Seitan Instead: Vegan Holiday Protein

Last year for the holidays we posted our favorite vegan holiday sides -- lentils and rice, gravy, mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, oh my! This year, we've got some new ingredients in stock, so we're delighted to bring your holiday meal a centerpiece: delicious, protein-packed 'poultry' seitan. The recipe below even has tryptophan, so you won't miss out on that sleepy post-meal euphoria.

 Beautiful Turkey

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What's Seitan?

Seitan is a thick, moist, chewy loaf that can be prepared just like meat. You can grill it, sautée it, roast it, glaze it, you name it. It's great with gravy next to some vegetables, on a sandwich with some vegenaise, or even straight up with dipping sauce. It's made out of vital wheat gluten, which you get by washing the starch out of wheat flour. What's left is nearly pure protein, so each serving of our seitan recipe has about 25g of protein. Seitan isn't weird science, either: they've been cooking with seitan in China since the 6th century. 


How does seitan measure up nutritionally to meat?

This recipe has 25g of protein, and because seitan recipes typically call for beans or tofu, it's also a complete protein. We used garbanzo beans, which are a vegan source of tryptophan, so we've also given ourselves a helping of nature's pick-me-up amino acids. Finally, the nutritional yeast per serving gives you all the B12s you need for the day.


How do I make it?

There are lots of seitan recipes out there, but most of them have the following components:

  • Vital Wheat Gluten
  • Umami & Spices: unlike meat, you can put your flavorings, including prized umami flavor from soy sauce and nutritional yeast, right into the loaf rather than marinating your meal for hours
  • A Bean: it can be something soft like tofu (from a soybean) for a more even consistency or something fibrous like a bean (pintos and garbanzos are great) if you want a little more texture, either way this a great way to turn this protein in a complete protein

The biggest difference among seitan recipes comes down to whether you'll cook by simmering or by steaming. I like the texture of steamed seitan best, and it's a little easier for your first try. I'll give you the recipe I use what I want something like poultry, which I've adapted from Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s steamed chicky seitan recipes.

You’ll need: (all available at Ethikli)
● 1⁄3 cup dry garbanzo beans (1 cup cooked)
● 1 cup water
● 1 tsp Ethikli bouillon powder
● 1 tbsp olive oil
● 3 tbsp liquid aminos
● 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
● 2 tsp onion powder
● 1 tsp granulated garlic
● 1 tsp dried sage
● 1⁄2 tsp salt
● Black pepper to taste
● 1 2⁄3 cups vital wheat gluten

Foil Alert: This recipe calls for aluminum foil. Because foil is not renewable and is environmentally costly, we recommend you reuse your foil and wash between uses. Aluminum foil tears easiest when you don’t want it to, but I’ve perfected my foil washing technique. Soap up your loofah or sponge and start in the center of the foil, then press out firmly toward the edge. Rotate the foil a few degrees and repeat. Wash like you’re drawing sun bursts out from the center, not like you’re scrubbing back and forth, and never make the mistake of washing from one end of the foil to the other–if you snag a little piece of foil on the way, which you will, that’s a recipe for tearing your foil in half.

  1. Cook your garbanzo beans. If you have a pressure cooker, just cook them on high pressure for 45 minutes with a full natural pressure release, about 20 minutes. For the stovetop, you can soak the beans overnight or for 8 hours. Then put them in a pot, bring them to a boil, and reduce to a simmer for 1 1⁄2 to 2 hours. If you don’t want to go through this song and dance every week, I recommend batch cooking your beans and freezing them in 1 cup portions.
  2. Get 5 or 6 pieces of 8”x8” aluminum foil ready.
  3. Drain and mash your garbanzo beans with a potato masher until no whole beans remain. But don’t mash them to a pulp, otherwise your cutlets won’t have the right texture.
  4. Mix in all the dry ingredients, except for the vital wheat gluten, and stir everything together to combine.
  5. Add the water and stir in the olive oil and liquid aminos.
  6. Add 1 1⁄3 cups vital wheat gluten. Get in there with your hands and make sure everything’s incorporated, then add the last 1⁄3 cup. Knead for a minute or so until strands start to appear in the dough and it becomes elastic–that means the gluten has activated!
  7. Divide the dough into 6 pieces.
  8. Place each dough piece in the center of each aluminum foil square and smoosh it down to flatten it. Then fold each corner of the foil square toward the center to wrap the cutlet.
  9. Place the cutlets in a steamer basket in a large pot and fill with water until the water line is just below the bottom of the steamer basket. Crank on the heat and steam the cutlets for 45 minutes. If you like a firmer wheat meat, you can keep it going for another 10 minutes or so. Especially if your steamer basket is shallow, add a couple cups of water midway through to make sure you don’t burn your house down.
  10. After 45 minutes, turn off your stove and uncover your cutlets. If you want it firmer, you can cook for another 10 minutes, but I think you’ll find they’re perfect. When they’re cool, you will eat your first comrade cutlet, and your life will never be the same. These keep in the fridge for 5 days, but you can freeze them for months.

What do I do with my seitan?

Once it's made, you can do just about anything with seitan that you can with meat. You can cut it up and add it to everything rom curries to salads, and because they freeze beautifully, you can make a big batch and throw them in the freezer for a mid-week emergency sandwich. You can add this seitan to any recipe that calls for chicken, including (my favorite) tikka masala.

For the holidays, try mixing up the spices to mimic your favorite family recipes. This seitan pairs beautifully with your favorite vegan gravy, and you can make a glaze with agave nectar and use that to dress up your patties. You can also try playing with the shape by turning this recipe into a 'chicken' sausage. The cook times will be pretty much the same. 



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