The urban myth incorrectly linking protein deficiency to vegetarianism and veganism is just plain tiresome. Fact is, most Americans get far more bad-quality protein than they need. We Westerners suffer from diseases of overconsumption like cancer, heart disease and diabetes, not from diseases of underconsumption like kwashiorkor – caused by protein deficiency usually owing to famine.
Endurance athletes, however, do need more protein than the average bear to help our muscles stay strong and lean and to help our bodies recover more quickly.
Protein guidelines for endurance athletes:
• .7-.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight
• 1-1.3 grams per kilo of body weight
— International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN)
Seitan happens to be one of the most protein-rich foods out there. Growing up, I never gravitated toward protein, which partly explains why I became vegetarian at age 14. But as I’ve grown more serious about running, I’ve also become more serious about protein consumption, resulting in a serious seitan addiction. You could go as far as to call me a Seitan Worshiper or a Seitanist.
What the hell is seitan, anyway?
For the uninitiated, seitan is simply “wheat meat” that humans have been enjoying for more than 1,500 years. Seitan is low in calories, carbohydrates and fat, and super high in protein – averaging roughly 300 calories and 54 grams per 1 cup serving. As Men’s Health points out, ounce per ounce, seitan contains 15 grams more protein than New York Strip steak and 25% less fat. It’s also cholesterol-free and contains a decent amount of iron, making it an even-more distance runner-friendly food.
Vital wheat gluten, the foundation of quick-made seitan
Seitan has the same chewy texture as meat, and like meat, it absorbs the flavors of whatever you infuse it with – herbs, rubs, sauces, etc. If you eat it plain, just as if you would eat meat plain, it will taste plain. You can basically substitute the same amount of seitan for meat in any recipe you have.
If you have gluten issues, seitan is not for you, because it’s basically pure gluten, made from vital wheat gluten, which I buy in bulk. (Aside: some of my European friends hypothesize that it’s not gluten per se, but ratherGMO wheat that causes the health issues).
There are as many seitan recipes as there are cooks. I included a recipe for seitan in my first cookbook, and most recently, I’ve really enjoyed the baked seitan in several of Terry Hope Romero’s vegan cookbooks. When the nice folks at Ulysses Press offered me a review copy of Bringing Home the Seitan by Kris Holechek Peters, I was thrilled to give it a go. I like that there’s an entire cookbook devoted to seitan, with variations on all its themes: wings, burgers, sausages, ground “meat,” etc. Kris even includes a recipe for Seitan Lunch Meat, which is on my “to-make” list, and old-fashioned, scratch-made seitan which relies on regular flours, instead of vital wheat gluten.
Bringing Home the Seitan: aesthetics
You shouldn’t judge a book by a cover, but let’s face it – attractively designed books sell better. With all the razzle-dazzle vegan and vegetarian books on the shelves these days, this one looks pretty humble by contrast. It’s an old-school sized paperback. No photos. Very dated looking cover and interior page layout. The index is not well orchestrated; some recipes and cross-referencing terms are missing.
Bringing Home the Seitan: the recipes
It gets better since content is king. I made three recipes. Spoiler alert: they were all keepers.
This book is not 100% vegan or plant-based, although all of the basic seitan recipes are. Kris includes milk, egg and cheese in some recipes, but if you are plant-based, it’s easy to make adjustments (Plant-based options would have been a nice addition)
Meaty spheres, aka vegan meatballs. 9 grams of protein per sphere. Meaty spheres with spaghetti – great post-race chow
The Meaty Spheres are basically vegan meatballs, They were easy to make and stored well. I found myself adding them to salads, pasta, Buddha bowls and simply enjoying one or two for a snack after a run. The texture was not quite crumbly as you would expect a meatball to be, but they were still tasty, evenly seasoned and had the chewy, “meaty” mouthfeel that some vegetarians and vegans miss.
Mexican Sausages, fresh from the steamer. Hopefully, they will look smoother next time I make them. 22 grams of protein per sausage! I threw together this salad with sliced Mexican sausages, spinach, cucumbers, and raisins.
The Mexican Sausages, pictured above, were my favorite of the three recipes I tried. You make them using the steam method that my friend Julie Hasson developed and introduced in her awesome cookbook, Vegan Diner, which was shot by my friend Steve Legato.
Chicken Wings topped with my own tahini sauce. Not the prettiest photo but they were quite tasty. 12 grams of protein per wing.
The Chicken Wings were super delicious, but ironically, I thought their semi-crumbly texture was more meatball-like than that of the Meaty Spheres. Kris offers several, more involved variations on the Wings theme, but I just made the basic version.
If you like seitan and make it often, there’s a definite spot on your bookshelf for Bringing Home the Seitan.