and the water had all boiled away. I had on my hands a massively unappealing mound of brown goo, not quite solid and not quite sauce. It tasted like smoked steak, except to such an extent that it hurts your mouth, and looked exactly like shit.
Luckily, I have a backup plan. You see, this, my friends, is Friday. That means that I am prepared with that most beautiful of culinary treats: a 1-lb packet of Beyond Beef. I’m also possessed of bread, which I threw together this morning on the off chance that seitan stir-fry would somehow, in a twist of fate nigh inconceivable to my mortal mind, not happen.
So I’m going to fry up a few burgers and use my overmarinated brown goo seitan squelch as a condiment. I bet it’ll be awesome. If it’s not, we’re going to eat it anyway because it’s still nutrition gosh darn it and for this seitan I spent an hour of my precious, finite life with a sieve. (I’ll mix it with rice. It’ll be fine.)
But there is time before I must hie unto my hot stove, friends. My wife works until well after 7 and I have had such a day that I have not really run through my coding exercises yet. Obviously I had to run and breathlessly report my seitan adventures because IT’S SEITAN, but now I will return to my regularly coded practice.
I’ll leave you with this: yesterday was a good day because I learned that, in Python, you don’t necessarily have to make a whole if statement if you want to return a True or False. You can just stuff your parameters into a return. Behold in awe as this clugey nonsense, which used to be my mode:
…becomes this sleek, gorgeous nonsense, which is my mode au courant!
Maybe not a killer app, but I was pleased.
You might be aware that I like to cook. You might also be aware that I’m a bit of a techie and in school for all the things techie-nological. Knowing this, you might well think that I prefer online recipes.
Well, not entirely wrong. I’ll often trawl vegan cooking blogs for seitan recipes. (Hail seitan!) But there are a few things that make paper cookbooks better in my humble techie opinion. Allow me to share these with you.
Any cookbook I own rapidly acquires its own unique set of stains. Most of these come from sloshings with liquid, an experience that sends my computer into an instant whirling dysphoria. My iPhone fares little better around water.
The fact that I can slosh a bunch of ranch dressing onto a book without having to worry about killing it is a relief and a pleasure. If necessary, I can also tear out pages and re-set them in a form more to my liking, for example, in a scrapbook of personal favorite recipes. They stand up on their own, too, and never fade to black at just the wrong time.
Nobody will ever take down the recipes from The Oh She Glows Cookbook. Even if those recipes prove questionable (and the tempeh recipe in that book is Very Freaking Questionable) they will never disappear or change. This is magical, especially since the vast majority of the recipes in there are amazing, particularly the saucey dressing recipes that know what to do with nutritional yeast. They should never be changed.
Recipes that work for food scientists don’t always work for me. For one thing, I do not mill my own carob. (Press? Harvest? However people make carob, I don’t do it.) So I often find that I need to get creative. This can be a matter of taste, too. I love This Can’t Be Tofu because hello, it’s a cookbook full of everything you can do with tofu, but there’s ooonnnneeee recipe where I sub in cumin and cayenne for curry powder. Guess where the note for that is.
There’s probably an app out there where I can index my notes and search them and stuff like that, but that removes a lot of the extemporaneous fun from the cooking adventure. What’s life without a few surprises from your past self?
Long Stories = Easy Skips
Every dish does have a story. That does not at all mean that I’m interested.
I like that cookbooks have talky sections. In many cases, I will read them for fun. However, I also like that they’re not gatekeepers of a recipe that should require maybe fifteen or twenty lines. I get why bloggers do this. Total respect. Seriously. But when I’ve got six hours to make 100 sugar cookies with my one bitty little pan, I can’t waste time scrolling frantically through your life story in search of the part where you talk about lemons vs. lemon extract.
Cookbooks get right to the point. I might read the author’s thoughtful words of wisdom when I don’t need to crank out cookies like my life depends upon it, but in the moment, brevity.
Similar Recipe Discovery
I like to eat some odd foods. Bugs, for example. Wheat gluten products. things made from pea protein. I will pizza just about anything. When I find a cookbook that caters to my unusual tastes, I snag it just because it’ll expand my horizons. Consider The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook. When I first got ground grasshoppers from my amazing grasshopper supplier, Bug Bit Farms, my only idea was to mix them into brownies. David Gordon gave me all kinds of new ideas, even though I don’t think he directly deals with ground crickets as an ingredient. I now try them in some soups, cautiously.
