I grew up in California, most of that time in San Francisco, within walking distance to Fisherman’s Wharf. The majority of the rest of my life has been spent on the West Coast of British Columbia (pre-and-post-vegan). My father was Peruvian, with an Italian mother. These facts alone might explain why I have seafood cravings to this day, 25 years after becoming vegan.
Some vegans, the ones who turn up their noses at any sort of replication of animal proteins, might say “get over it and eat some nori seaweed” (which I do from time to time), but inventing dishes is my craft, if you will. I can’t help being inspired by memories of the delicious meals of my past. I have a keen memory for outstanding meals—the tastes, smells and textures of certain dishes.
Don’t get me wrong—I love beans and grains, nuts and vegetables, and we eat them regularly and enthusiastically. But certain dishes of one’s culture, family background, holiday customs, and where we grew up stick with us, conjure up wonderful memories and feelings of comfort and pleasure. To deny these feelings, especially those of another vegan, out of some effort to be “pure”, even when no animal is harmed, seems misguided to me.
BACK IN TIME
Interestingly, (considering the “purity” angle), fine vegetarian cuisine developed first in Buddhist monasteries. The importation of Buddhism from India during the Han Dynasty (C.E. 58-75) influenced the development of a sophisticated vegetarian cuisine, since one of the five abstentions of orthodox Buddhism is an injunction against taking life. According to Hsiang Ju Lin and Tsuifeng Lin in their book “Chinese Gastronomy” (Hastings House, NY, 1969):
“Buddhists are vegetarians, consequently a small pocket of gastronomy has developed, fascinating in its attempt to create the ordinary flavours and appearance of fish and meat by using vegetarian ingredients. The Buddhists, whether monks or ordinary people, mingled freely with the non-vegetarians, and because the manners of Chinese society are all-embracing and diffuse, felt obliged to provide food which looked and almost tasted like meat. This was a sign of hospitality.”
Wealthy ladies would make pilgrimages to the city temples, having ordered a vegetarian lunch in advance. (This was apparently one of the few occasions on which wealthy women could go out by themselves.) The authors continue:
“The school of cooking which originated in the temple kitchens expanded and was taken up by the Yangchow cooks, specializing in delicate pastries and noodles. The challenge of simulating textures and appearance was irresistible. They were, in fact, able to reproduce even the intricate diamond pattern of duck skin, by lightly scoring smooth bean curd and filling in the cuts with a soy sauce mixture. Vegetarianism, which had originated for ethical reasons, finally became the gastronome’s business, and fell into the fine hands of the pastry cook.”
The pious Buddhist Emperor Wu (Wudi) of the Liang dynasty (also known as the Southern Liang Dynasty, C.E. 502-557), who donned monk’s robes several times throughout his reign, wrote an essay entitled “Forsake Alcohol and Meat”, in which he urged Buddhists to become vegetarians. He modelled much of his rule after the Indian Buddhist Emperor Ashoka of the Maurya Dynasty (273 -32 B.C.E), establishing Buddhism as the state religion of China, and prohibiting monks from drinking wine and killing animals. From that time on, vegetarianism in China was linked with the Buddhist prohibition against taking life. To this day, many Chinese and Japanese Buddhists sects prohibit eating meat.
Although tofu and other Chinese soy products are strongly associated with Chinese vegetarian cuisine, it is less well-known that wheat gluten may have been introduced into Chinese cuisine as early as during the reign of Emperor Wu (see paragraph above). The making of a sort of proto-gluten is described in the Chhi MinYao Shu (“Notes on Miscellaneous Affairs”; C.E .544[Liang Dynasty]).
Eventually, wheat gluten was called mien chin, meaning “the sinew of flour”, and was a well-established term by the Sung period (C.E. 969-1279), mentioned in writings of the time. A passage about iron and steel from Shên Kua’s Mêng Chhi Pi Than (“Dream Pool Essays”, C.E. 1086) reads: “Steel is to iron as mien chin (gluten) is to mien (flour). It is only after thoroughly washing the dough that gluten is revealed.”
