As I mentioned many a moon ago, TacoMa’am and I (mostly at my incessant prompting) were trying to eat more vegetables in our diet via vegetarian dishes inserted twice weekly.  Due to a number of issues (read: mostly because of baby Vash) we fell off that wagon after around 4-5 months of successfully holding to the diet change.  It resonated pretty well with me as, during the period of twice weekly vegetarian eating, I dropped about 10 pounds of weight without any other lifestyle changes.  Plus, we found a number of extremely tasty dishes which we likes, making it easier to fit them into the line-up.  The reduction in weekly fat intake probably had a lot to do with the weight loss.  While twice-weekly was the goal of the diet, we often made some of the dishes in enough quantity that left-overs would spill over into many more days than planned.  The low-fat Dal Tiki Marsala that I took a liking to in particular often lasted 4-5 days instead of just the 2 as planned.

Now Vash is settling into a bit of a routine (sorta) and we’re about 2/3 of the way through our huge stock of frozen prepared food that we made back before Vash was born. Soon, we’re going to need to start cooking for ourselves on a semi-daily basis again. While we still have several weeks of that food left to eat our way through (preparing it ahead of time was such a good idea, by the way; I highly recommend it for any parents-to-be, even if you’ve already got one or two larva already), I’m already starting to work on some ideas for more vegetarian fare for when we’re done.  Via our prepare-ahead fest, we’ve already found at least one recipe to add to our veggie collection, and it’s a casserole so that helps a lot for providing leftovers.

Going back a month, TacoMa’am and my mother watched a food countdown program that I didn’t remember the name of.  One of the these countdowns included a place that made a vegetarian Reuben sandwich with a substance that looked strikingly similar to the corned beef that normally resides in said sandwich delight.  Given that many carnivorous patrons of the restaurant were singing it praises, I bookmarked it in the back of my brain as something to look into at a later date.

Over the course of a lunch break last week, I looked into the creation of this sandwich, and after much searching, I found that the sandwich was the Radical Reuben from Chicago and it was on TLC’s Best Foods Ever show.  So, there we go, it’s made with thinly sliced Seitan that’s made there fresh every day.  Since they make it, I figured I could too.  And indeed, there are pages and pages of recipes for it out there.  And you can do some wild stuff with homemade Seitan.

Bacon made with Seitan from the Bitchin' Kitchen. You now have my attention, BK.

Bacon alternative made with Seitan from the Bitchin’ Kitchen. You now have my attention, BK.  Though I would probably boil or steam it so I could cut it much thinner before pan frying.

A quick Google flurry later and I had collected a nice spread of homemade Seitan recipes.  Some of them are more traditional and are based on the very labor intensive kneed-and-rinse method to remove starches from whole-wheat flour.  Others are more modern variations that use vital wheat gluten, which is basically just wheat flour with the starches already removed, to speed up the process and remove a lot of the labor.

This intrigues me on many fronts.  One of the large difficulties I’ve had with vegetarian eating is that it’s been difficult for me to find a useful analogue to meat when converting recipes I love to vegetarian.  Tofu, the essential meat substitute of the vegetarian diet, falls far short of meeting the bill for me due to the texture.  Most tofu I’ve ever tried has a texture existing somewhere between Jello and high-density ballistics gel; the stuff that is firm enough to sub for chicken tends to be rubbery and resistant to taking on the flavor of whatever you’re cooking it with, and the stuff that can be easily flavored tends to be too soft.  I’ve had good experience with TVP, but it’s only really good for mimicking chicken in soups (so far as I’ve used it anyway, though apparently TVP has branched out quite a bit since the 90s).  The twice-a-week vegetarian diet thing would be a whole lot easier if I had a meat stand-in that could fit into any number of my various recipes that I already know are delicious and would become low-fat without the meat in there.  Seitan whispers promises of this.

Another thing I find interesting is that, based on what I’ve seen from the recipes and some initial pricing I’ve done, homemade Seitan would actually be cheaper than several of the cuts of meat it could replace (round-steak, pork loin, and chicken breast, specifically).  Most of the cuts of meat that Seitan replaces typically cost upwards of $3 a pound for decent quality (sometimes significantly upwards in the case of steak cuts).  Preliminary calculations on homemade Seitan put it at around $1.50 to $2.00 a pound, which makes it rather competitive with everything above bulk sized bone-in pork chops.  Seitan is also apparently rather good for making ahead and freezing, which helps out a lot when you want to make some loaves for using later (or if you want to make a months-worth in advance, which is how I roll).

But the coolest thing I’ve seen is that Seitan can also be ground up to use as a ground meat or sausage alternative when seasoned properly, which would extend the number of low-fat recipes readily at my disposal by a great deal.  If it’s anywhere close, Sietan taco meat or grilled Sietan burgers would be a nice addition to the weekly line-up.  Not to mention all the meatball recipes that would be available (Seitan-ball marinara wraps spring to mind).  I’m not fooling myself by saying that it’s gonna be like meat or be convincing as meat.  Rather, I’m just looking for something that, texture wise, is a good enough simulation that I can do some things that don’t translate well when working with just vegetables.

I’m rather anxious to experiment with this new-to-me meat substitute.  What I’ve read online has made me optimistic, since many fellow omnivores have commented that the consistency is much closer than the other available alternatives, especially when used in thin slices.  At worst, it’s gotta be better than tofu.

And, luckily, nobody in the TacoHut has a gluten sensitivity, so that’s heartening.

-Confusion is a state of mind, or is it?