Chicago is a food town. Now I think most big cities call themselves "food towns" but seriously, Chicago? We rule. Now a lot of it is very meaty but that is the Midwest and I barely even notice it because of the sheer amount of vegetarian and vegan options there are here. One thing I was missing moving here was some damn good Chinese food. Honestly..... how is there no good Chinese food here?!?! I've found much better stuff in my hometown in Wisconsin. I'm pretty basic.... I just want General Tso's tofu or maybe some vegetable lo mein. Every time I've ordered either one they have been either really inedible, disappointing or just plain gross.
It is true that necessity is the mother of invention and I'm not saying that I invented Chinese food (wow, I really hope you wouldn't think I would say that, haha). After having thrown away so much nasty take out Chinese food, I realized I can make this stuff myself. Duh Jackie, right? Remember when I made Sesame Tofu with Broccoli? So good. Now we have Black Pepper Seitan "Chicken"! So I've never had this dish before but my roommate suggested I make it so she can have a meat free version of it. And I'm willing to accommodate meat eaters with some non-meat options to show how easy and awesome it can be to be meat-free. This is my own recipe with some inspiration from here.
(Looks pretty good, huh?)
Okay, so I wrote the directions out and they are lengthy but I promise that this is not a hard thing to do. There are just a lot of steps. I want to "school" you on vital wheat gluten (or seitan or "wheat meat") for a moment just in case you have no idea what it is or where it comes from. I buy mine online and love Arrowhead Mills but I know that Bob's Red Mill and King Arthur Flour makes one as well. You can get them at most Whole Foods, health food stores and often times in the natural/organic section of your standard supermarket. It can be pricey but it lasts awhile. It is worth it to make your own seitan.
(Cartoon courtesy of Bizarro)
Black Pepper Seitan “Chicken”
1 c. vital wheat gluten
Scant 1 c. water (I use just a bit less than a full cup because I like my gluten firmer; too much water makes it squishier)
Mix together and form a ball with your hands. Knead a few times just to make sure everything is cohesive. If your dough is more firm then you shouldn’t have to knead it quite as much. Set aside while you make the broth.
4 c. water
½ c. nutritional yeast
¼ c. soy sauce or tamari
1 t. kosher salt
2 t. onion powder
1 t. garlic powder
Turn your heat on high before throwing all the ingredients into a large pot and whisk until fully incorporated. You want to get this broth to a boil before throwing in your seitan chunks. Speaking of that, take a sharp knife and slice your seitan into whatever shape you want. I like random chunks that you can easily eat in one bite, but do whatever you like! Once your broth is boiling (and smells amazing, trust me) gently place your seitan around the pot. Don’t pile them all up together because you don’t want it to stick. Once all your seitan is in the pot, stir it around to make sure everyone is getting along nicely. Lid your pot most of the way (I always leave a crack on the side to let some steam out) and turn the stove down to low. You want it simmering but not boiling like crazy. Check every ten minutes and stir to make sure nothing is sticking to anything else. The seitan will puff up so don’t freak out, you didn’t do anything wrong. Let it simmer for about 50-60 minutes until most of the broth is absorbed into the seitan. Drain the liquid and scoop out the seitan onto a plate and let cool on the counter.
Get a large sauce pan and turn it to med-high and cover the bottom with oil. This is not an exact science but take about 3-4 T. of cornstarch and a dash of flour with a pinch of salt, pepper and paprika and shake it in a covered container or zip top bag. Take about 1/3 of your seitan and toss it in the starch mix to coat. Make sure to shake off the excess before frying in the hot pan. Fry until it is light brown on both sides and repeat the starch coating for the other 2/3 of the seitan. Place the chunks on a plate with paper towel and let cool.
Once this part is done, wipe down the pan and turn off the heat while you prep the veggies and sauce.
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 yellow onion, sliced
¼ c. soy sauce or tamari
2 T. cornstarch
1 t. rice wine vinegar
1 t. freshly ground black pepper (I may have added about 1/3 t. more…. But I like things very peppery)
1 t. sugar
1 garlic clove, minced fine or pressed
¾ c. vegetable broth or water
Whisk everything but vegetable broth together and set aside.
Get your pan hot again on a high flame. Put about 2-3 T. of oil into your pan and toss your veggies in, they should sizzle like mad! You want to get some nice dark color on your veggies but not burn them of course. Toss the veggies about for a few minutes until they are tender. Empty your sauce into the pan along with the broth. Whisk the sauce in to make sure there are no starchy clumps in your food. It will get thick but just keep moving everything around for 1-2 minutes. Place your seitan in the pan and coat with the sauce. Now serve with some rice and enjoy!
Now if you got through reading all of this, congratulations! It looks like a big deal but it's really not. You just have to have the forethought to make seitan; which you can do up to a week in advance and just keep covered in your fridge. I encourage you to make your own take out-style foods because you control the ingredients and what is going in the end product. That is very important to me and I really hope it is to you!
Next up, America's Test Kitchen Ultimate (my own words) Low-Fat Brownies! These are my go to brownies now.... more on that later.