Posted tagged ‘seitan’

Vegan Cooking Demo #3

January 14, 2013

At dinner one night with a group of friends, one of them thought it would be a good idea if I started teaching them how to cook vegan.  The women who are in this little group with me are thoughtful about what they bring when we eat together, but I always bring both an entree and a dessert so I know for sure I will not go hungry, in case someone forgets that chicken broth is not vegan, or that eggs are not okay if they are in a cake.  Sometimes they just don’t know how to make a cake without any animal products.  “What should I use instead of eggs?  Ground flax seed?  How would that work?”  or “What would I put in the salad if you don’t eat goat cheese?”  (The answer to that one is easy—leave out the cheese, or at least offer it on the side.)

I thought it was a good idea, but I am a bit shy about standing in front of a group and talking about, well, anything, really.  I am comfortable in small, informal settings with people I know.  Stage fright hits when I am standing in front of a roomful of people and expected to perform in any way, even just cooking.  My friend Michaela, the one who is a superb baker and who has the most imploring big brown eyes asked again and again until I finally conceded.  Vegan cooking lessons for everyone.  In my kitchen.  Second Sunday of each month at 2 pm.

I thought it would be good to start with desserts, an area that seems the most challenging for bakers who want to try making vegan sweets.  I double and triple checked my recipes, trying things out ahead of time, and my family benefited from multiple batches of cookies and muffins.  I scrutinized recipes I make regularly, making sure the measurements were exact.  I prepared a sheet of vegan baking substitutions and handouts of all the recipes.

I was shaking as I began the first session, but after a few minutes, I forgot I was being watched and just started chatting away as I measured, mixed, and baked.   I planned to pull off three different recipes—giant, crunchy, chocolate chip cookies, molasses ginger cookies, and the famous Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffin recipe.  I printed the blueberry muffin recipe right off of the internet, using it like a worksheet so everyone who came could see how easy it is to figure out the substitutions.  1/4 c silken tofu for each egg.  Soy or almond milk in place of dairy milk.  Vegan margarine in place of butter.  Organic sugar.  I made the muffins with the changes, and no one could believe how delicious they were—just as good, if not better than the original recipe.

It went well.  Really, really well.   “Is it okay if I invite a friend next time?”  “Can I bring my niece?”  “Could you please email me a link to your blog?  To that website?”  “What was the name of that book you read?”  My cell phone began ringing—strangers calling.  “I heard you are giving vegan cooking lessons.  Do you have room for one more person?”  “How much does it cost?”

The answer was, of course, yes!  And it’s free.

The second lesson focused on entrees, and I demonstrated how to make homemade seitan, a chewy and delicious main course.  I also showed how to make cashew cream, and from that, made a vegan Alfredo sauce with mushrooms, peas, and kale, served over spaghetti squash.  We ate dinner together at the end of that demo, and I happened to have enough raw ginger cookies to pass around for dessert.  “Raw cookies?  How do you do that?”  “These are the best cookies I have ever eaten!  Could you share the recipe?”  It was a small group, easy to please, full of excitement for learning vegan cooking.  Then another round of phone calls and suddenly a bunch of people, some of whom I have never met, are sitting in my kitchen, raptly watching me chop, stir, process and talk about why I am a vegan.  And a vegan cook.

So— here I am at the beginning of my third group vegan cooking demonstration, this time teaching how to make vegan cheeses.  My friend Krissie was kind enough to bring her camera and take a few shots of the event.

I am holding up a package of agar-agar, a type of seaweed used as a thickener for many vegan cheeses.

I make three different cheeses in one hour.  The first is  smokey cashew cheese from the fabulous website:

  Krissie got a great shot of the smokey cashew cheese.

The second is pine nut cheese, adapted from a recipe a friend found online while trying to impress me with her vegan cooking skills.  (Not that she needs to try—my friend Stephanie is an amazing cook and I always leave her table with a happy, full belly.)

I have made this entire recipe as it stands and was a bit disappointed, especially in the pine nut cheese.  The lemon was far too strong, so I eliminated the lemon zest, and instead of using the full amount of lemon juice, I used a little less than half the amount and used organic apple cider vinegar for the remaining volume.  I added about 2 tsp fresh rosemary to the processor along with everything else and wound up with what is perhaps the best nut-based ricotta cheese ever!  It freezes very well, so go ahead and make the full recipe, then divide into 1/2 cup containers and store in the freezer.  This is amazing in a vegan lasagna, or on a whole wheat pizza with a little vegan pesto, some tomato sauce and some caramelized onions and sauteed mushrooms.