Gluten was mentioned over the centuries by many writers and scholars, even in novels, such as Hsi Yu Chi (“Journey to the West”, C.E. 1570) and Ju Lin Wai Shi (“The Unofficial History of the Literati”— C.E. 1740.). This indicates that gluten was accepted outside of the circle of Buddhist ascetics. Recipes for cooking gluten are found in the major culinary works of the Yuan to the Qing (Chhing) Dynasties (C.E. 1279- 1912).
Over the centuries, Chinese chefs devised ever more elaborate recipes for meatless “meats”, “seafood”, and “poultry”. Stella Lau Fessler, in her book “Chinese Meatless Cooking”, wrote: “To a Chinese cook, imitating certain meat dishes with non-meat ingredients is not simply a matter of replacing the meat. It is instead an effort to show off the great culinary art of China, to make the impossible possible.”
So, this is nothing new, obviously, and we vegan cooks who devise modern homemade meat and seafood substitutes have a great example and proud lineage to follow.
IT’S ALL IN THE NAME
What do we call these products, anyway? “Meat analog” or “meat alternative” or “meat substitute” sound dull and unappetizing, and “gluten”? Well, I’ll let my friend David Lee, founder of the Field Roast Co. from Seattle, explain why he coined another term for it: “You know, gluten, the word for wheat protein, is kind of an odd word. I think it’s kind of an unfortunate word. I wish it wasn’t called gluten because gluten is kind of—you know, ‘glue-tahn’—it’s just kind of an ‘uhh’-sounding word. It’s a word that I actually try to avoid.”
As you probably know, David calls his products “grain meat”. He explained to me: “…meat wasn’t exclusively associated with animal meats, or animal flesh. As a matter of fact, I think you can find in any dictionary that the word ‘meat’ used to mean ‘food’ or ‘meal’, and also meant ‘substance’ (as in ‘the meat of the story’ or ‘the meat of the matter’). Think also of the word ‘nutmeat’ and how soy was called ‘the meat of the field’ in China.”
He also points out how milk is not exclusively dairy-based anymore—there are bean milks, like soy; grain milks, like oat and rice; seed milks, like quinoa, hemp and flax; and nut milks, such as almond, cashew, coconut and hazelnut. Soy why not “grain meat”, “nut meat”, soy meat”, etc.?
IN THE KITCHEN AGAIN
Delicious modern gluten/seitan/grain meat-based recipes abound on the Internet these days (often with the addition of other grain and legume flours), and in the pages of vegan cookbooks, but it’s difficult to find good recipes to satisfy those seafood cravings I was mentioning before. There are fewer seafood sub recipes online, and there are commercial products that I’ve read about, but they never seem to be available where I live. So I have had to devise my own recipes. There’s a “salmon” recipe in my bookWorld Vegan Feast (Vegan Heritage Press, 2011), but what I miss the most is shellfish—not only the taste, but the texture. The basic recipe I’m going to share with you below is satisfying to me, versatile, inexpensive, freeze-able and relatively easy to make. (I’m also including some favorite recipes using the basic product.) I hope you will enjoy these homemade products as much as I do, and devise your own recipes for using them.
INGREDIENTS: Mushroom/Kombu Broth: (Make this first and cool thoroughly.) 5 1/2 cups boiling water 10 medium-sized dried shiitake mushrooms or Chinese dried black forest mushrooms 1/3 cup dried boletus, mixed wild, or porcini mushrooms(or, if necessary, use about 16 shiitakes or Chinese mushrooms and omit the boletus or porcini) 1/2 oz dried kombu seaweed Dry mix: 2 cup pure gluten powder (vital wheat gluten) (See this link for how to tell if you have the right product) 1/2 cup chickpea flour, white bean flour, soy flour, or urad dal flour 2 teaspoons sugar 1 teaspoon onion powder 1/2 teaspoon garlic granules Wet Mix: 1 1/2 cups cold Mushroom/Kombu Broth (see above) 12 oz extra-firm regular (NOT silken) tofu, broken up 1 tablespoon oil 1 teaspoon salt Cooking Broth: 3 1/4 cups hot Mushroom/Kombu Broth (see above at top of ingredient list) 1 tablespoon vegetarian “oyster” sauce (see recipe and info for commercial brands below) 1 teaspoon onion powder 1/2 teaspoon garlic granules
Mushroom/Kombu Broth (Make this first and cool thoroughly): Soak the mushrooms and kombu in the boiling water, covered, for about 30 minutes, then strain. Freeze the mushrooms for future use in recipes, if you have no use for them right away. Discard the kombu.
