I was one of those few lucky teenagers who managed to find a group of kindred spirits with whom to spend my time. We were, to borrow a line from the movie Bridesmaids, a stone cold pack of weirdos, but we shared common values, philosophies, and interests in a way that I’ve come to realize is far from the norm in adult relationships, let alone those in the adolescent world. Although I no longer keep in touch with these individuals except in the loosest sense (i.e. Facebook), their influence on my life was enormous. The experiences, conversations, and adventures I had within these friendships largely shaped me into the person I am today.
Probably my favorite of our recurring adventures involved taking the train into Philadelphia. The purpose of these trips was generally twofold: to get out of the rather boring suburbs in which we all lived and to eat at the only vegan restaurant that any of us knew of. You see, while I had committed to a vegetarian diet in my mid-teens, I had a couple of friends who had already taken it a step further to veganism. Eating at a suburban restaurant as a vegetarian in the late 90s was difficult enough, but trying to find something vegan on the menu? Well, let’s just say I watched my friends eat way too many plates of french fries. But at “our” restaurant we all had an entire menu of food to choose from. No restrictions. No badgering the server to make sure there was no dairy or honey or chicken broth hiding in our entrees. Just ordering off a menu like normal teenagers. In a word: free. And it was this very freedom that made these trips so enjoyable and so memorable for me. It wasn’t, of course, just the freedom I found from being able to choose whatever I wished off of a menu. It was also the freedom I felt from leaving, even if for only a few hours, the town in which I had spent my entire life, the places I would always go, the things I always did. It was about having experiences and making discoveries on my own; relying a little less on the adults in my life and a little more on my peers. Becoming an adult.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been to that restaurant. I can’t even say for sure that it’s still in business since my memory fails me when I try to come up with its name. What I do remember well, however, is the owner running out the door to greet us when he’d see us walking down the sidewalk and the wonderfully delectable faux meat they served that absolutely put the Boca Burgers and Chik’n nuggets that my mom so lovingly stocked our freezer with to shame. These days, I don’t eat much faux meat, seeing as it’s generally pretty heavily processed. And to be honest, if I’m really in the mood, I’ll just eat the real thing since I’m no longer a vegetarian. But once in a while I do like to make my own, um, meat product in the form of seitan. By far my favorite way to use this wheat meat is in a faux beef with broccoli dish. Not to creep out all of you veg(etari)ans, but the texture of the seitan mimics that of rare beef very well so it’s a fantastic substitution. The recipe you see here has been through several iterations, and I’m pretty happy with it as written. I’ve kept it simple with just a handful of ingredients, but all with strong flavors that combine for an intensely flavorful dish. It also cooks up in no time, making it a perfect weeknight meal that will come together in less time than it would take to order take-out.
Seitan with Broccoli
As I mentioned, I make my own seitan to use in this recipe. You could certainly use store-bought seitan, but it’s really so very cheap and easy to make at home. I use the recipe from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian app. There’s also a great seitan recipe from the Post Punk Kitchen.
for the marinade:
1 tsp cornstarch
1 T soy sauce
1 T rice wine or dry vermouth
for the sauce:
1/4 c soy sauce
1/4 c water
2 tsp maple syrup
1 tsp rice wine or dry vermouth
for the rest:
1 lb seitan, sliced
2 T sesame oil (not toasted sesame oil) or other cooking oil
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 inch piece of ginger, grated
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1 head broccoli, cut into florets
1/2 c toasted cashews (optional)
brown or white rice, for serving
Combine the marinade ingredients in a bowl. Add the sliced seitan to the bowl and toss to coat. Set aside to marinate for 10-15 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet over medium high heat. Brown the marinated seitan, cooking for a few minutes on each side. Add the garlic, ginger, and red pepper to the wok and cook for a minute or so. Add the broccoli, toss to coat, and cover for a minute. Uncover, add the sauce, and cook until the broccoli is crisp tender. Stir in the cashews, remove from heat, and serve over rice.