Gluten it be nice

Smoky Red Pepper Seitan

Gourmandistanis are generally a tolerant lot, especially when it comes to food. (Fools, on the other hand, we struggle to abide.) While we sympathize with those who must avoid shellfish, peanuts, wheat or meat for religious or health reasons, our little world is blissfully free of dietary laws—though Steve must occasionally be reminded that “no kidneys, no livers” is a strong preference, not an actual law. That gives us license to explore cuisines, cultures and creative ways of going meatless, including seitan.

Seitan is a form of wheat gluten, something Buddhists and other vegetarians have known for centuries as mock pork, chicken or duck. Our seitan comes in a little package of blobby brown bits that look more like compressed cardboard than meat—but cubed, marinated and cooked it makes a lovely stand-in for animal flesh, particularly in stir-fries. One of our favorite ways to use seitan is in this recipe that originally called for chicken. The simple marinade and smoky, garlicky sauce make the seitan chewy, meaty and satisfying. If you can tolerate it, you should try it.


(adapted from Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid’s Seductions of Rice)

  • 3 TB dry sherry or Xioaxing wine, divided
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. cornstarch
  • 8 oz. seitan, cut into small cubes
  • 3 TB soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1/3 c. meat or vegetable stock or water
  • 1 tsp. rice vinegar
  • 6-8 dried red chiles
  • 2 TB peanut or other neutral oil
  • 1 large or 2 small onions, cut into medium dice
  • 2 TB minced garlic
  • 1 TB minced ginger
  • Handful of peanuts, toasted

Mix together 2 TB sherry or wine, salt and cornstarch in a shallow bowl .  Mix in seitan, tossing well to coat.  Let stand for at least 30 minutes at room temperature.

Mix 1 TB sherry or wine, soy sauce, sugar, stock or water and vinegar in a small bowl.  Place near the stove, along with all the other ingredients.

Place wok over high heat. Toss in the chiles and briefly dry-fry to sear.  Remove chiles from wok and set aside.

Add oil to wok.  Toss in onions and stir-fry over medium to high heat until soft and slightly charred.  Add garlic and ginger.  Return chiles to wok, along with seitan.  Stir-fry until seitan is browned a bit in places.  Add liquid and toss until everything is combined and heated through.

Serve on rice.  Top with peanuts.



  1. You guys are funny. 🙂 This reminds me that I never replied to you about gross tempeh! (Sorry, I often read on my phone while rocking an almost-sleeping baby but I hate typing on my phone so sometimes things get by me. ) I do find that I like some brands of tempeh but not others. You’ll have to experiment with what you have locally. I also like to really brown it well, which gives it another layer of flavor.

    Now back to seitan! Because that is something that I have never cooked with. Are there different kinds? I am going to look for it this week. And what are the nice-looking greens alongside in the photo?

    • Truthfully, I don’t know that much about seitan. We buy the Westsoy brand just because that’s I think all that they have at our Whole Foods. But I saw some people on the Internet saying that there are much better brands from, oh let’s just say it … the West Coast … so you can try them and tell me! Oh,and thanks for pointing out. I meant to put in somewhere that those are mustard greens—some of our first local ones. Hooray!

    • I generally agree. I really like tofu, for example—as long as one is just using it for what it is. Certainly not in “bacon” or “meatloaf” form! And, the recipe is good with chicken, too, of course.

  2. When I was a vegetarian (can you believe it?! I fell off that wagon HARD!), I always wondered about people who cooked with things like seitan as a stand-in for animal protein. To me, seitan always tasted like . . . seitan! That’s not to say it isn’t good — it is — I just think that you should just like it on its own merits.

    That being said, your dish looks really tasty. I love the ingredient list. And you have local mustard greens already! Man. Some people get all the good stuff first!

    • You did fall off the wagon! Seitan is OK. I mean, particularly in a stir-fry it’s sorta like fried bread. But I agree that most things masquerading as something else (Tofurky anyone?) are stupid. Why do vegetarians long so for ground beef-ish tacos, turkey, bacon, etc.? But I’ll give seitan a pass on that since folks have been making it into “mock” something or other for centuries.

      • Those Buddhists are pretty ingenius with all their mock meats. I have to say, though, when I was a vegetarian, I did I get really excited about things like fake bacon and sausage. I used to tell my friends that they tasted like bacon and sausage.

        They didn’t. But it had been so long that I had forgotten!

      • It’s true though! I read an article about those crazy people who put themselves on extreme calorie restriction diets. The author decided to follow the diet for the article and at one dinner, when he allowed himself a piece of Quorn, he was just swooning in ecstasy.

        His friend who was not on a calorie restricted diet? Not so much!

        Absence makes the heart delusional!

    • Given the fact that we currently have both pork and beef products salt-curing in our foyer, we’re sort of unlikely seitan and tofu proselytizers! But they’re both good in their own ways.

    • Thanks, Emma! Those Japanese thought of everything, didn’t they? Oh, and I’m so glad you reminded me about the justhungry and justbento sites. I love those, and haven’t looked at them in ages for some unknown reason.

  3. You guys crack me up!! Food and fools. Lol. I had never heard of seitan before- very interesting! I am going to see if I can get some in this part of the world. It seems very versatile indeed!

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