To cool off the broth quickly, place it in a shallow dish or bowl and place in the freezer until cool. DO NOT use hot broth in the Wet Mix! Hot liquid will make the seitan stringy.
For the Wet Mix, blend all of the ingredients until very smooth in a blender or food processor.
Mix the Dry Mix ingredients in the bowl of your electric mixer with dough hook attachment, or place them in the bread machine in the order given. Add the cooled Wet Mix and knead for about 10 minutes. (If your bread machine has a dough cycle-two kneads with a long rest in between, use that cycle. Otherwise, just run it through the kneading part and then unplug it and let it rest in the covered container, then plug it in again for another knead, then remove it.)Let rest for about 1 hour, covered. While the dough rests, you can make your Cooking Broth and have it ready. Then knead the dough for 10 more minutes. (NOTE: You can knead by hand, too, but it’s tougher than bread dough. You may want to let the seitan dough sit for a while to soak up the liquid more thoroughly before you start hand-kneading.)
When done, the dough should be quite shiny and smooth. Avoid breaking it up when you take it out of the bowl.
While the dough rests, you can make your Cooking Broth and have it ready. Then knead the dough for 10 more minutes. (NOTE: You can knead by hand, too, but it’s tougher than bread dough. You may want to let the seitan dough sit for a while to soak up the liquid more thoroughly before you start hand-kneading.)
When done, the dough should be quite shiny and smooth. Avoid breaking it up when you take it out of the bowl.
<div style=;” widows:=””>Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Roll each one out on a clean countertop with a rolling pin to make a rectangle about 3/4-inch thick. Cut each rectangle into 4 squares (more or less). Roll the squares out to about 3/8″-thick. The pieces will be thicker after cooking. Repeat until you have rolled all the dough out this way:
Preheat the oven to 300°F.
Place the seitan squares in 2 oiled 9×13″ baking pans. The squares can overlap a bit. Pour half of the Cooking Broth over the seitan in each pan. Cover with foil. Bake 30 minutes. Turn the cutlets over, cover and cook 15-30 minutes more. (You just want to let the cutlets absorb all of the broth, not really brown them, so keep an eye on them.) Separate them carefully. Cool them before proceeding. (You can place them on a platter and cool them quickly in the freezer, if you wish.)
To cut the Sea-Meat Scallops:
Cut as many rounds as possible out of the cooled seitan squares with a 1″ wide or slightly smaller round cookie cutter. (I had to buy a set of round cookie cutters in order to obtain one of this size).
Grind the scraps coarsely in a food processor to use for Chopped Sea-Meat (clam substitute). NOTE: All seitan freezes well.
This is a “veganization” of an old favorite from my childhood. I cut the olive oil down as far as I could, but you MUST have some in this sauce! You can serve this with a vegan parmesan substitute, but this type of dish is normally eaten without cheese.
INGREDIENTS: 1 lb linguine, spaghetti or other pasta of choice (I used farfalle or bowtie pasta in the photo) 1/4 cup good extra virgin olive oil 1 medium onion, minced 6 cloves garlic, minced Optional:a few pinches of dried oregano or basil 1 cup Vegan “Sea Stock” (see recipe below) 1/2 cup dry white wine or white vermouth (can be non-alcoholic) 1/2 teaspoon salt 2 cups (loosely packed) Chopped Sea-Meat (see this link) 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley Optional:freshly-ground black pepper to taste, or pinch of red chile pepper flakes
Place a large pot of water on to boil for the pasta.
Heat the oil in a large heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the onion, stirring, until starting to be golden, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, and optional herbs, if using. Cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic is golden, about 2 minutes. Stir in the Vegan “Sea Stock” and wine, and boil, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until slightly reduced, about 3 minutes.
Cook the pasta in the pot of boiling salted water until al dente, then drain in a colander. While pasta is cooking, stir the Chopped Sea-Meat into the sauce and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, 4 to 6 minutes. Remove from heat. Taste for salt.
Immediately add the drained pasta to the sauce along with the parsley, then toss until combined well. Add optional pepper, if desired. Serve immediately.
This is a handy recipe for vegan “sea-meat” recipes.