The final cheese is tofu feta.  Tofu feta is tricky.  There are a lot of recipes out there and I have tried many.  This one is truly delicious and easy.

My captive audience.  I’m making tofu feta in this one.  Beneath the orange pot lid is a block of tofu.  The block is wrapped in a clean dishtowel and the weight of the lid is pressing out the excess water so that the tofu will absorb more of the marinade.

I serve the tofu feta mixed with some chopped cucumbers, halved baby grape tomatoes, Kalamata olives, all dressed with a dash of hemp oil, a bit of lemon juice, a sprinkle of oregano, and some freshly ground black pepper.

For a quick and easy tasting of the pine nut cheese, I cook a box of pasta, add a couple of cups of chopped fresh broccoli, a can of drained chickpeas, and some red sauce.  I pour that into a casserole, dollop on the pine nut cheese, and heat at 350 ° for about half an hour.  There are no leftovers!

Sometime during the lesson, my friend Jane raises her hand, old-school style.  “I think you should get paid for this, Elizabeth.”

“Oh, no, I don’t want to take any money for this.  I am truly okay doing it for free.”

“No, we should at least reimburse you for all the ingredients.”

“No, it’s really fine!”

And so on, until, as I stand behind my kitchen counter, trying to talk and cook and be entertaining and all that, one after another, my audience comes behind the counter.  They tuck bills into the front pocket of my jeans.  I am uncomfortable with this, but at the same time, secretly thrilled that anyone is willing to pay me to teach how to cook vegan.  After they leave, and I clean up, I empty the contents of my pocket onto the counter.  I think— I could make a living doing this—and my gratitude is immense for the generosity and kindness of my friends and the friends they have brought to me.


Super Bowl Sunday Shepherd’s Pie

February 5, 2012

I thought about calling this recipe Unemployed Shepherd’s Pie, but did not want to put a negative spin on the poor shepherds…it’s just that because it’s vegan, I think shepherds would have different jobs, like maybe seitan kneaders and bakers, or perhaps sheep’s rights activists.  Whatever I call it, this recipe is fantastic.  The tender vegetables and chewy seitan enveloped in smooth white sauce, then smothered in rich, creamy mashed potatoes are hearty and completely satisfying.  I have made one to take to my friends Eric and Charlene so we can have a yummy dinner together before they watch the game and we watch the commercials!

Super Bowl Sunday Shepherd’s Pie

Super Bowl Sunday Shepherd's Pie


4-5 medium potatoes, scrubbed and cut in half

2 T vegan margarine, such as Earth Balance

1/3 c unsweetened almond, soy or hemp milk

1/3 c each vegan margarine and whole wheat pastry flour

2 c water

salt and pepper

1 c frozen peas

4-5  carrots, scrubbed, trimmed and diced

1-2 tsp olive oil

1 medium sized sweet onion, diced

1 1/2 c cooked seitan*


Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover them with cold water .  Turn heat to high and bring potatoes and water to a boil.  Reduce heat to simmer and cook the potatoes until they are fork-tender, about 20 minutes.

While the potatoes are cooking:

Saute the onion in 2 tsp olive oil in  a medium skillet over medium heat until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in the peas and seitan.

Steam the carrots in a pot on the stove top or in a covered bowl in the microwave for about 3 minutes until fork-tender.  Drain and add to the onion, pea and seitan.  Set aside.

Make the roux for the white sauce:

In another medium sized  non-stick skillet, melt the 1/3 c vegan margarine over medium heat.  Sprinkle with the 1/3 c flour and stir the flour into the margarine.  Keeping heat on medium, continue to cook the vegan margarine and the flour together until the mixture begins to turn a rich, golden color, about 7-8 minutes.

White sauce:  Turn heat under the roux pan to high.  Slowly add the 2 c  water as you continue to stir, incorporating the water into the roux until the sauce is smooth and begins to thicken.  A whisk is a great tool for this, but a wooden spoon also works well.  Stir in 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp black pepper.  Allow the white sauce to cook for a few more minutes.  Taste and correct seasoning.  Remove from heat.  Pour into the onion, peas, carrots and seitan pan and stir well to coat everything with the white sauce.  Return pan to low heat and cook about 5 more minutes, until thickened.  If sauce seems too thick, stir in more water, a couple of tablespoons at a time, until the consistency pleases you.

