Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Big Thick Slab of...Well...

If you're like me, and I know I am, you like sandwiches in summer. It's one of those times of year where you get a craving for something fulfilling yet convenient, easy to put together, and generally healthy. It's something you can put together with whatever ingredients are on-hand.

But when you're a vegetarian or a vegan, it can be difficult to round off the ingredients. After all, most sandwiches have things we don't eat as ingredients. So it can be really frustrating. Even though it's easier and easier to find more substitutes in stores, most of the especially delicious ones -- like salami, which almost always works well as a substitute -- are rare, perpetually sold out, or not stocked.

However, it's not hard to make your own delicious meat substitutes, often called 'wheatmeat', right there at home! It also tends to be cheaper, and it works out saving you money anyway for not having to constantly ride the roads to check all the area supermarkets to see if they've actually managed to get in stock and keep in stock a single pack of veggie lunch meat you like that they won't have the next time you check.

And so, without further hesitation, I give you...

A Big Slab of Vegstrami


1 1/4 C vital wheat gluten
1/4 C nutritional yeast flakes
5-6 tbsp crushed tomatoes
1 tbsp olive oil
2 guajillo chillies
1-3 Asian chillies (optional)

splash balsamic vinegar
splash tamari

water, to desired consistency

to taste:

mustard seed
black pepper
white pepper
liquid smoke

1) Reconstitute any chillies that are dried. Drain and set aside.

2) Mix the dry ingredients together thoroughly in a bowl. Preheat your oven to 325 Fahrenheit.

3) Mix together oil, vinegar, tamari, and liquid smoke in a bowl that will hold your wet ingredients.

4) Puree tomatoes and all chillies together. If you would like a milder taste, empty out the seeds before you puree. Make sure they are smooth enough and mostly liquid, and add to the tamari mixture. Mix thoroughly.

5) Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and blend as thoroughly as possible. Add small amounts of water, a spoonful at a time, to desired consistency. It should be stretchy and not runny at all. It may help to simply knead it with your hands, to combine it thoroughly.

6) Shape the mixture into a cylindrical shape, as thick or as thin as you would ideally like. Wrap it tightly in tinfoil and twist the ends to be sure it's very tight, like a holiday cracker.

7) Bake at 325 for 1 1/2 hours.

8) Remove from the oven and let cool momentarily. When you are able, remove it from the foil and set it on a cooling rack.

9) Once the pastrami has cooled completely, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap or in a plastic bag. Refrigerate for at least a couple of hours, or ideally overnight.

10) Serve on crackers, sandwiches, or eat it by itself!

Tips and Such:

- Try to knead the mixture for at least a minute, not only to make sure you have everything mixed, but also because it helps to improve the texture of the finished dish. You'll find that kneaded substitute is generally more appealing than that which has barely been kneaded.

Guajillos are notoriously tricky to get reconstituted. They're usually sold in big bags full of the dehydrated peppers. You can either soak them in boiling water for around 30 minutes to 1 hour, or you can just toss them in a pressure cooker with enough water to cover them. Wait for the cooker to whistle a couple of times, then take it off heat. Let it cool down and, when it's ready, remove the peppers. The stems should come off easily and the peppers should be tender and able to be pureed.

Don't try to puree them without reconstituting them, because dried guajillos are very tough and not at all fit for consumption. Once they're reconstituted, however, they're full of delicious taste but only mild heat.

- Asian chillies are known by a variety of names. Sometimes they're Indian chillies, sometimes they're called Korean chillies -- they're small and usually in a variety of red and green, but typically mostly red. You can find these in any Asian grocery. They are rather hot, but they become less so if the seeds are emptied out, which is easy enough.

You can keep them in a paper bag in the refrigerator, and they will keep indefinitely. However, they do dry out after a point. If this has happened, simply throw them in with the guajillos to reconstitute them, and they will also easily become tender again.

- Like salsa and various other savoury foods, this pastrami is best when it has been allowed to rest and 'cure' for a while. If you can, leave it in the fridge overnight, wrapped in a plastic bag or plastic wrap. This will allow it to even out the flavours and to become more consistently delicious.

- If you don't have access to tamari or don't like the taste, substitute soy sauce. However, use more soy sauce than you would tamari, because tamari has a stronger flavour presence and a more robust addition to the overall taste.

Ingredient Info

Vital wheat gluten is basically natural protein occurring in wheat. Some people are allergic to gluten or omit it from their diets for personal reasons, but for most vegetarians it is an extremely nutritionally valuable substance. Many meat substitutes, or 'wheatmeats', are made from wheat gluten; in some cases these are called seitan, which is perhaps surprisingly pronounced pretty much the same as 'Satan'. Vital wheat gluten is typically added to bread dishes, to make them puff out more impressively and to give them a generally more attractive finished look. Because gluten is made up primarily of protein, it is a great substance to have around and it also serves very well as a substitute not only in taste and texture, but nutritionally as well.

Guajillo chillies are moderately hot peppers that are actually rather mild on the heat scale, and they can be made even milder by removing the seeds from them. Because they have a thick, tough skin, they have to be soaked longer than most dried peppers in order to reconstitute them. They have a delicious flavour, however, and are more than worth the trouble. They are especially good in salsas, and that is also where they are commonly found.

So there you have it! It doesn't have to be difficult at all to make your own wonderful meat substitutes at home. You can enjoy this pastrami on its own, on sandwiches, crackers, or pizzas! Let your imagination run and enjoy the versatility of a simple, rewarding ingredient.

Plus, you don't have to scour the vegetarian food section at the grocery store and groan in anguish that they don't stock one of the few really good ones...just make your own! It's easy, inexpensive, highly nutritious, and the best part of have full control over what goes in it. If it's too spicy, reduce the chillies next time. If it's not spicy enough, add more. If you want to throw in some citrus zest, do it!

And that's one of the best parts of cooking things yourself. You call the shots, you know what you put in your food, and it's all for you.

So get in the kitchen and get ready for sandwich season! I'll bet your mouth's watering already!

};) Dhiar <3