Falsetti: Want plant-based protein? Make your own

Julie Falsetti
For The York Dispatch

I have been reading about the newest plant-based proteins, otherwise known as fake meat, for a while. Burger King and White Castle have both jumped on the bandwagon. On Thursday, Aug. 8, the Impossible Burger will be available at Burger King nationwide.

I decided to try them for myself and headed over to my local supermarket, where I purchased a package of Beyond Burgers. At $3 apiece, they should taste like Kobe beef. Although the manufacturer promised that they looked, cooked and satisfied like beef, I found only the first of the three to be true.

For my money, I turned to a more tried and true meat substitute: seitan. Seitan has a long history. There are written references to it in a 6th century Chinese agricultural encyclopedia. It was primarily used to prepare meals for adherents to the Buddhist religion.

Seitan is made from wheat gluten and natural seasonings. Wheat gluten is what remains after the starch is removed from wheat. Seitan is very high in protein (21 grams per 3-ounce serving) and low in carbohydrates. When cooked, it has the look and texture of meat. It is much more versatile than pre-made meat substitutes, as it will take on the flavor of any dish in which it is incorporated.

Although you can buy seitan, like all commercially produced meat substitutes, the price is prohibitively expensive. Making your own is a fairly simple process that will produce enough for a couple of meals for four people. Nutritional yeast and chickpea flour can be found in the supermarket. I found the Bob’s Red Mill brand wheat gluten at Leg Up Farmers Market.

Below are a basic recipe for seitan and another using it in a popular dish found in Chinese restaurants.


2 tablespoons oil

1 large onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon paprika

1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs, or 1 teaspoon dried

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 cup vegetable broth

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1/4 cup chickpea flour

2 tablespoons nutritional yeast

11/2 cups vital wheat gluten

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sprinkle with salt. Cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onion is softened slightly. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the garlic and stir. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until the garlic is softened. Add the paprika and herbs to the pan, stir, and cook for 60 seconds. Remove from the heat.

Use a spatula to transfer the onion-garlic mixture, including oil, to a blender or food processor. Add the tomato paste, vegetable broth, soy sauce, chickpea flour and nutritional yeast. Blend until smooth.

Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl and add the vital wheat gluten, then stir until evenly combined. Once stirred, use your hands to knead the mixture until it becomes firmer and a little bit springy, about 2 minutes.

Prepare boiling water and a steamer. Be sure to add plenty of water, since this will be steaming for a long time. Form the dough into two log-shaped pieces, then roll it up tightly in a piece of tinfoil, twisting the ends tightly.

Once the water is boiling, steam the wrapped gluten dough for 1 hour, carefully flipping it over halfway through.

Let the cooked seitan cool to room temperature, then unwrap it. The homemade seitan in log form will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week. It can also be frozen.

Vegan Mongolian ‘Beef’

3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided

1 teaspoon ginger, minced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (more if you like more heat)

1/4 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder

1/2 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce

1/2 cup vegetable broth or water

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 teaspoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons cold water

1/2 seitan recipe, pulled apart into bite-size pieces

Scallions and sesame seeds for garnish

Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the ginger and garlic; stir constantly and cook for about a minute. Add the five spice powder and red pepper flakes, and cook for 30-60 seconds more.

Add the reduced-sodium soy sauce, broth and brown sugar, and stir well. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and let simmer, about 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Mix the cornstarch and cold water, then add it to the pan and stir. Cook for 2-3 more minutes, until the sauce becomes glossy and thickened slightly. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting and keep simmering gently until ready to add to the seitan.

In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the seitan and cook, stirring frequently, for about 4-5 minutes or until slightly browned and crisped around the edges.

Reduce the heat to low and add the sauce to the pan. Stir to coat all of the seitan pieces. and continue cooking until the sauce has adhered to the seitan. Remove from the heat and serve hot over rice. Garnish with sesame seeds and scallions.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section. Reach her with questions and comments at julietrulie11@gmail.com.