Seitan (pronounced say-tan) is a spectacular meat substitute with a look, taste, and texture that satisfies the heartiest of appetites. Derived from wheat flour, seitan is naturally nutritious and low in fat, cholesterol, and calories. Perhaps best of all, it is amazingly adaptable and can be seasoned and prepared to fit into any menu.
Cooking with Seitan provides a wonderful introduction to this versatile food. The book explains, step-by-step, how seitan can be made, stored, and used. Also included are over 250 kitchen-tested recipes featuring twists on traditional and international favorites as well as new and imaginative dishes, from salads and appetizers to soups, stews, and even desserts. Whether you want to add to your repertoire of vegetarian dishes or you simply love great food, Cooking with Seitan can add a deliciously healthful touch to your menu.
Whole foods cooks often try to improve upon current culinary techniques. They commonly search out healthful ingredients and cooking methods common to other cultures. From the culinary traditions of Asia, Africa, and South America, valuable and nutritious foods have been discovered, foods that provide excellent counterpoints to the modern Western diet. As a nation, we are reducing our consumption of saturated fats and animal foods, and are returning to a diet that includes a greater quantity of grains and vegetables—a diet that had been common in America before World War II. This dietary reformation is making a major difference in the overall health-consciousness of the American people.
Seitan is part of this process toward dietary reform. A food rich in complex carbohydrates and low in fat, seitan has a long and interesting tradition rooted in various cultures throughout the world. This unique food can play an important part in improving the modern American cuisine.
In the late 1970s, tofu—the remarkable and versatile soy food—was little known outside of a few select natural foods stores and Asian markets. However, within the twelve years following its introduction, this healthful natural food established itself as a major component of the modern American diet. Due to the work of a few dedicated and health-conscious food pioneers, tofu is now found in most supermarkets throughout the United States. From Boston to Los Angeles, and from Seattle to Miami, tofu has been adopted as an all-American health food. As the search for alternatives to fatty and refined cholesterol-rich foods continues, tofu remains an essential part of a healthy diet.
In a similar fashion, seitan—the extracted and flavored gluten from whole wheat—stands a good chance of becoming the next newly discovered traditional American health food. Tasty and unique, seitan is just now gaining popularity in the American diet.
Although long a staple in Asia (and some European countries), seitan has only recently become available outside of a few natural foods stores. In 1970, when we first tasted seitan, it was a tasty but exotic snack food, owing its extremely salty flavor to the fact that it was an imported Japanese specialty food, flavored for the Japanese taste. In addition to being heavily salted, this seitan was hard, chewy, and quite expensive. It was really just a snack food to be eaten while drinking beer. Unfortunately, no one involved in the natural foods movement in this country was familiar with the methods used to make this food.
In 1971, Leonard became the head chef at the Seventh Inn, one of Boston’s first natural foods restaurants. During that time, he and I began our search for different traditional food-preparation techniques and studied with experts in all areas of cooking and baking. In March 1971, a young Japanese woman named Yumie Kono came to work at the Seventh Inn. It was Yumie who taught us how to make seitan. Even macrobiotics leaders Michio and Aveline Kushi—experts in the preparation of healthy Japanese foods—had never actually made seitan from scratch.
Soon, many of the cooks at the Seventh Inn had mastered the technique of making seitan from scratch and began experimenting with ways to create new flavors and textures for this unique food. Of course, the customers at the restaurant were thrilled to test the “experiments,” and soon seitan had made a formal entry into the natural foods cuisine. Seitan, in all its forms—hearty entrée, salty snack, savory sandwich filling, and novel dessert ingredient—became one of the most popular foods at the Seventh Inn. And as the cooks and students of the cooks left Boston in the early 1970s, they took with them the recipe for making this unique food. Soon seitan shops were opening up throughout the United States and Europe.
Jonathan’s Seitan Shop in Antwerp, Belgium has an interesting background. Jonathan Van de Ponseele, the son of a Belgian butcher, took over his father’s butcher shop and ran it in the style of his father. In 1975, Jonathan discovered the value of a macrobiotic and natural foods diet and transformed his butcherie into a seitan shop, creating seitan with the flavors and textures of many varieties of his meats. This shop continues today both as a retail store and as a manufacturer and distributor of “Jonathan’s Seitan,” which is sold throughout Western Europe.
In the mid-1970s, a seitan product called “tan pups” had become a most popular snack food. Created in Boston, tan pups were similar to the county fair specialty of dough-covered hot dogs on a stick. Tan pups were pieces of seitan that had been dipped in flavored batter and deep-fried. Boston area natural foods stores carried these healthy snacks as staple items.
When we searched out the origin of seitan, we discovered that it had been a staple food among vegetarian monks of China, Russian wheat farmers, peasants of Southeast Asia, and Mormons. People who had traditionally eaten wheat had also discovered a method to extract the gluten and create a seitan-like product.
Like baking bread at home, making seitan provides the enjoyment of transforming whole wheat flour into a food with a unique flavor and texture that is far different from its original consistency. The satisfaction of making a food from scratch that you know is tasty, satisfying, and extremely healthful is a definite incentive.
Many natural foods stores sell frozen seitan entrées, as well as fresh seitan that comes in sealed tubs (like tofu). Instant seitan mixes, which require you to simply add water, mix, and cook, are also available.
Seitan is a truly remarkable food that is on its way to becoming the “tofu of the 90s.” With a little effort and an adventurous spirit, you might discover seitan to be a well-liked and flavorful addition to your diet. Take this book along with some whole wheat flour, and start on an adventure to expand your cuisine while satisfying your appetite for delicious and healthful food.