Seitan O’Greatness

December 31, 2007 at 2:17 pm (C (1 star, edible), My brain, Quick weeknight recipe, Seitan, Website / blog)

I don’t read many food blogs regularly; I’m have more of a search-for-an-ingredient-or-recipe approach to browsing the blogosphere. So I missed the whole Seitan O’Greatness epidemic that apparently raged through the vegan blogging world like influenza through a chicken factory farm. I first heard about it when browsing at Isa Chandra’s blog, and apparently since then the recipe has continued to fell every innocent vegan blogger it touches. What is Seitan O’greatness you’re probably thinking. It’s a seitan made from vital wheat gluten, mixed with lots of spices and other ingredients, rolled into a log shape, and baked in tin foil. What comes out looks an awful lot like salami, at least to someone who never looks at salami without squinting and crossing her eyes (to make it appear blurry and not as distinctly dead-piggish).

I made a version that combines a few different bloggers’ recipes, as well as my own experience with marinades for frozen tofu.

Dry ingredients:

  • 1.5 cups vital wheat gluten
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbs paprika
  • pinch cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • pinch allspice
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp. ground fennel

Wet ingredients

  • 3/4 cups water
  • 4 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 2 Tbs. soy sauce
  • 1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. natural peanut butter
  • 1/2 tsp. agave nectar
  • 1/2 tsp. liquid smoke

Preheat oven to 325°. In a small mixing bowl mix the dry ingredients. Whisk together the liquid ingredients in a large mixing bowl until the peanut butter is completely dissolved. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients. Mix well, then knead for just a minute or two.

Form into a log (6”-8″ long), and wrap tightly in foil, twisting the ends. Bake for 90 minutes. Eat immediately, or unwrap and let it cool, then wrap it in foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate.

My Notes:

Even with just a pinch of cinnamon, when I smelled the dough it smelled strongly of cinnamon, so I was surprised that the cinnamon wasn’t detectable in the final product. I couldn’t taste the peanut butter distinctly either. I was worried that my accidental use of 2 Tbs. paprika rather than 2 tsp. would be problematic, and though the seitan did have a strong smoky taste, it wasn’t overpowering. I might cut it to 4 tsp. next time though.

The texture was unlike any seitan I’ve made before–more breadlike, with a very fine and delicate crumb. The texture and flavor actually reminded me a lot of those fake vegan hot dogs you can buy at the grocery store (perhaps because of the smoke seasoning?). After letting the seitan cool the outside became a bit dry and tough—I liked it better more moist, as it was right when it came out of the oven.

I enjoyed snacking on it, but beware, it’s way more filling than it looks (it’s basically pure protein). I sliced it thinly and put it on a sandwich with avocado and julienned carrots, and it was reasonably tasty but a bit dry.

Derek said the flavor was pleasant, and not bad for a sandwich filling, but that the texture wasn’t quite right–too chewy. It would be better if it were a little tougher, like salami. It should tear. Also, he objected strongly to the name: “It should be called Seitan Salami, after all, it’s not that great.”  He ate the seitan if I served it to him, but he never asked for it.

Other versions online include nutritional yeast, red pepper flakes, mustard seeds, and almond butter. I’m looking forward to playing with the seasonings to optimize the flavor.


Derek: B-
Rose: B-

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Kasha Varnishkes

December 29, 2007 at 11:52 am (B plus (3 stars, like a lot), Grains, Jewish, Mom’s recipes, Other, Quick weeknight recipe) ()

My first memory of this traditional Jewish dish is at Ratner’s Deli in Manhattan. I was maybe 16, and I have no idea why I ordered it. I guess it sounded good?

It didn’t taste good. In fact, it was inedible. Why, oh why, I asked myself, didn’t I order blintzes? After many years, the experience (and awful taste) had time to fade away, and I finally got up the nerve to try making kasha myself. I discovered that kasha is sweet and nutty, but subtle. Nothing like the terrible dish I had at Ratner’s.

