I met Jessica Taft at a health food store in Manhattan. She began our conversation by taking me to the fridges in the back of the store where she grabbed a couple packages of her seasoned seitan (gyro and sausage) to use as visual aids. She then told me about a food memory that has been a guiding inspiration for her life; it was at an outdoor rock concert in California sometime in the mid-eighties. She does not remember the band, but remembers what she ate... a vegetarian gyro. And that's when she realized that "you don't have to be a vegetarian to eat like one". And so in her quest to recreate the perfect vegetarian gyro she enrolled in the Natural Foods Culinary School in NYC, where she worked on seitan gyro recipes that would appeal to vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike.
While she was telling me about the stringent kosher certification her seitan features, the woman at the next table broke into the conversation. She studied the packages on the table, asked a few questions about how the product should be prepared or served (in pasta, on a pizza, with an omelet...). "This will be perfect for my daughter, she is very healthy...it's easy-to-prepare, different, and parve!"
Back in my kitchen the objective was clear: putting plain seitan to the Carnivore Test. Could it stand in for pastrami, turkey, chicken? The Deli Maven in the house would surely have something to say. Steeping seitan strips overnight in a brew of borscht, pickle juice, and a blend of spices, yielded a pastrami-hued substance. After coarsely chopping the seitan then lightly sautéing it so it was crispy around the edges, it was heaped on top of a saucy layer of Russian dressing, with a scoop or two of sauerkraut, and then blanketed in melted Swiss cheese. The deli lover was both surprised and pleased with the result.
Then because Big Game Sunday was just a football toss away, throwing a Buffalo chicken-style dish into the mix made sense. Chopping up seitan purchased at my local health food store, and dousing it in hot sauce and then baking it in piquant blue cheese dressing and cream cheese presented a substantial and irresistible vegetarian dip. Which kind of sums up my seitan cooking experiment in general.
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For more seitan recipes/information, visit Taft Food Masters.