Finish the potatoes:

Drain water from cooked potatoes.  Add the 2 T vegan margarine and the 1/3 c almond, soy, or hemp milk.  Mash with potato masher or whip with electric mixer until potatoes are well mashed/whipped.  Add salt and pepper to taste and stir.

Preheat oven to 350 ° F.

To assemble the pie:

Spoon the filling for the pie into a deep casserole or deep baking dish about 8 or 9 inches round.  Scoop the mashed potatoes on top, being careful not to mix them into the filling.  I use a spatula to gently smooth the mashed potatoes over the filling.

Drizzle the top with a little olive oil if you wish and bake at 350 °F  for 30-40 minutes, until sides are bubbling and center is hot.

Serves 5-6 hungry people.  I suggest a big, green salad as a side dish.  A couple of nice accompaniments are green tomato piccalilli  and cranberry chutney or cranberry sauce.

Enjoy the game!

*I make my own seitan.  The recipe link above is a quick and easy one.  I always double it, as seitan freezes well, and it’s a delicious, chewy source of vegan protein.  For this particular recipe, I did not use thyme in the seasoning.  I used 1 tsp each of dried marjoram and sage, 1/2 tsp each of onion and garlic powder.  I reduced the tamari by half, replacing that liquid with sodium-free vegetable broth.   I made the seitan a day ahead and stuck it in the refrigerator until I was ready to use it today.

Pasta with Roasted Butternut Squash, Cranberries and Arugula

February 2, 2012

I love it when my busy brain backs off and allows my instincts to take over in the kitchen.  My best recipes come from trusting my sense of color, smell and taste.  I choose from what is on hand, today a perfect butternut squash and some cranberries stashed in the freezer for cold, damp days like this. I make this dish this morning right after my run, before things get all Thursday-crazy.   The sweet squash, tart cranberries and slightly bitter arugula are wrapped in a rich balsamic maple syrup reduction with caramelized onions and herbs cut fresh from my winter garden.  The chewy, hearty whole grain pasta lies beneath the bed of rich winter flavors and colors, ready to satisfy us tonight.  There will be enough leftover for tomorrow, too!

Pasta with Roasted Butternut Squash, Cranberries and Arugula


1 lb. whole grain pasta (We prefer long noodles, but any pasta will work.)

2-4 T olive oil

1 large sweet onion, ends trimmed and sliced in half across the trimmed part

1/3 c good balsamic vinegar (This time I used pomegranate balsamic*.)

3 T pure maple syrup

3 T fresh chopped sage leaves

8 cloves garlic

1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1″ dice

1/2 lb. mushrooms, washed and sliced thick

1/4 tsp each dried marjoram and thyme

1 c fresh or frozen cranberries

1 c chopped seitan (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

5 c arugula

2 T Blood Orange oil

1/4 c chopped walnuts

4 T nutritional yeast


Preheat oven to 425 °.

Cook pasta according to package directions.

Wash the arugula and place it in a large colander.

Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water before draining the pasta.  Drain the pasta in the colander with the arugula.  (This will nicely wilt the arugula without over-cooking it.)  Pour the drained pasta and arugula into a large bowl or back into the pot.

While pasta water is heating and then while pasta is cooking:

Thinly slice the onion halves.  Heat 1-2 T of the olive oil in a large skillet.  Add the onions and cook over low heat until caramelized, (golden), about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the onion is cooking, lightly oil a large cookie sheet or baking pan.  Cut a piece of foil about 6″ square.  Place the garlic in the foil, drizzle with 1 tsp. olive oil, and fold the foil to seal.  Place the foil packet in a corner of the baking sheet.  Add the butternut squash and the mushrooms to the cookie sheet, drizzle with remaining olive oil, and sprinkle with marjoram and thyme.  Roast the vegetables in the oven on the center rack for 15 minutes.  Remove pan from oven and stir the vegetables, leaving the garlic packet as is.  Add the cranberries and seitan (if using) and roast for 12-15 minutes more, until cranberries are soft and squash is tender.  Remove from oven and set aside.  Open the foil packet, remove the garlic, and mash with a fork.

When the onions are caramelized, turn the heat to medium-high and add the balsamic vinegar, the maple syrup and the sage.  Bring to a boil and stir.  Cook until the liquid is reduced by half.  Remove from heat and stir in the roasted garlic, the butternut squash and cranberry mixture, and the walnuts.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Pour the reserved cup of pasta liquid back into the pasta.  Stir in the blood orange oil and the nutritional yeast.

To serve:

Place about 1/2 c of the pasta with arugula into shallow bowls.  Ladle on the butternut squash mixture and serve.  For a beautiful presentation for guests, place the pasta in a really big wooden or pottery bowl.  Ladle the butternut squash mixture on top and serve at the table.

