Saturday, September 22, 2012

Karen's Ingredient Glossary

Seitan? What is that?  

   I keep cooking with seitan and not telling you anything about it.  Seitan is my meat alternative of choice.  It has actually been used in asian cuisine for centuries, originally  developed by Buddhist monks.  It is made of wheat gluten flour.  The gluten gives it a texture that looks and tastes much like meat.  The wheat gluten flour is mixed with a liquid such as vegetable broth, wine, or a soy sauce & water mixture and then baked to form a loaf. Though it's consistency is much firmer and denser than bread,  it is a type of bread.  Wheat meat.  It is actually an excellent source of protein, too.  The great thing about it is it can be seasoned to replicate your favorite meats.  I've altered the recipe dozens of times, making homemade pepperoni, italian sausage, pastrami, corned beef, chicken fried steak, thanksgiving turkey, meatballs, chorizo, and gyros.  I highly recommend trying to substitute your favorite meaty dish with seitan.  I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.  You can buy it ready made at almost any grocery store, but making it yourself is way more cost effective.  It's quite easy to make,  and you have the pleasure to season it  how you like.

Nutritional Yeast- your new best friend.

   Another ingredient common in my recipes is nutritional yeast.  I use it daily.  It looks like yellow flakes.  It sure doesn't sound appetizing, but it has a salty, nutty, cheesy flavor, kinda like parmesan cheese.   Delicious on salads, popcorn, and a great overall cheese substitute. It is a natural, inactive yeast.   Great source of vitamin B12 and it saves the day when I want something cheesy.  It should not be confused with brewer's yeast which tastes bitter, or the active yeast used for leavening.  It is inexpensive and readily available packaged or in bulk at natural food stores.

Tofu-  Please don't be scared

  I know what you're thinking.  Ew.  Even if you never tried it, you hear it and shudder. Whenever I mention tofu, I scare people away.  Tofu gives us vegetarians a bad name.  I admit a package of tofu,  take a bite.  It doesn't taste good.  In it's out of the package unseasoned state, it has a very mild flavor...that is not very pleasant.  You have to give that tofu some love.  It is actually a very versatile ingredient.  With a soft cheese or scrambled egg like texture, it takes on any seasoning you give it.  Don't be scared to marinate that tofu in some flavor.  All of a sudden, it is delicious.  I've been making tofu scrambles for years, way before I stopped eating eggs, because I actually like it better than eggs.

  I notice a lot of people think soy is bad.  Avoid processed soy and stick with traditional soy products such as tofu, miso, and tempeh.  Much like gluten (in my opinion), if it's not an actual allergy, you have nothing to worry about.  I'm no doctor, but common sense tells me that gluten and soy have been around for thousands of years.  They are very basic plant based ingredients.  Again, in my opinion, it is when you add preservatives, oils, refined sugars, etc, that these foods become an unhealthy problem.  People experience health problems and weight gain from all the additives.  If you just eat natural foods from the source, your food will taste better and it will be better for you.  Another thing to look for is certified organic soy products.  This way you can be sure they are not treated with any harsh chemicals such as the very toxic hexane, and that the soy you're eating is from non GMO beans.

Liquid Aminos

  Liquid aminos are a liquid protein derived from soybeans.   It is considered a gluten free, preservative free, substitute for soy sauce or tamari.  It tastes a lot like soy sauce.  In fact, I can't tell the difference.  It does have much lower, naturally occurring sodium than soy sauce, and contains 16 essential amino acids.   I often use it instead of bouillon to make a broth.  It is very inexpensive, and you can easily find non-GMO certified brands such as Braggs Liquid Aminos, at any supermarket or natural foods store.

I will add more to this glossary eventually.  Please let me know if you are interested in more info on any other ingredients.


Miso is a traditional Japanese food made from fermented soy beans, rice barley, and other grains.  It is used primarily as a salty seasoning and a base for  dips, dressings, sauces, and soups.  Different types of miso vary in flavor, aroma, and color.  It is high in B-complex vitamins.  Avoid boiling miso which destroys some of its nutritional value and digestive properties.  Stored in a tightly sealed container, miso will keep for months.  Find it in a refrigerated section of the natural foods store.

Liquid Smoke

Liquid smoke is an excellent seasoning for soups, sauces, and bean dishes.  It adds a nice hickory (they also have mesquite) smokey flavor.  It is a great substitute flavor for a ham bone in soups or for pork with beans.  It is not spicy at all, just smokey.   No additives or preservatives, vegan and gluten free.  I use the brand Colgin for liquid smoke.  It is the most common and you can find it in the grocery store near the BBQ sauces.

Sriracha Sauce

Sriracha is a very spicy chile sauce.  I describe it as similar to a ketchup flavor and consistency but with lots of heat.  It has a slight sweetness to it.  If you like heat, sriracha can become quite an addictive condiment!

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