Below is my current recipe (as of Jan 2018), based closely on my Mom’s vegan kasha and mushrooms recipe. But my mother only uses 8 ounces mushrooms. I like 1 pound or more, and I prefer to take the mushrooms out while the kasha cooks, so they don’t get too rubbery. This recipe is very quick to make. It will be done by the time the noodles are cooked. Or to make it even faster don’t bother with the noodles. The recipe is very good even without them.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Italian Salsa Verde

December 24, 2007 at 7:26 pm (Cook's Illustrated, Derek's faves, Italian, Quick weeknight recipe, Sauce/dressing, Spring recipes, unrated, Winter recipes)

Salsa Verde is a thick, Italian, pesto-like sauce, but with just a little more boldness due to the slight bitterness of parsley and the brininess of the capers and lemons. It’s delicious on many vegetables and grain dishes, or stirred into a winter soup. I like to use it on anything that needs a little zing. I particularly like it on grain croquettes and lightly steamed green beans. This is a Cook’s Illustrated recipe.

Toast until surface is dry but not browned (about 15 seconds?):

  • 1 large slice white or light wheat bread

Add bread to bowl of food processor with:

  • 1-2 small garlic cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. juice from 1 lemon

Process until smooth, about 10 seconds. Add:

  • 2 cups lightly packed fresh Italian parsley leaves, washed and dried thoroughly (about one large bunch?)
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained

Pulse until mixture is finely chopped, about five 1-second pulses, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula after 3 pulses. If your food processor is small you might need to add the parsley slowly. Transfer mixture to small bowl and serve.

Makes a generous 3/4 cup.

My Notes:

Lemon juice provides a brighter flavor than vinegar. The bread keeps the flavors from getting too harsh and gives the sauce body. The bread is toasted to get rid of execess moisture that could made the sauce gummy. You can use 3 cloves garlic if you don’t mind raging garlic breath. I’ve used only 4.5 Tbs olive oil and it was still good. The food processor helps achieve a uniform texture: if you chop the ingredients by hand it will be less cohesive.

Serve immediately for the best texture and color. Although it will not be as vibrantly green, it will last fine in the fridge in an airtight container for a while (maybe 5-7 days, need to check). If refrigerated, bring back to room temperature and stir to recombine before serving.

Using 1/3 cup olive oil, the nutritional stats are below.  Using the full 1/2 cup of oil would add another 25 calories per Tablespoon.

Update December 20th, 2009:

Derek rates this recipe an A-.  I added it to lightly steamed cauliflower and he rated the combination an A-/B+.  I liked it on the cauliflower, but I think I liked it even better with raw cauliflower, which contributes a great crispness to the dish.  I think raw cauliflower and salsa verde would make a nice appetizer.  I’m not sure how you’d serve it though.  On toothpicks?  Let people dip it themselves?  Cut the florets in half and make little cauliflower sandwiches?  Any ideas?

Serving Size: 1 Tablespoon
Amount Per Serving
Calories 64
Total Fat 6.2g
Saturated Fat 0.8g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 84mg
Carbohydrate 2.1g
Dietary Fiber 0.6g
Sugars 0.3g
Protein 0.7g
Vitamin A 17% Vitamin C 24%
Calcium    2% Iron 4%

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Greek-Style Garlic-Lemon Potatoes

December 24, 2007 at 7:18 pm (A (4 stars, love), Cook's Illustrated, Derek's faves, Root vegetables, Starches)

This is based on a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated. The addition of raw garlic and fresh oregano give these potatoes a full flavor with plenty of bite. This is a great recipe for late winter, when you’re desperate for something fresh tasting, but none of the springtime veggies have arrived yet. Read the rest of this entry »

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Five-Grain Croquettes

December 24, 2007 at 7:09 pm (B plus (3 stars, like a lot), Grains, Peter Berley)

Based on a recipe from Peter Berley’s The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen. These croquettes don’t have any herbs or spices, but they’re not at all bland. The sauteed vegetables remind me a bit of stuffing, but the croquettes have a fresh, simple flavor of their own.

Combine in a 3-quart saucepan over high heat:

  • 1/2 cup white rice (sushi or jasmine or arborio are all fine)
  • 2 Tbs. amaranth
  • 2 Tbs. teff
  • 2 Tbs. quinoa
  • 2 Tbs. millet
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2.5 cups water

Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes, or until all of the water is absorbed. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

While the grains cook, warm in a medium skillet:

  • 2 Tbs olive oil (This amount can be reduced if you want.  You just need enough oil so that the vegetables brown.)