Regional and Temporal Authenticity
In my travels, I’ve found that the best recipes are often self-published by roadside diners and super-local places that won’t bother to market outside of their area. Bloggers will replicate the recipes after tasting them, but the real deal is to be found in books like Fisherman’s Wharf Cookbook. Incidentally, that’s a classic. You won’t find it in a library because it’s too old. (I wouldn’t find it in a library anyway because I mess up every cookbook I touch. I’m careful about this one, though.)
I got that book in a used bookstore in San Francisco itself, and the recipes are both simple and delicious. If you want’ genuine, get a cookbook from the area you want to cook about. Bonus: awesome memories every time you cook!
So you can pry my cookbook collection away from me when I finally eat myself to death. Until then, I’m going to keep building, raiding used bookstores and hoarding every good cookbook I find.
If you’ve ever worked at a library service desk, then you absolutely know that patrons can be surly, rambunctious, problematic, inappropriate, and rude. Any patron can become an issue – I’ve personally had the most trouble with older, wealthier people – but in some cases, the issue is obvious: hanger.
Hanger is the pernicious emotional combination of hunger and anger that manifests when your blood sugar level falls at the same time as your email fails to load. When I see it in the library, it’s usually in kids and homeless people. There aren’t any eateries nearby and the city itself doesn’t support any shelters that I know of, so it stands to reason that these populations would be the hangry ones.
However, the weeks surrounding Halloween have been blessedly free of hanger-related orneriness. Why? Because we put out a festive seasonal candy dish.
The candies weren’t what you’d call choice. Most were the small suckers the kids back home used to call dum-dums [edit: this is, incredibly, what they’re actually called] and hard candy a la Werthers. My awesome coworker, who is nice to the point that I want her to give a librarian master class, added a bunch of leftover fun-sized chocolate bars today. However, even hard candy disappeared at a steady rate. Who took it? Our homeless patrons, that’s who! Teens and kids as well. Once dined, their dispositions and our patron interactions noticeably improved.
So here’s my proposal: let’s keep the spirit of Halloween alive all year long. Nobody’s going to clean us out of dum-dums. They’re sucky candy in multiple senses. Let’s stock them at the reference desk 365 days of the year! People could take as many as they’d like from a freely available bowl, although I suspect they’d only take two or three at the most. Nobody’s going to try to survive on dum-dums, and it takes a while to eat one. That’s ten-ish minutes when the patron is not immediately in want of food and therefore irritable.
Honestly, I might buy them in bulk with my own personal money. It’s not like this is caviar. We’re re-opening the reference floor soon and we’ll definitely see our foot traffic increase again. I’d like to see our patron interactions remain as positive as they have been with our regulars these past few months.
I’ve never worked in a library where food was not readily available. Cookies, cake for someone’s birthday, fruit, leftover breakfast stuff from a program. At Nevins, we have a fruit share, a candy basket, a snacks counter, and a fridge that is usually full of leftovers.
Forgetting your lunch is not a huge catastrophe here.
Today I dined upon mustard broccoli with raisins and garbanzo beans. In fact, I took two helpings. I think they were left by a program presenter, to whom I tip my hat. Man oh man, did I eat a lot of broccoli. I don’t know who made two giant vats of this stuff, but they did an amazing job. I’ve been eating too much over the past couple days in an attempt to manifest pregnancy. If I’m successful, I’ll write a book. Meanwhile, please pass more of that broccoli. I might be the only person eating it.
I’m turning into a part-time cooking blog here. Oh well. In addition to crochet and punk rock, cooking is a critical part of my domestic goddess trifecta. I cook a lot and I have opinions aplenty about food. Today you get to hear about why I love seitan.
This delicious and versatile meat substitute is nowhere near as popular as it ought to be. I blame the recent gluten scare. Seitan is pure gluten, nothing but. Point of interest: gluten is the protein part of wheat. People with Celiac Disease can’t eat gluten, but most other people should be fine with it. About 1 out of 100 people have Celiac, only .4% have a wheat allergy, and a somewhat larger group (but still small – maybe 6% of the American population) is gluten-sensitive. So about 8% of the public shouldn’t eat wheat and wheat by-products.
Yet in 2013, 30% of surveyed adults reported interest in a gluten-free diet. Personal experience and this celiac expert suggest that people are self-diagnosing gluten intolerance inaccurately. This is sad! It means that people are unnecessarily opting out of seitan!