*My husband and I have built up quite a stash of different balsamic vinegars and flavored oils.  We love to travel to Portsmouth NH to a little specialty shop called LeRoux Kitchen, where we can sample different seasonal offerings.  We  have been known to return home with our little smart car’s trunk stuffed with treats…but any good balsamic will do.

Vegan Freak

September 29, 2011

I sit at the table in my parents’ dining room, surrounded by my family.  My sister has prepared a beautiful salad to begin our meal.  Looking at the big bowl of crisp, fresh mixed greens, sweet and spicy toasted pecans, dried cranberries and a bottle of balsamic dressing makes my mouth water.

“You really don’t know what you’re missing.  This goat cheese makes the salad.”

As she passes the bowl of cheese on the side, I keep my mouth shut, but inside, I am thinking Are you kidding me?  Do you think I’ve never eaten goat cheese before?  That I couldn’t possibly imagine the tangy, creamy texture, the way it almost melts on the tongue, a perfect foil for the bitter greens, sweet berries and crisp nuts?  I was not raised vegan.  I have chosen it.  Could you not consider the possibility that someone might replace one pleasure for another?

She doesn’t need to say anything, though.  An occasional look, a roll of the eyes, a smile that leaks pity for my choice say it all.

I roam an agricultural fair with friends, strolling by one food vendor after another, looking to see if there is even one booth that offers a choice for me–a choice that means no meat, no dairy, no eggs.  There is always a salad.  A plain, green salad, with some lame hothouse tomatoes, a few shriveled cucumber slices, maybe some thick slices of red onion.  Oil and vinegar.  No nuts, no berries, no thick, rich cashew cream dressing with freshly minced herbs.  There are lots of pizza booths, Italian sausages with fried onions and peppers, chicken wings, turkey drumsticks.  Sometimes, if I’m lucky, there will be a felafel stand with sesame tahini dressing and hot sauce.  I always ask to make sure there are no eggs or yogurt.  Sometimes I get bold and force a vendor to get creative.

“Well, can you just give me the greens and then throw some of the fried peppers and onions on it, please?”

Sometimes, a smile from the cook and, voila! a taste of fair food like it should be—mustard, sauerkraut, peppers, onions, rolled into a whole-wheat wrap that I can stroll around with and enjoy.  Other times, a frown from the guy taking the cash, a puzzled look, and a shake of the head.  No.  We cannot do that special thing, lady.  Just order what’s on the sandwich board menu or move on.  I can see the irritation in the eyes of some of my friends, wondering why, at least just for today, I can’t just eat a damn cheeseburger and get over it.

I have other friends, though, who have been truly supportive.  Complete vegan dinners have been cooked for us; if a friend has a question about how to “veganize” a favorite recipe because we will be their guests, they ask and I answer.  A new friend went so far as to make homemade vegan squash-stuffed ravioli and we made a cream sauce together in her kitchen.  We made cashew cream, then added vegetable broth, blood orange oil, fried fresh sage leaves, freshly ground black pepper.  She was worried the pasta would be lacking without the eggs, but as it turned out, it was the most silky, rich delicious pasta I had ever eaten, and she thought the sauce was the perfect compliment.  We dined at a candlelit table outdoors beneath the stars that night.  The meal was superb.

At home, I keep a vegan kitchen.  When we have dinner guests, I cook.  They eat what I make and even if they are skeptical about the vegan lifestyle, their plates are clean at the end of the meal, there are no leftovers, and I often wind up having to write out the recipe for whatever I served for dinner and dessert before they leave.  I find myself scribbling down email addresses so I can send our guests more recipes.  We eat healthfully, we eat well.  We get our protein, our iron, our desserts, including cake and cookies.  My husband praises every meal, requesting leftovers, if there are any, for lunch the following day.  My son drops by to pick up homemade seitan, lentil soup, curried rice, chocolate cookies, and hides them in the fridge at his apartment so his roommates don’t gobble them up.

A year and a half ago, when my daughter and I decided becoming vegan was the right choice for us, I looked for support.  There really wasn’t any in our community, although I did (and still do) have one friend in town who is vegan, and we commiserate on both the lack of restaurants in our area and the weird looks we get from family and friends.  I read some articles on the internet—some about nutrition, some about animal rights, lots and lots about factory farming and the inhumane and often unsanitary processing of animals and animal products in our country.  I still felt alone.  I continued to educate myself by reading books.  Lots of books.  I borrowed and/or purchased cookbooks and some literature on being vegan. My daughter and I both read The Omnivore’s Dilemma.  I bought and read Eating Animals.   I bought Vegan Freak:  Being Vegan in a Non-Vegan World and read it in a day.