6 cups hot water 10 medium dried shiitake or Chinese black forest mushrooms 1/2 oz dried kombu seaweed 2 teaspoons light miso 1 1/2 teaspoons vegetarian “oyster” sauce
(see recipe and info on commercial brands below) 1 teaspoon salt
Simmer the mushrooms and kombu, covered, in the water for 30 minutes. Strain in a colander. Save the mushrooms for another dish, if you like. Discard the kombu. Stir in the miso, vegetarian “oyster” sauce, and salt. Dissolve thoroughly. Strain through a fine sieve. Refrigerate.
This is deliciously simple Italian way to showcase your Sea-Meat Scallops. If you want a more “fishy” flavor, add a tablespoon or so of dulse or nori flakes to the sauce.
12 oz. Capelli d’Angelo (Angel Hair pasta– can be whole grain) 2 cups frozen or fresh shelled edamamé (green soybeans) 2 tablespoons good extra virgin olive oil 32 Sea-Meat Scallops (see recipe above) 1/4 cup Seasoned Flour (see recipe below) 2 green onions, chopped 4 teaspoon minced garlic (depending on your taste!) 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary (or 1 teaspoon dried) 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dried) 1 1/2 cups Vegan “Sea Stock” (see recipe above) 1 1/2 cups dry white wine or white vermouth(can be non-alcoholic) Optional:1tablespoon vegetarian mushroom-based “Oyster sauce” (see recipe and info on commercial brands below) salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste) Serve with: lemon wedges vegan parmesan
Place a large pot of water on to boil. When it boils, add the pasta and the thawed edamamé to the water and set the timer for 4 minutes. In a bowl, mix the Seasoned Flour with the Scallops until they are all coated.
Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy nonstick skillet. When hot, add the Scallops, green onion, and the garlic and quickly stir-fry over high heat until the Scallops are slightly seared. Add the Vegan “Sea Stock”, wine, herbs and salt and pepper to taste (and the “Oyster” Sauce and seaweed flakes, if using) to the skillet. Cook briefly at high heat.
Drain the pasta and edamamé when done and add to the skillet. With a large spoon and a pasta rake, toss the contents of the skillet while it cooks. You want the pasta to absorb most of the sauce, with just enough left so that it isn’t dry. Quickly divide the pasta evenly into 6 warm pasta bowls. Serve with salt, pepper, lemon wedges, and vegan parmesan substitute.
Have some of this in your refrigerator at all times for costing vegetarian proteins before browning– it adds great flavor!
2 cups whole wheat, or other wholegrain, flour 1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes 1 teaspoon salt OPTIONAL: 1 teaspoon onion powder, 1 teaspoon garlic granules and freshly-ground black pepper to taste. Other spices can be used, according to the type of recipe you are making.
Mix together the flour, nutritional yeast flakes, salt, and, optional onion powder and black pepper, if using. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator.
This recipe goes quickly, so make the sauce first and keep it warm, and have the asparagus steaming while you fry the “Scallops”.
INGREDIENTS: Lemon-Garlic “Butter” Sauce: 4 teaspoons vegan butter 4 cloves garlic, minced 2 cups light vegetarian “chicken” broth (do not use a very salty type because you have to reduce it—try using 1/2 as much powder or paste as you would normally) 2 medium organic lemons, grated zest and juice 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon water Optional Finish: 4 teaspoons vegan butter Additional: 2 lbs. fresh asparagus, trimmed and steamed until tender, but not mushy Fried “Scallops”: 32 Sea-Meat Scallops(see recipe above) whole wheat flour for dredging 1 cup plain soy, hemp, or nut milk mixed with 1 tablespoon lemon juice 2 cups panko (Japanese breadcrumb– look for Ian’s Whole Wheat Panko Breadcrumbs, if you prefer whole grain. Amazon carries them.) oil for frying
DIRECTIONS: To make the Lemon-Garlic “Butter” Sauce: Heat the first 4 teaspoons of vegan butter in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and stir with a wooden spoon JUST until the garlic begins to turn golden. Add the broth and the zest and juice of the lemons. Bring to a boil over high heat.
Turn down to a high simmer and cook it down to 1 1/4 cups (important!). Stir in the cornstarch mixture and stir until thickened. Stir in the remaining 4 teaspoons of vegan butter, if using. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.