Add and cook on medium-low for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking:

  • 1 cup minced onion
  • 1/2 cup finely diced fresh or dried red bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup finely diced celery
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly milled black pepper
  • 3/4 tsp. salt

Reduce the heat to low, cover, and continue cooking for 10 to 15 minutes, until the vegetables are very tender and slightly caramelized. You may need to add a tablespoon or two of water if they begin to burn. Lightly oil a large baking sheet (or two if you only have small sheets).

When the grains are done, add the vegetables to the grains and mix thoroughly. Set the mixture aside until it is cool enough to handle. If you’re in a hurry move it to a larger bowl or a tray for cooling.

Form the mixture into croquettes the size of golf balls. Place them 1 inch apart on the baking sheet and flatten slightly with the palm of your hand. Bake for 20 minutes.

Should make about 18-24? golf-ball sized croquettes, or if you prefer make 12-16? larger croquettes and fit them all on one tray.

Makes 4 main-dish servings if you have two sides.\

My notes:

If you don’t have amaranth, teff, quinoa, or millet, just substitute a little more of the other grains that you do have. I rarely have teff, so add extra amaranth, because I think it provides an excellent flavor to the croquettes.  Even when I do have all the grains, I sometimes add more amaranth because it’s so tasty.

Berley serves these croquettes with a carrot sauce, but his recipe wasn’t great. I like them by themselves, or with a potent salsa verde.

I’ve made this recipe many time with dehyrdrated red bell peppers from Penzey’s.  I just rehydrate them in some water before adding them in with the other veggies.  I think I might even like the dehydrated peppers more than the fresh ones in this dish.  Since the dried peppers are so tasty, sundried tomatoes might be a nice addition as well.

Every time I make this recipe I love it, but no one else seems very excited about them.  Derek will eat them, but only grudgingly.  My sister Hanaleah didn’t care for them.  I don’t know why I’m such an outlier.  Is it that no one else likes the taste of amaranth?

Rating: B+ (I would actually give this recipe an A- if anyone else actually liked it)

Derek: B-/C

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Broiled Portabella Mushrooms

December 24, 2007 at 7:04 pm (Miso, Moosewood, Quick weeknight recipe, unrated, Vegetable dishes) ()

This recipe is from Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites. I made it many years ago and Derek has never forgotten it.  He occasionally suggests I make it again, and I’m finally getting around to it. Moosewood suggests serving the mushrooms over a bed of wilted spinach or other greens. Read the rest of this entry »

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Spring Rolls

December 24, 2007 at 4:32 pm (B plus (3 stars, like a lot), Cruciferous rich, East and SE Asia, Monthly menu plan, My brain, Quick weeknight recipe, Salads, Spring recipes, Summer recipes, Tofu, Winter recipes) ()

Spring rolls are delicious, healthy, fresh, kid-friendly, and most importantly, a perfect springtime antidote to winter-induced “vegetarian mush syndrome.” It’s amazing how quickly spring rolls can be made. If I restrain myself, and prepare only a few items for fillings, I can have dinner on my plate in under 15 minutes. (Of course, depending on how many fillings you make it could take hours!) Spring rolls are versatile as well. Although they’re typically served as appetizers, I generally use them as a main course. Please don’t restrict yourself to traditional fillings.  The few combinations below stick mostly to an east asian theme, but I imagine Indian, Ethiopian, and even Mexican fillings could be delicious. Think outside the wrapper.

If anyone has any creative filling ideas to share, please post a comment below.

Update Feb 28, 2020

Wow, I can’t believe it’s been 13 years since I’ve updated this post! Our neighbors invited us over for spring rolls a few weeks ago and it was such a nice dinner! I forgot how fun it is to have spring rolls for dinner. They had tofu and shiitake mushrooms and vermicelli rice noodles, but also a number of non-traditional fillings, including a simple salad made from grated celery root and grated apple. It was so refreshing. Hit the spot. I made a peanut sauce (following this Cookie and Kate recipe) I think. Everyone liked it except Alma.