Vegan freak.  When I read that book, I thought it was a little over the top.  Animals as slaves?  Really?  But then I visited a local dairy farm with my daughter’s environmental club.  The calves, separated from their mothers and held in small pens across the yard, bleated mournfully, on and on.  A kid in the group asked why they were crying.

“Well, they’re hungry.”

“Don’t you feed them?  Why aren’t they allowed to be with their mothers and have their milk?”

“Oh, they just want to drink milk all the time.  They might get too fat.   You know, some animals don’t know when to stop eating.  Plus, most of the milk goes into the dairy.  The calves get a certain amount every day, by bottle.  See?  It’s right there in the pen!”

The guide smiles and points to one calf’s pen.  The milk bottle is empty.  The calf is screaming, over and over, non-stop.  “Bleat!  Bleat!  Bleat bleat bleat bleat!”

My eyes fill and I turn to look at the group of students and teachers around me.  No one else seems upset.  Like this is a normal thing.  I catch my daughter’s teacher’s eye.  She meets my gaze, then looks away.

I dig out a tissue and try to get a grip on myself.  I think Probably most of the people here have pets, maybe dogs or cats or both.   How would they feel if their pets were in those pens? Would they allow their pets to live in that miserable sadness, hungry and alone, trapped in a pen where there is no room to walk around, let alone run?  No room to be free?

And I got it.  I really got it.  There’s plenty out in the world to eat, choices that satisfy both nutritional needs and wacky cravings without hurting or killing animals.  So, freak or not, I’m vegan.

Vegan Reuben

March 17, 2011

My poor husband!  He works long, long days—he works hard!—and he has been living in a vegan household for almost a year.  I know he misses meat sometimes, although he enthusiastically eats whatever I put on the table each night for dinner, often toting leftovers for lunch the next day.

I decided to try and make a vegan version of one of his favorite sandwiches.  I figured I would go all out and make a vegan Reuben.  A traditional Reuben is corned beef or pastrami, Thousand Island or Russian dressing, sauerkraut, and Swiss cheese all layered and melted together on rye bread, either on a grill or toasted.  I was pretty sure I could pull it off with seitan, homemade dressing, and leave out the cheese.

Seitan, made from vital wheat gluten, is also called monk’s meat or wheat meat.  Buddhist monks figured out how to make it when they were searching for something more substantial and chewier than tofu.  It’s one of the highest sources of protein for vegans, and quite versatile.  You can buy it already made, or make it yourself (much less expensive and also easy).  I use the recipe in Veganomicon and it comes out perfect every time.  I often double the recipe, as it freezes well and is then ready on short notice.

I served up the Reuben sandwich to my husband.  He said it was delicious, but didn’t really taste like the real thing.  The next day, he went out to lunch with one of his work-mates and ordered the Reuben, came home, and told me mine tasted more like the real thing than the real thing!!!  Success!  It quickly became a staple weekend lunch at our house.

Vegan Reuben


1 lb. seitan, thinly sliced (about 16 slices)

canola oil for frying the seitan

4 Tbsp. ketchup

6 Tbsp. vegan mayonnaise, such as Nayonaise brand

3 Tbsp. sweet pickle relish

1 jar good sauerkraut (We have been using Eden Organic—very, very tasty.)

8 slices rye bread, or other hearty whole grain bread


Heat 2 Tbsp. canola oil in large, non-stick skillet.  Add the sliced seitan and cook over medium heat, turning occasionally, until seitan is nicely browned.  Remove pan from heat and set aside.

Make the dressing:  In a small bowl, whisk together the ketchup and vegan mayonnaise.  Stir in the relish.

Drain about 1 cup of the sauerkraut in a colander.

To grill:  Divide the seitan equally between four slices of bread.  Complete the sandwiches with four more slices of bread and place on indoor or outdoor grill, or use the good old George Foreman Grill (two sides cook at once— fast and easy) and grill until bread is toasted.  (Alternatively, toast the bread first, then layer on the seitan.)

Open the sandwiches and spread one side of the bread with the dressing.   Stack 1/4 cup of the sauerkraut on the seitan, replace the top on the sandwich.  Cut sandwiches in half and serve immediately with crispy potato chips and carrot sticks.  Serves 4.