Friday, February 5, 2010

Wheat-meat chickpea cutlets and how to make seitan

I must be the only person in existence in the history of this planet that actually enjoyed school cafeteria lunches. While my classmates were gagging and holding their noses because of the plasticine, hairy food, I was scarfing down plate after plate of it. I still have fond memories of some of my favorite school lunches and have tried recreating them myself from time to time.

One lunch I especially loved was veggie cutlets with mashed potatoes. Sure, those cutlets were probably more chemical than food, and those mashed potatoes started off as flakes and not in the ground, but even so... When I'd smell the rubbery goodness, I'd bolt down the stairs to the cafeteria, load up my plate, slather it with ketchup and dig in.

I read on the Happy Atheist Homemaker's blog about making veggie cutlets that fondly reminded me of school cafeteria fare. The recipe calls for chickpeas and vital wheat gluten, a combination I would never have dreamed of putting together but appealed to me because I imagined that the texture of beans and wheat gluten would balance each other out nicely to make a decent mock meat cutlet. Additionally, wheat gluten is only half a protein, as are beans. When they are combined, they make a complete protein- another plus of this combination.

The original recipe calls for vital wheat gluten, a “flour” that is all wheat gluten. If you've been reading my blog long enough, you'd know that I hate spending money on something I can easily make myself. Wheat gluten is something I can make easily and cheaply myself; I wanted to figure out a way that I could make this recipe with my own homemade wheat gluten.

Wheat-Meat Chickpea Cutlets

This recipe is based on one I found on Happy Atheist Homemaker's blog, but mine only has cheap,made from scratch ingredients.

My version, served with real mashed potatoes with leek and mushrooms

 3 cups sprouted and cooked chickpeas (or I guess you can use canned if you're lazy about cooking beans)
6 tablespoons of your healthiest oils (no, I won't tell you what kind of oil I put into mine)
2 cups homemade wheat-meat (see below for directions how to make your own)
1.5 cups bread crumbs (you can use homemade bread crumbs. I used store bought ones that I bought way back when and needed to be finished up)
6 tablespoons soy sauce
1.5 tablespoons garlic powder (use fresh, its probably better. I was being lazy.)
1.5 teaspoons dried thyme
1.5 teaspoons paprika
¾ tsp sage

Blend the chickpeas with the fat/oil until its pretty smooth. (You can use a masher for this- I didn't, because I didn't want chickpea clumps as I was making this meal for someone who is just picky like that.)
Mix in everything else and knead so that its thoroughly combined and a uniform mass. If it is still sticky, add more breadcrumbs- you want this to be able to stick together and not fall apart.
Divide this into 10 or 11 pieces and shape into rectangular cutlet shapes. You can fry these. I put mine on a greased cookie sheet and cooked them on 350 for 20 minutes on one side, flipped them and cooked them for 10 minutes on the next. That's all that really needs to be done, but I wanted mine crispier, so I turned my oven onto the broiler setting and cooked these cutlets for 5 more minutes on each side until they were nice and toasty.

I paired these up with mashed potatoes mixed with fried mushrooms and leek.
Oh, the combination is heavenly! So heavenly that it doesn't even need ketchup!
This meal definitely did remind me of our school lunches, but was much healthier and tastier.

Now, as to how to make your own wheat-meat---
But first, a little science.

Science of Seitan

Wheat kernels are comprised of 3 parts. The endosperm, bran, and germ. White flour is just ground endosperm, while whole wheat flour is ground endosperm, bran and germ. Endosperm is made up of starch and gluten.
Gluten is that pesky little thing to which many are allergic or sensitive, but fortunately I am not. Wheat gluten is a protein and a cheap one at that, very versatile and with the ability to make many a mock meat dish.
Mock meat made from gluten is nicknamed wheat-meat or seitan.

Making Seitan

To make wheat-meat you'll need to combine flour and water to make a dough. You'll need either unbleached white or whole wheat flour and I strongly recommend using white flour for this as the process of making wheat-meat washes out all the extras found in whole wheat flour, such as bran and germ. Thus, using whole wheat flour to make gluten is a waste of money and doesn't make the gluten any healthier.
Once the dough is made, you'll want to knead it for quite some time. While you knead it, the gluten in the dough forms long strands that will be used to make your wheat-meat The longer you knead it, the better. If your dough is looser and you're mixing it with a spoon, I've heard that 100 strokes with a spoon is the best. If kneading, knead “100 times”.
Then, you'll want to let your dough ball sit out for 10 hours or so. This helps the gluten strands get even longer, a necessary factor in the next steps.

After 12 hours have passed, fill the dough ball's bowl with water. You don't want to run the water directly onto the dough or the force of the water may make it fall apart. Running a slow trickle down the side of the bowl is the “official” way to do this. Let this dough sit underwater for another 2 hours.
When 2 hours pass, knead the dough ball under the water. The water will turn white (or brown, if you're using whole wheat) from the starch (and bran). Pour off this water (into your plants, of course, to be thrift with your water) and refill the bowl with more water. Repeat this step until the water stays clear even when you knead the dough underwater. Because the gluten is in long strands, it won't come apart into the water (and if it is, you're probably not using the best flour for this- are you sure your flour is unbleached?) and when the water is clear, you'll be left with a ball of complete wheat gluten, “pure” protein, useful for making many dishes. (For pictures, see here.)

In the aforementioned wheat-meat chickpea burgers, you'll measure out 2 cups of this wheat gluten and use it in the recipe.
In the future, I plan on sharing more gluten recipes for cheap, delicious and chemical free mock meat menus.

They also sell wheat-meat in the store either in ready form, or in vital wheat gluten- a flour form.

Do you ever eat anything made from wheat-meat? Do you make it from scratch or do you use store bought wheat meat?

This is part of Craft Schooling  Sunday

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