Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Vegetarian Cheesesteak - Brought to You By My Friend Seitan

My co-workers were asking me about a vegetarian diet today, specifically how I get protein.  It's a common question when you tell people you're a vegetarian, I suppose. 

Now, I'd venture to guess that most people's first suggestion about protein for a vegetarian would be tofu.  One challenge I have is that I've got a soy allergy.  It's nothing life threatening, but I do get violently ill if I have too much of it.  So, that puts tofu and a number of "fake meats" out of the picture.

That said, I really don't feel protein deprived - I eat all kinds of beans, lentils and nuts (with the exception of walnuts and hazelnuts, which make me even more violently ill than soy).  Quinoa, farro, bulgur and wheatberries are also good sources of protein.  I still eat the occasional egg and dairy product.  And, I'm a big fan of Quorn - both in the grounds and tenders styles.   (I will share a post on the glories of Quorn sometime soon - the stuff is really amazing).

But, my #1 favorite vegetarian protein source is seitan.  With a single serving having around 25 grams of protein, it's a great way to work more protein into your diet if you're concerned you're not getting enough.  I avoided seitan for awhile, because I assumed that it was soy based.  In actuality, seitan is a form of wheat gluten.  From our friends at Wikipedia:

Wheat gluten, also called seitan (pronounced /ˈseɪtæn/), wheat meat, Mock Duck, gluten meat, or simply gluten, is a food made from the gluten of wheat. It is made by washing wheat flour dough with water until all the starch dissolves, leaving insoluble gluten as an elastic mass which is then cooked before being eaten.  Wheat gluten is an alternative to soybean-based meat substitutes such as tofu. Some types of wheat gluten have a chewy and/or stringy texture more like that of meat than most other substitutes. Wheat gluten is often used instead of meat in Asian, vegetarian, Buddhist, and macrobiotic cuisines. Simulated duck is a common use for wheat gluten.

I will note that Seitan is more challenging to find in a traditional grocery store than tofu and "fake meat."  In all the grocery stores I frequent in the DC area (and man, do I hit them all - I love the grocery store!), the only place I can ever find it is Whole Foods.  That said, it does have a decent shelf life, so I will often stock up on several packages at a time when we go there.

The brand I buy is WestSoy.  I prefer the strips to the cubed version.  You can sub it anywhere you'd use strips of meat - stir-frys, etc.  But, my #1 favorite way to use Seitan is in my Vegetarian Cheesesteak.

The Vegetarian Cheesesteak came to be last Fall.  At that point, I had been "off meat" since May.  And then football season started.  As a native Philadelphian and a die-hard Eagles fan, I ate my share of Whiz Wit in my day.  And, lo, when I was looking for something to eat during MNF (that's Monday Night Football for those of you not as football obsessed as me) I missed my cheesesteaks, but not enough to go back to actually eating beef.

Enter Seitan!  When you run a knife through it roughly, it resembles cheesesteak meat.  To make the sandwich above, I saute onions in olive oil until they are golden, then add the seitan.

Once the seitan is nicely browned, I season it with red pepper flakes and add sliced peppers (I used the leftover roasted yellow peppers from Sunday's enchiladas), spinach and cheese.  I use Daiya when I want a vegan version, but since we're out of both Daiya (need to make another run to Whole Foods, as I've also cleared out all my seitan), I used what we had in the house, which was some rennet free Cabot Monterey Jack cheese (Provolone is also great on this, and more traditional, but the other eater in my house may have eaten all my provolone . . .).   I serve the whole thing on a whole wheat sub roll carried by my local market.

The result is a satisfaction of my craving for a cheesesteak without that feeling of having swallowed a bag of lead.

Good sides for this bad boy are oven roasted potato fries (425 or 450, yukon golds cut into wedges, seasoned with salt and pepper, bake until browned) or sweet potato fries (I'm particularly fond of using Hannahs.)  Tonight, since I got home on the late side from yoga and it takes our oven about 37 years to heat up, I had a side of fresh fruit - blueberries and golden raspberries.

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