Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Seitanic Verses

Yes, I went there. A cheap pun combining meat substitutes and Salman Rushdie (since we're having a curryl). Don't judge me, I've had this in my head for days.

My wife baffles the hell out of me sometimes. I make lots of curry at home. Lots. Aside from Italian and good ol' Southern cooking, it's probably the most common staple we eat. The woman eats rasam, she eats dal, she eats stuff I have no idea what I'm making, other than "it's some stuff and I'll make a curry out of it."

Despite this high sense of adventure she has when I'm the one cooking, she's hell-bent on eating only one dish at our local indian restaurant whenever we go out. It's always "Chicken Afghani, mild please!" No saag paneer for her, no. Gosht Vindaloo? Why never! Yes, she'll pick at starters and appetizers. She likes their mulligatawny soup. She likes stuff like samosas, bhajjis, and other things. But the main dish she gets is always the same, which drives me nuts.

Because I'm a great husband, I've tried to recreate this dish at home, just going by taste. It's been pretty trial and error. I finally got it right this time (or really close at least) and with a vegan dish to boot!

Now vegan chicken, hmmm how do I go about this abomination? Well, I was gifted a few cans of "meat" from a friend who dabbles in seitan, which I've made before. It's vital wheat gluten, fast-kneaded with spices and then boiled to set. Marinade it in salt, fat, and whatever you want it to taste like, and voila, it's a meat-like thing! See:

"Quack Quack"

"Bock Bock!"

I had a can of "chicken" and a can of "duck". After tasting each, I'm pretty sure there's no real difference. By themselves they really don't fool a soul, but they're decent enough that you get the right effect in a curry. Also, since this is very much a northern curry, the real McCoy traditionally uses cream or yogurt. Instead, I'm using coconut milk, because it tastes great.

Now, let me preface this by repeating my beliefs: this sort of thing is a bit of a mockery. I think vegan foods that aren't trying to be something they're not are preferable to the alternative every single time. However, sometimes you have to stuff your principles a little, especially if you are cooking for a wife who wants to eat the same sort of stuff she was eating before you went to the V-side. In that case, go for it.

Here's my mise en place, sort of.

  • About a pound of seitan, hand-shredded
  • 1 cup tomato puree
  • 12 ounces coconut milk
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds, crushed
  • 1 tbsp amchoor powder (dried mango, can be found in indian/ethnic grocers. Sub with a tablespoon of lemon juice if you don't have any, it'll be close enough)
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 2 tsp chili flakes
  • 1 tsp salt + more to taste
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
Heat your oil in the pan to near-smoking. Add cumin, let pop for a few seconds, then add coriander and keep on heat for two or three more seconds before removing from the heat. Add your onions, turmeric, salt, and garam masala, and turn the burner to medium-low. Stir and cook, cover, and come back every five minutes or so to stir more, for 15 minutes. If it starts to stick, add a little water to deglaze and keep stirring.

Add your tomato puree, chili flakes, and amchoor, uncover, and let cook on medium heat, stirring frequently for five minutes. To that, add your seitan, cinnamon, and cardamom, and cook another 5 minutes. Afterwards, add your coconut milk carefully, stirring to combine as you drop the heat to low. Let it go another five minutes or so and turn the heat off. Stir your minced garlic in. Taste and adjust your seasoning.

It's a very thick and rich sop, and you can either have it with rice or a flatbread like naan or roti. Since I like my options open, I usually have a little of each. In this case, roti's vegan so there you go.

Mission was accomplished apparently since she raved about the curry and asked me to make it again. I may very well later down the road, but I'm ready to move onto more fun things.

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