Gluten: Friend or Foe?
For centuries, the Chinese have been making a meat substitute from the gluten in wheat, known as seitan. These days, seitan can be found in the refrigerated section in many health food stores, or you can make your own from whole wheat flour (see below!).
I once taught a group of women in Jamaica how to make homemade seitan, and after we had made it, they invited me to dinner. They had created a range of delightful local dishes in which they substituted the seitan for the meat they would normally use. The children who ate the meal with us devoured it without even realizing they weren't eating meat!
Make Your Own Seitan
Put about 8 cups of high-gluten, unbleached wheat flour (also called "strong wheat flour") into a large mixing bowl and add enough water to form a dough—about 2 cups.
Once the dough has come together, transfer to a work surface and thoroughly knead it to activate the gluten. It should be earlobe consistency. Return the dough to the mixing bowl and cover with cold water. Allow to sit for about 10 minutes, during which time you can make the stock for cooking the seitan.
In a saucepan, combine 4 to 5 cups water, 1/2 cup tamari, about 12 slices fresh ginger and a 3-inch strip of kombu seaweed. Bring to a boil and simmer on a low heat for about 10 minutes. Set the stock aside to cool. It's important that the stock is cold when the gluten is added, as hot water will cause the gluten to expand and result in a bread-like texture. You can make different stocks to cook and season your seitan, depending on how you want to use it.
After the dough has soaked for 10 minutes, start to rinse the starch out of the dough, alternating between warm and cold water. The warm water loosens the dough and makes it easier for the starch to be released, and the cold water tightens it and brings the gluten together, so make sure the final rinse is in cold water. The gluten can tend to fall apart when you start rinsing it, but with practice it gets easier—I had a few disasters before I finally mastered the technique myself!
Once the stock has cooled, add the gluten—you can add it as one piece or break it into smaller pieces, depending on how you want to use the final product. Bring it to a boil, then cover the pot and simmer for about 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces.
The seitan is now ready to be used in a range of dishes from stir-fries and casseroles to meat-free bolognese and my Sizzling Seitan Burgers.