Screw bread. Bread can go to hell. You want on the seitan train, baby.
it’s no secret that I love Beyond Meat. But it’s also a treat: expensive, greasy comfort food to the max. You do need to eat leaner plant protein, and seitan fits that bill. It’s also much cheaper – you can buy a 22-oz bag of powdered gluten for six bucks or make it yourself from whole wheat flour. The yield from two cups of powdered gluten is staggering. I just made a batch that’s enough for about four days of lunches and dinners for two people – and one of those is my wife, who always takes a second piece. In the age of the BK Impossible Whopper, it astounds me that seitan isn’t emerging as a meat alternative.
Seitan rivals chicken for protein content. This is why it was invented. Buddhist monks were the first to develop the technique of soaking and washing wheat flour until the gluey remains could be cooked in broth. (Remember, most of wheat is starch, AKA sugar. It dissolves!)
Bob’s Red Mill makes bags of gluten these days, which is convenient for adding spices. With the proper seasoning, you can make seitan taste like almost anything. The broth you boil it in matters too. As with most other things, you can go minimal and just boil it with soy sauce and molasses and it’ll be perfectly edible. But why not go overboard?
Personally, I like to make seitan nuggets for my buddies. My technique is a little loosely-goosey but I’ve never had a complaint.
I mix about two cups of gluten with some garlic powder, some onion powder, salt, pepper, and sometimes paprika. I find that paprika can give seitan a hammy taste. In a separate bowl, I mix water, soy or Worcester sauce, and just a tiny bit of liquid smoke. I add this mix to the seitan until it’s a gluey ball that won’t absorb any more. Then, I fill a pot with the remains of the liquid, more water (or stock, that’s even better,) sauce, and molasses.
Then I pull the gluteny ball into five or six pieces and boil them in the pot for about an hour. They’ll blow up, so make sure you have room for them to grow if you try this! When they’re done, I drain (maybe keeping the remaining broth for the next batch) and cut the seitan up into nugget-sized pieces. Then I dredge them in cayenne mayo, give them a dunk in a bowl of bread crumbs that I’ve fixed with nutritional yeast, and fry them in oil. If you have an air fryer, consider using it in this case. Recently I’ve been experimenting with baking them instead because I always seem to set off the smoke alarm and/or burn myself when I work with oil.
There you go: the ultimate party food.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t leave you with some other seitan recipes. I don’t usually try to recreate meat when I cook from scratch, but I do respect the versatility of bacon and the universality of chicken, even when they’re both made from wheat, so these are all direct subs for various animal products.
So go make some wheat meat, my dudes. Hail seitan!
I’m an avid environmentalist. As such, I believe that the most meaningful action against climate change must come from large-scale governmental and corporate action with buy-in from a majority of the population. That’s why I’m so psyched about the appearance of good-tasting beef substitutes – that, and I frickin’ love burgers. I don’t eat beef at all because of its environmental impact, and I miss it, so obviously I’m a big Beyond and Impossible fan.
Since I am also Italian, the existence of a ground beef substitute begs one question: does this mean I can make meatballs again? The answer, my friends, is a resounding YES. It’s worthwhile to mention that Subway has already figured this out, but I didn’t know that when I awoke in the dead of the night with this brilliant idea. Beyond Burger also has its own recipe. Mine is based on the one that multiple generations of my family have made with dead cows. It’s also worth noting that part of my fancy schmancy DIY jerry-rigged Mad MAX librarian IRA includes something like four shares of Beyond Burger. Pretty sure I’m eating all the profits, but if that matters to you, there you go.
1.5 lbs Beyond Meat. I had to get three packs of burger patties, which was a pain, but hopefully Market Basket will start selling by the pound sometime soon.
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup bread crumbs
3 Tbs dried parsley
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1. Defrost the Beyond Meat patties. (Or, if you’re a lucky tomato, your packet of ground Beyond Beef.) You will need the beefy stuff to be squishy. You can accomplish this with the microwave or by leaving them overnight in the fridge.
2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
3. Mix the eggs and the water.
4. Mix the crumbs and the spices.
5. Mix the dry ingredients into the eggy water.
6. Using your hands, combine the defrosted Beyond Meat and the crumby eggy mix.
7. Shape the resulting wet doughy stuff into balls about 1.5 inches in diameter and arrange them on a cookie sheet.
8. Bake for 40 minutes.
Eat your heart out, recipe blogs!
In all seriousness, I’m pleased as punch about the success of this little innovation. I don’t have a picture because I’m in a cafe right now and the Beyond Meatballs are not with me. Anyway, I’m a crap photographer and have no designs upon the foodie blogosphere. I’m just smug. Try it and you’ll see why.
There are a lot of other recipes out there that use this stuff. Maybe I’ll try them. It’s Sunday, so I’m a cook today, not a librarian.