I asked Derek to choose something to make for dinner, and he picked this menu out of the winter section of Peter Berley’s Fresh Food Fast. It was a big undertaking! The menus in this book usually take under an hour, but I had to first make my own seitan. Even after the seitan was made, this menu took longer than an hour, mostly because peeling the shallots took forever. Luckily Derek liked the dish a lot, and I enjoyed it as well, so all that effort wasn’t wasted.
This is the first menu I’ve made from the winter section of Fresh Food Fast. It’s odd–I’ve made about 3/4 of the spring menus, half of the summer menus, a quarter of the fall menus, and (until now) none of the winter recipes. I’m definitely seeing a pattern here, but I have no idea why.
My homemade seitan came out better than normal. I boiled it, but the texture was less soggy/spongey and less über-chewy than other attempts. Unfortunately, I didn’t write down what I did!
The recipe calls for cipollini onions, but I’ve never seen them in Saarbruecken. The head notes say that shallots can be substituted, so I used shallots instead. The onions/shallots are blanched and then peeled, making sure to leave the root ends on so that they don’t fall apart. Peeling the shallots was a PAIN in the tuchus. It took forever and was really boring. Larger shallots would have taken less time, but also would have been less attractive in the final dish.
The final step is to layer the onions in the bottom of an ovenproof pan (I used my 3-quart casserole pan) and then cover them with the seitan and some sprigs of fresh rosemary. Then you pour over a sauce made from red wine, balsamic vinegar, water, olive oil, soy sauce, and a bit of honey. I cut the soy sauce in half but otherwise followed the recipe exactly. The whole mixture is brought to a boil and then the dish is roasted in the oven at a very high temperature. The liquid didn’t cover all my onions/seitan, and the uncovered parts started to burn, so I had to turn the temperature down towards the end of the cooking time.
The mashed veggies are pretty simple. Berley says to peel the parsnips (but not the potatoes), cut into chunks, and boil them with salt and a whole head of garlic (cloves peeled but not cut). Then the veggies are drained and mashed with butter or olive oil, and seasoned with salt and pepper. The mashed potatoes and parsnips were fine–not as rich as I expected, but they had a nice texture. They worked really well under the soupy balsamic seitan “juices”. I was expecting the veggies to be really garlicky, but the whole head of (whole) garlic cloves didn’t actually add that strong of a garlic flavor.
Derek really loved this dish. He said it’s “what German food is supposed to be”. He said it reminded him of a very savory, hearty, meaty stew. The sauce was perhaps just a tad sweet for me, but the seitan itself was very good. Plus the potatoes/parsnips helped tone down the sweetness. This recipe is similar in a certain way to the seitan stroganoff in Vegan with a Vengeance. Both sauces call for red wine and shallots. But this sauce is more bright, sweet ,and sour, whereas that sauce is more umami, creamy, and savory. Clearly though, wine sauces go well with seitan.
The recipe says it serves four, and I think that sounds about right for the seitan, but the mashed potatoes and parsnips made quite a bit more than four servings I would say.
This menu also includes a recipe for a simple cabbage salad. The regular green cabbage in the store didn’t look so fresh, so I bought savoy cabbage instead. Maybe that was a mistake. The savoy cabbage wasn’t crisp enough, but neither did it soften up after sitting (dressed) in the fridge for 30 minutes. I cut the salt in half, but still I thought the salad was way too salty. It kind of grossed me out. In addition to a vinegary, salty dressing, the salad calls for parsley and walnuts. Neither seemed to add much flavor. I like the idea of serving the seitan with a cabbage salad, but this recipe didn’t work for me. I might try it again with regular green cabbage and 1/4 or 1/8 the salt, but I’m not holding high hopes for it.
Derek: A (Dec 2011, A- originally)
Update December 2011:
We made both the stew and the mashed veggies again. We followed the stew recipe closely except we cut the soy sauce in half. (We used all the olive oil this time, and homemade seitan chunks.) This time we only made 2/3 of the potato/parsnip recipe, and it seemed the perfect amount for the amount of stew. We used butter in the mashed veggies, but cut the amount down a bit. I added a tad too much of the cooking water to the potatoes/parsnips, and they ended up a little too wet. Since you top the mashed veggies with the pan juices from the seitan , if anything the mash should be on the dry side. Derek really loved this dish, and he upped his rating to an A. My original rating of B+ stands. I still find it just a tad sweet and oily.
Update November 2012:
I served the stew and the mashed veggies last night for dinner with the celery root and apple salad as a starter. I made the stew slightly larger, adding 1 1/4 pounds of (homemade, boiled) seitan instead of the 1 pound the recipe calls for. I also added 1 carrot (100g). I liked the carrots in this dish a lot. I think next time I’ll add more. They added a nice color and textural contrast. As usual, I halved the soy sauce (using only 2 Tbs not 4). Other than that I followed the recipe (3-quart casserole pan, 1.5 pounds small onion/shallots, 2 very large sprigs rosemary, 1 cup dry red wine, 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 Tbs. honey, and 1 Tbs. chopped parsley for garnish.) Instead of 1/3 cup of water I used 2/3 cup, but I think the sauce tasted a little watered down. Next time I’d keep it only 1/3 cup. I cooked the stew at a slightly lower temperature (215 C instead of 245), but even with the lower temperature the seitan that was sticking up above the sauce ended up a bit blackened in places. I think I should probably stir the dish halfway through the baking time (as the recipe says, but I always forget).
For the mashed veggies I made the full amount this time (1.5 pounds potatoes and 1 pound parsnips). Since I made slightly more seitan this time, the ratio was pretty good. I only ended up with a bit of extra mashed veggies in the end. I forgot to peel the parsnips, but didn’t notice the peels in the final dish. I added less salt to the cooking water, and the mash ended up a bit undersalted. I started with 2 Tbs. of butter but it the mash tasted a bit bland, and so I added a third tablespoon. Even though I added a whole head of garlic (cloves smashed) I couldn’t taste much garlic in the final mash. I ended up adding only about 1/3 cup of the cooking liquid. Overall I found the mash a bit gluey this time, not sure why. I used “vorwiegend festkochend” potatoes.