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Gluten is a protein found in wheat. The protein is insoluble which makes it very useful in cooking. We often see the gluten as the wire-like structure in bread. Seitan is a dough of pure gluten and water and is traditionally mixed with soy sauce, kombu and ginger. Seitan is very durable and will not fall apart as easily as for example tofu or soy meat when cooking. That means it's ideal to use in barbeque, stir-fries, casseroles and as toppings.
The history of seitan
Around the 10th century in ancient China seitan became common in the vegetarian cuisine among Buddhist monks. The monks were looking for something that could replace meat in the traditional Chinese cuisine. This search resulted in two different meat substitutes. Tofu, based on the protein from soy bean. And gluten as the protein in wheat. The monks were preparing bread dough in large water bath and quickly noticed that the water was too syrupy by all the starch. And what remained was just a gummy lump of dough, which consisted of 70-80% pure protein or gluten. The Buddhist monks developed what can be described as a detailed science about how to prepare gluten to find different varieties of meat substitutes. Today the Chinese call seitan for "Mien Ching" or "Buddha food", after the Buddhist monks who came up with seitan.
The tradition of making this vegetarian alternative to meat then traveled around in Asia with the spread of Buddhist teachings. The Japanese began to cook gluten by letting it simmer in a mixture of shoyu (soy sauce), kombu (an aquatic plant) and ginger. The traditional name for gluten in Japanese is "fu". But in 1960 George Ohsawa (founder of the macrobiotic diet) began to call it seitan. Which means "wheat to simmer in shoyu."
Why eat Seitan?
Firstly, it is an excellent substitute for meat for those who already switched to a vegetarian diet. Furthermore, it is useful. Especially in comparison to other meat (although seitan does not contain anything that animal meat does, like saturated fat and cholesterol). But above all it is cheap. To 300 grams seitan, you will need about 5 dl. wheat flour. The cost will be about $ 1 (2 kilo wheat flour costs about $ 2, and then add spices and soy sauce for seasoning). 300 grams of pork or poultry costs around. $5. You don't need to be a mathematician to see the difference.
Note: Smaller portions of seitan does not apply as a full source of protein. To be certain of getting full protein eat you can combine seitan with legumes and accessories that are rich in lysine, while planning their meals. Or just add soy sauce, which has a high amount of lysine as it's an derivative of soy beans.
In order to prepare seitan you only need two things. Water and wheat flour (1). And to finally complete the seitan we also need soy sauce, ginger and if you have a good asian grocery in your block - kombu.
This amount equals to approximately 2 servings. I chose "special wheat flour" because it has a slightly higher protein value than regular wheat flour. But regular wheat flour are also welcome. We need:
• 5 cups. Wheat flour Special
• some water
• 2 tbsp. soy sauce
• 1 pinch sea salt
• 1 tbsp. grated ginger or ginger powder
Start by mixing water and flour in a bowl until you get a saturated paste (2). The dough should not be sticky but also not break when you knead it. Knead the dough for 10 minutes or longer for the gluten to get going. Let the dough rest in a bowl of cold water for 2 hours (3).
When the dough has rested it's now time to wash out all the starch from the dough. We do this by kneading the dough in a warm water bath. When you knead the dough, you'll notice quickly that the water becomes cloudy and white (4). When the water has become so murky that you can not see through it then you replace it with new water. It usually takes between 7-10 water bath to wash out all starch. After a little while you will see how the gluten mass is building up as a yellow-gray stringy pulp (5). Continue to knead in the hot water bath until the stringy rubbery mass is the only thing that remains, and it no longer colors the water white (6).
In ancient China, they took care of every resource. What you can do here is to save all of the starch-rich water that remain after washing. Let all the starch fall to the bottom and carefully pour off as much water as possible and let it dry. The starch that remains in the bottom can be used for stabilizers in sauces or other cooking.
Place the dough on a small form in 10 minutes to rest (7). In the meantime, we will prepare our stock. Mix 1 liter of water, soy sauce, sea salt and ginger in a saucepan. Let it boil and when the gluten dough is ready you cut it in half and add it to the broth (8). Let everything simmer for about 1 hour. The broth shouldn't begin to boil because then the dough mass can become too "fluffy". You can also add "liquid smoke" and vegetable stock for it to taste more like smoked ham, but don't forget the say sauce since it adds a rich color to the final product and also for enhancing the protein value.
After the broth and gluten dough has simmered for approximately 1 hour, the dough has now become firm in texture, put them on a plate to cool down - they are now ready to be used in other cooking.