Monday, April 5, 2010

Meatless Monday - Adventure with Seitan

Be like Gwyneth Paltrow!

What? you say. I already iron my hair straight, wear galoshes with tights and my nightgown, and name my children after fruits. And Bible figures. I am already like Gwyneth.

But you can be more like Gwyneth ... and save the planet.

Meatless (or Meatfree or Meatout) Monday is a movement to reduce the amount of meat consumed worldwide. It's not a particularly well-organized movement, as evidenced by the fact that it goes by several different names, but it should begin to gain traction since Gwyneth Paltrow has written about it in her newsletter. All kidding aside, this movement was borne out of the fact that in 2006, the United Nations reported that rearing cattle produces more greenhouse gases than transportation. They recommended that everyone reduce their meat consumption to combat this problem.

Many conservatives declare they're not buying such claims, that they are free to do whatever they want and there are flaws in the science. Even if that's true, is going meatless one day a week going to hurt anyone? Just the opposite. The benefits of a vegetarian diet are well known - better health for us, for animals, and for the earth.

This year, I made a bigger commitment to a meatless lifestyle than I have in the past. For many years, I haven't eaten red meat or pork. In January, I started cooking only vegetarian at home. And I thought I would share some of my food adventures.

When it comes to alternative proteins, I'm a big fan of beans, dairy, and quinoa. I thought, however, that I should give seitan a try. If you're not familiar with it, seitan is a cooked wheat gluten. Yum! Gluten.

If you're a meat-eater, you're probably thinking - why the h-e-double-hockey-sticks would I eat a lump of gluten? Well, seitan is low in fat and calories and high in protein - just what the doctor ordered. It's long been part of Japanese cuisine, which is one of the healthiest in the world. And for those of you who might be a bit leery of vegetarian cuisine, it's much more like actual meat than other meat substitutes, such as tofu. Another plus - the ingredient list is short, consisting mostly of ... well, gluten.

I decided that I would run with seitan's Asian origins, sauteing it, and including it with peanut noodles. (Recipe for peanut sauce below). While I thought the plain seitan was a bit salty (it was a soy-flavored version), once it was in the peanut noodles, I didn't really notice it at all. It really looks meaty, and it blended well with the Asian flavors. While I wouldn't say I'm completely sold, I'd definitely try it again.

If you want to try seitan (or meat, noodles, or whatever) this peanut sauce is a great accompaniment:

Peanut Sauce
1/2 c. natural peanut butter (ingredients: peanuts/salt)
3 tbsp rice wine vinegar
3 glugs soy sauce (hold the bottle and say, glug - glug - glug as you pour. 3 glugs)
2 glugs chili sesame oil
Vegetable broth

Put a small pan on medium high heat. Drop the peanut butter in and sort of spread it out. When it starts to melt, put in the rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, and chili sesame oil, stirring after each addition. It will begin to get grainy. Take the vegetable broth and pour in a glug or two at a time, stirring all the while. Repeat this 3-4 times, until the sauce is creamy and looks like this:

Remove from heat. Pour over noodles (if Asian noodles such as soba aren't available, cappelini or thin spaghetti would work). Add your favorite veg (green onions, tomato, and broccoli slaw go great). And seitan, if you're trying out meatless Monday!

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