To fry the “Scallops”: While the asparagus is steaming, set up shallow bowls with the whole wheat flour, the milk and lemon juice mixture, and the panko breadcrumbs in a line on your counter. Dredge the “Scallops” in the flour, then the curdled milk, and then coat all over with the panko. Place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, not touching.
Heat an inch or so of oil in a large heavy skillet. When hot, add the coated scallops, turn the heat to medium-high, and fry until crispy on both sides. Drain on paper towels.
To Serve: Distribute the steamed asparagus on 4 plates. Pile 8 fried “Scallops” over each pile of asparagus. Drizzle warm Lemon-Garlic “Butter” Sauce over each serving, and serve more on the side.
Chinese oyster sauce is a favorite flavoring, thick, rich-tasting, and slightly sweet. I use the vegan version frequently to coat plain tofu for use in stir-fries and fried dishes instead of chicken, and, of course, it’s essential in some Chinese dishes. As well, it can add rich flavor to homemade seitan/grain meat. If you can’t buy it, it’s easy to make a very acceptable substitute.
You can find commercial vegetarian versions, made with mushrooms, in some Asian groceries and large supermarkets (and online, including at amazon). Sometimes it is labeled “vegetarian oyster sauce” or “mushroom oyster sauce”. It is also marketed as “vegetarian stir-fry sauce” (Lee Kum Kee brand). It keeps for a long time in the refrigerator. However, it can be difficult for people in some areas to find, so I am giving you a recipe for a homemade version.
BRYANNA’S HOMEMADE CHINESE VEGETARIAN MUSHROOM “OYSTER” SAUCE (ALSO KNOWN AS “VEGETARIAN STIR-FRY SAUCE” Makes 18 liquid oz., or about the same as a commercial bottle
NOTE ON MUSHROOMS: For the dried mushrooms, you don’t need expensive shiitakes—just use the inexpensive dried Chinese mushrooms (or Chinese forest mushrooms)that are easily available. Snap off the stems and discard them, then grind the mushrooms to a powder in a DRY, clean blender or coffee/spice grinder.
1 1/2 cups boiling water 6 tablespoons ground dried Chinese mushroom (see note above) 6 tablespoons Chinese brown bean sauce or pasteOR use 5 tablespoons mild brown miso + 1 tablespoon water 6 tablespoons soy sauce 6 generous tablespoons brown sugar 1 tablespoon cornstarch (can be organic) dissolved in 1 tablespoon cold water
(IMPORTANT: leave the plastic cap out of the center hole in the blender lid and cover it with a folded towel, so that the hot liquid doesn’t explode.) Pour into in a medium saucepan and heat to boiling over high heat. Add the dissolved cornstarch and stir until thickened. Cool and store in a covered jar or bottle in the refrigerator. Since it is quite salty and sweet, it should keep for several months.
NOTE: You can, alternatively, microwave the mixture, with the cornstarch, in a medium bowl and cook on 100% power for about 1 minute, then whisk. Repeat until thickened and store as above.
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Meet The Chefs Series - Bryanna Clark Grogan - Vegan Mainstream Cookbook Club
Join us for a live chat plus Q&A with +Bryanna Clark Grogan -- Tips for making your own seitan -- The great thing about vegan soups... -- Best brunch foods
*About Bryanna Clark Grogan* Vegan since 1988, author of World Vegan Feast & 7 more vegan cookbooks, Bryanna has devoted over 40 years to the study of cooking & nutrition. She developed the recipes for Dr. Neal Barnard's Program for Reversing Diabetes, & contributed recipes to Howard Lyman's No More Bull! & Cooking with PETA. She has appeared at Vegetarian SummerFest, Vegetarian Awakening, Portland VegFest, McDougall Celebrity Chef Weekend, VidaVeganCon, & Seattle VegFest. She also runs a small branchof the Vancouver Is. Reg. Library system, has studied and performed belyydance for 15 years, likes mystery fiction and British TV, and is interested in social justice issues. She lives on Denman Is., BC, Canada, with her B&W film photographer/baker husband Brian, dog Phoebe, & cats Ringo & Sadie. She has 3 daughters, one son, 2 stepsons and 7 grandchildren, ages 24 to 9.
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