Sunday, July 31, 2011

The First Dish of Kitchen 2.0: Sauteed Seitan with Mushrooms and Kale

You might have noticed a lack of actual cooking posts recently.  There's a good reason for that.  We've been reorganizing our kitchen, washing, assembling and putting away our culinary wedding gifts and packing up our old cookware and accessories to donate.  (Mom, I know you're reading this - I finished the thank you notes today).  So, for the past week, the kitchen has been essentially a construction zone, which meant no cooking for moi.

But, today, the last of everything was put away, which mean the kitchen is back open for business!  I decided to inaugurate Kitchen 2.0 with something special, but not so special that my husband,  who has spent the whole week washing dishes, wouldn't have a pile of dishes in the sink when I was done.

Over the weekend, I had picked up a copy of Veganomicon, which bills itself as "The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook."  Veganomicon contains over 250 vegan recipes, as well as 70 pages of basic preparation and cooking techniques for fruits, veggies and grains, as well as suggestions for kitchen accessories for the vegan kitchen. 

I've been wanting to make something with seitan other than my vegan cheesesteak.  There are a number of good vegan recipes in Veganomicon.  I was torn tonight between page 174's "Seitan Piccata" and page 186's "Sauteed Seitan with Mushrooms and Spinach."  In my meat eating days, I loved a good piccata.  However, piccata involves dredging in flour, which meant more dishes and a mess.  So, I turned to the Sauteed Seitan recipe, which was billed as "how Julia Child would have cooked if she was a vegan."

I did decide to make some swaps.  The recipe called for onions, but I've been dying to make something with leeks lately, so I decided to use those.  I used cremini mushrooms rather than white.  And, since our local market has some incredible kale and grape tomatoes, I decided to incorporate those as well.  And, in honor of the piccata, I decided to use a little lemon.

Soaking sliced leeks prior to cooking.
If you're not familiar with leeks, here's a quick primer.  Leeks are a member of the onion family.  They look like a green onion on steroids, but have a milder flavor than their tiny cousin.  They also should be cooked, rather than eaten raw.  Since dirt gets trapped in their layers as they grow, you want to clean leeks after you slice them, rather than before.  An easy way to do this is to soak them in a bowl of water, breaking up the slices with your fingers to ensure all the hidden grit escapes. 

To slice all the veg, I used our new santoku knife.  Santoku loosely translates from Japanese to English as "'three virtues' or 'three uses', a reference to the three cutting tasks the knife performs well: slicing; dicing; and mincing."  It alleges to provide more balance than a typical chef's knife, especially when prepping veg.  True to the promise of the Santoku, I was able to get thin, precise slices of everything with minimal effort.

The original recipe called for something with a good lid, so I decided to prepare everything in our new french oven, which can be used both stovetop and in the oven.  I also was so excited to have a french oven that I decided to use it, despite never having cooked with one before.  You're not supposed to use this type of cookware with "dry" cooking, so I made sure to use plenty of olive oil so as not to damage the enamel prior to adding the vegetable broth and wine.  I did panic a little when the seitan and leeks started to stick to the bottom of the cookware, but the nice brown bits came right up when I incorporated the liquid and scraped them gently with a wooden spoon.

Hooray for not destroying the good cookware!
I was glad to make the extra effort of using the sauce and broth, as well as some fresh lemon juice.  It added an extra flavor dimension.  But, in my "oh crap, I broke my big girl cookware" moment, I may have added a little bit too much broth, which overwhelmed the wine a bit.  I also think it would have benefited from being served over some brown rice, farro or barley.  I may add some when I reheat the leftovers, which would soak up the leftover broth quite well.  But otherwise, a filling, hearty dish!

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