Once upon a time, on a crazy whim, I decided to go vegan. There, I admitted it! Really it's no secret... especially to our friends and family, almost all of whom complained about our veganism (my husband, though somewhat hesitantly, also went vegan with me). For many, the challenge with making the transition to plant based is the food, itself. For me, that part was the most fun! I really loved exploring an entirely different way of eating and cooking with things that were totally new to me like nutritional yeast, tapioca starch, and seitan.
During my adventures in veganism, I found that a lot of vegan meat substitutes were available, but there weren't many that I felt wholly good about eating. Sure, they were made without any animal products, but what about all the other crap on that paragraph-long ingredient list? Many vegans will tell you that one of the reasons they changed their diet is to have a smaller footprint, to eat more sustainably. But what’s so sustainable about an over-processed veggie burger that has thirty different ingredients and comes plastic-wrapped and in a box and is shipped from far away?
All rants aside, I think veganism can be great for some people but I discovered that it just wasn’t for me. Maybe I just love food too much to restrict my consumption to a diverse but limiting category. But the point is, I still really love vegan food when it’s done well and find myself revisiting old recipes from my all-time, absolute favorite vegan cookbook, Veganomicon (vegans everywhere… if you have not purchased this marvelous, incredibly useful cookbook you are doing your diet a disservice!).
Veganomicon taught me the merits of seitan. Not only is it a protein packed and entirely plant derived meat substitute, but I would venture to say that it’s the best tasting one at that. Making it from scratch will save you a ton of money, so if you eat it a lot it makes sense. For those occasional seitan eaters, I say go for the pre-made stuff. It makes for an incredibly fast and easy meal and usually has far fewer ingredients than frozen “chicken” nuggets and the like. The packaged stuff is more dense and chewy so it is actually much better suited for frying or sautéing and is easier to work with overall.
This recipe also calls for another somewhat unusual ingredient, which is pickled plums. Here in Colorado we are lucky enough to be able to find them almost everywhere, because MM Local sells them all over the place. They are a beautiful purple hue, sweet and tart in flavor, and incredibly versatile. So far my favorite use for these little pickled gems is sauce. You might also come across pickled plums in specialty or Asian markets, but be sure that you use soft fruit in liquid and not the dense, vacuum-packed umeboshi (Japanese pickled plums). Pickled cherries could also work well in this recipe, or even just fresh plums if you can’t find any of the above (just use more vinegar and less sugar to get the right sweet and sour balance).
If you’ve never made your own sweet and sour sauce before, this is the recipe to try. It’s incredibly quick and simple and uses much more wholesome ingredients than are typically found in the red dye and corn syrup laden versions found in typical Chinese take-out joints. This sauce gets its sweetness from the fruit and organic sugar, and the plums also act as a thickener so you don’t need any cornstarch. So, this recipe is a bit of an homage to my days as a vegan and to all the folks out there that think meat is the only delicious protein. I promise that if you serve this sweet and sour seitan to the most vociferous naysayer, they will be hard pressed to find any fault with this hearty, meaty and incredibly flavorful dish.
with Pickled Plum Sweet & Sour Sauce
1/2 jar MM Local pickled plums and juice (about 8 oz)
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup organic sugar
juice of 1 lime
1 T soy sauce
1 lb seitan
1 head broccoli
1 bunch rainbow carrots (about 8 small carrots), gently scrubbed but not peeled
1 jalapeno, sliced
1/4 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup sliced green onions
First, make your sweet and sour plum sauce. Add ingredients to a small saucepan, whisk together and bring mixture to a boil, then immediately reduce to low heat. Cook, whisking until relatively smooth, until the sauce thickens, about 5-7 minutes. You may find little bits of plum skin, which you can remove with a slotted spoon if you desire a smoother consistency. Remove from heat and set aside.
Break the seitan apart into bite-sized pieces and douse with a little extra plum juice, if desired (it makes the seitan a little pinkish which makes it look more like meat, if that’s your thing). Set aside while you prep your vegetables. Slice broccoli into 3-inch long (or so) spears. Quarter the carrots lengthwise and also cut into 3-inch lengths. In a wok or a large pan, heat a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil over high to medium-high heat. Add carrots and sliced jalapenos first and stir-fry until tender-crisp, about 6 minutes. Season with a little salt and set aside once cooked, then add broccoli (with a little extra oil, if needed). Stir fry until florets begin to brown slightly, then add a splash of water to allow broccoli to steam, slightly. Continue this method, adding a little water if the broccoli browns too fast, until broccoli is tender-crisp, about 8 minutes. Season with salt and set aside with carrots and jalapenos.Drain your bits of seitan and dredge in rice flour until coated. Fry in the wok with additional vegetable oil until browned and crispy, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat and add sweet and sour sauce. Mix well to coat seitan. Plate vegetables with sweet and sour seitan on top and serve with cooked rice. Garnish with sliced green onions.