Then tonight I was trying to figure out what to make for dinner, and I had a little tofu to use up, a ton of grated cabbage, and some mint. I thought “Spring Rolls!” I cooked most of the cabbage with a carrot, roughly following this recipe for cabbage with miso. (I didn’t have any scallions though.) I left a little cabbage raw, cut up a red bell pepper, pan-fried the tofu into long strips, got the sprouts out of the fridge, and whipped together a peanut sauce. Alma quite enjoyed the spring rolls. She wouldn’t try the peanut sauce though (despite loving the peanut sauce at an Indonesian restaurant we went to this past week). She finally tried the mint in her last spring roll. Derek said the spring rolls were very tasty. He especially loved the fresh mint and the peanut sauce (which is good because I have a lot of peanut sauce left over.)

Update Dec 24, 2007

I decided to make some vegetable soup for dinner, and started sauteing a leek and 8 ounces of mushrooms in a little olive oil. It looked so good, however, I was hesitant to dilute it by adding more veggies and making soup. So I added a little white wine and some butter, along with salt and pepper (sort of like Kaya’s white wine french style medley. It was delicious, but a little rich and strong tasting to eat by itself. Derek suggested serving it over pasta, but the veggies were done and I didn’t really want to wait 20 minutes for water to heat and pasta to cook. When eyeing the pasta, however, I spied my spring roll wrappers, and the solution was obvious. The leeks and mushrooms made delicious, if somewhat sloppy, spring rolls. The filling was enough for 4 large, quite filling rolls.  Two made a tasty dinner, with a little raw tofu with yeast and soy sauce on the side. I think this combo would also make a nice winter appetizer, perhaps with just a touch of something fresh, maybe scallions. Next time, however, I’d cook the liquid down more so that the spring rolls don’t drip (ooze?) quite so much.

Originally posted May 9, 2006

Today I decided to try an allergy-free spring roll version for dinner. I made four large spring rolls:

  • 1/8 cabbage, shredded, raw
  • 1/8 cabbage, briefly sauteed in veg. broth
  • 3 shiitake mushrooms and 5 crimini mushrooms, sauteed in veg. broth
  • 1 Tbs. toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 scallion
  • 8 sprigs watercress
  • 1 radish, julienned
  • 1/3 avocado

The spring rolls turned out great. They were big and satisfying, with great flavor. I was worried about not having a soy- or peanut-based dipping sauce, but turns out they had enough flavor on their own. The essential ingredients for the flavor were 1) the sesame seeds 2) the shiitake mushrooms 3) the avocado 4) salt. It’s essential to salt the cooked mushrooms and cabbage well if you’re not using a dipping sauce. The other ingredients added crunch but less flavor. The only addition I didn’t like was the watercress, since it’s kind of stringy and is hard to bite through. They might be fine without the stems, and chopped, however.

These rolls are extremely low calorie, if I can believe the stats on the spring roll wrapper package~only 30 calories per wrapper!

A tip for serving: if you’re going to have people roll then own, then give them separate little bowls for any sauces you serve. Otherwise the sauce get’s all over their plate and makes a mess when they try to make their spring rolls.

Note added May 25th: I made spring rolls for Derek and his parents and served it with the carrot ginger dressing, and everyone enjoyed that. When Katrina came over we made a peanut sauce from my co-op days. I thought the peanut sauce was delicious, but that it did overpower the spring rolls a bit. I couldn’t really taste the filling as well. Also, the peanut sauce did not go with avocado I though. Also, this time I couldn’t taste the sesame seeds as well, but this might be because I didn’t toast them enough. They need to really get dark I think.

Rating: B

As written here, this isn’t a very spring-like recipe, but if you use spring carrots, baby green onions, fresh sprouts, spring mushrooms, and delicate spring greens you can make lovely spring rolls, truly deserving of the name. Also, they will be extremely fast to prepare. If you’re serving mostly cold or lighter fillings, then try starting your meal with a bowl of hot soup, like sweet and sour or tom yum or miso.

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Texas Tofu Chili

December 16, 2007 at 12:59 pm (A (4 stars, love), Beans, frozen tofu, Isa C. Moskowitz, Mexican & S. American, Mom’s recipes, Tofu)

Every vegetarian cookbook has a chili recipe. Some are interesting, some are bland, some are just weird. I’ve tried recipes with exotic ingredients like dried peaches, cinnamon, and peanuts. This recipe, however, makes a very traditional chili (ignoring the fact that it has tofu instead of meat). Maybe I’m biased because this is based on my mom’s recipe, but I like it better than any of the other chili recipes I’ve tried, including various recipes claiming to be the “best ever vegetarian chili.” Read the rest of this entry »

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