Throughout the years since then the level of our vegetarianism has varied, but in recent years we have begun to avoid meat pretty much all the time, mostly for health and budget reasons, but also to lessen our impact on the planet. (It takes much more land to feed an animal to then feed a person than it does to feed a person directly.)
But we both like meat. In the past I have used soy tempeh as a meat substitute in some meals, but it costs much more than I typically pay for a pound of meat, so that kind of defeats the purpose of saving money.
I’ve known about seitan, the so-called “wheat meat”, which is made from wheat gluten, for a while, but only recently decided to explore it a little more closely.
However, when I checked it out at the store, it was even more expensive than the tempeh. That was disappointing, but I didn’t give up and proceeded to do a little research into making my own. I figured that since it’s essentially made with a component of flour, it couldn’t be harder to make than bread.
And I was absolutely right about how simple it is to make. In fact, it really could not be easier to make your own seitan - even easier than bread, actually.
All it takes is about 10 minutes of prep time, an additional 45 minutes of cook time, and voila, you have about 2 pounds of seitan to work with. It has a nice chewy consistency that to my mind is a darned close facsimile of what you get with meat. It’s good.
Although it's less expensive than some kinds and cuts of meat, it’s probably not something you’d want to make or use all the time if you’re on a tight budget. But it’s a nice addition to the cooking repertoire for special occasions, or if your budget allows it and you are committed to full vegetarianism, even veganism.
The recipe here is for a generic style seitan that can be sliced, diced, or chopped for just about any recipe that calls for meat. It would be a good option to add to stir fry, or as a substitute for cut up chicken.
But you can also prepare seitan with added flavorings in keeping with whatever recipe you want to use it in. For example, this past week, I made a vegetarian Corned Beef and Cabbage, using the usual spices called for in that meal. And it was delicious.
And since it doesn't contain nitrates and saturated fats, it's much healthier and cheaper, too, than a beef brisket or ready-made corned beef you find at the grocery store.
Normally I avoid Whole Foods like the plague, since I do believe it very much is “Whole Foods, whole paycheck” with their sky high prices, but I had little choice in this case.
However, as is my custom, I buzzed into the store, headed straight for the bulk food aisle, picked up a jar of the nutritional yeast flavoring, and left. I was in and out about 5 minutes.
There’s absolutely no point in wandering the aisles of a place that is absurdly overpriced, looking for temptations to separate me from my hard-earned money. This targeted approach to shopping has saved me tons of money over the years, and it can do the same for anyone.
Simple rule of thumb: Never linger in a store longer than you have to. Get what you came for and get out.
And one last point. It's better to make seitan ahead of time, since it is improves with cooling and reheating.
Here’s the recipe for simple, basic seitan:
Makes 2 pounds
Total Prep Time – 10 minutes
Total Start to Finish Time – 50 minutes
(Add cooling time of 1-2 hours or overnight for best results)
Total cost – Approximately $4
Makes approximately 10 servings
Total per serving cost – approximately 40¢
2 cups vital wheat gluten
½ cup nutritional yeast (NOT to be confused with regular baking yeast)
2 tsp. garlic powder
2 Tbs. low-sodium soy sauce
5 cups water
2-3 vegetarian bouillon cubes (depending on size of cube)
1 tablespoon molasses
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic
Recipe continues after photos
- Dissolve the 2 bouillon cubes in 1 cup of the water on the stovetop or in the microwave. Stir in the remaining 4 cups of water to make broth.
- Combine the 2 cups of wheat gluten, the ½ cup of nutritional yeast, and the 2 teaspoons of garlic powder in large bowl. Stir in 1 cup of the broth and the 2 tablespoons of soy sauce until all the dry ingredients are moistened and scraped off the sides and bottom, and a dough forms.
- Add more of the broth if necessary, in 1/4 cup increments to get the moisture you need to create a dough-like consistency.
- Knead the dough in the bowl with your hands for 3 minutes, or until it becomes elastic.
- Shape and roll the dough into 2 loaves and place them in the bottom of a large pot. Don’t worry too much about how they look.
- To the remaining 3-4 cups of broth you made, add the 1 tablespoon of molasses, 1 teaspoon of onion powder, the 1 teaspoon of garlic powder, and the 1 tablespoon of vinegar. Stir to blend well. Pour the broth over the seitan.
- Cover, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and set a timer for 20 minutes. Turn the seitan in the broth at that point. Continue to simmer for an additional simmer 20-25 minutes, or until the seitan is firm.
- Remove it from the heat, and allow it to cool in its broth before using. The broth can be saved for gravies or soups, etc.
- Seitan is actually better if allowed to cool first and then reheated. You can slice it, dice it, or shred it to use in any recipe that calls for “meat”.
- Seitan can be stored in the refrigerator for a week, or it can also be sealed in bags and frozen.
I'm looking forward to exploring this meat substitute more in the future. I'd love to try it in different recipes. I'll let you know as I experiment and how it goes.