Tofu, Tempeh and Seitan; the Holy Trinity of a Vegan Diet

Tofu, Tempeh and Seitan

Ok, so I hate this photo more than any other I have ever taken.  Food has never looked so unappetising.  I even used an old, chipped, overly reflective blue plate just to get some colour into the picture and this made it both better and worse at the same time.  But I am not apologising because, if we are talking vegan we have to talk tofu, tempeh and seitan – the holy trinity of vegan protein sources.

So what are they?

Some Facts

Tofu

Tofu is essentially a bean curd made from soya beans.  It is formed by coagulating soya milk (mmmm) – the resulting curd is then pressed into blocks to form tofu.  This is a very similar process to that used when making soft cheeses (it doesn’t sound so bad now does it?).  It is reasonably high in protein and is also a good source of iron.  Do check the packaging though to make sure that your tofu is made from a non-GMO source of soya.

Tofu doesn’t have much flavour but it can absorb flavours wonderfully well and so becomes a carrier for the sauce or marinade of your choice.

Tofu comes in a number of different forms and they can be a little confusing:

Extra soft tofu is usually sold in a tube as it will not hold its own shape.  It is less commonly available in the UK but is often used in Korean cooking.

Soft or silken tofu is very smooth and quite fragile.  It is usually sold in block form and you can buy soft or firm silken tofu (not the same as firm tofu).  This can, with care be sliced, marinated and fried / grilled but it is best used as an egg substitute in baking/scrambled “eggs” or pancake batter.

Firm tofu comes in firm or extra firm.  It has been pressed longer than silken tofu and contains less water.  This is your go-to soya if you want to slice it and fry it or if you want to use pieces in stews or casseroles.

You can buy tofu fresh, frozen, in jars, pre-marinated, smoked… the list goes on.

Tempeh

Tempeh is also made from soya but this time the beans are fermented.  Tempeh has more flavour than soya and is kind of mushroomy/meaty.  It is also very firm and is often used as a meat substitute in casseroles and stews.  Tempeh can be sliced thinly and is sometimes used to make a meat free alternative to bacon.

Seitan

Seitan is made from wheat gluten.  It is closest in texture to meat and has a chewiness about it.  You can make seitan at home but it is a lengthy process which involves making a wheat dough and repeatedly washing it (by kneading it under water) until no starch is left.  The dough is then cooked and flavoured with vegetable stock or soy sauce for example.  The resulting seitan can be sliced and is firm enough to be cooked on a BBQ.  You can but seitan in blocks, in jars or vacuum packed.  Seitan is an excellent source of protein.

Comparable Data

If you are considering eating these foods as an alternative to meat you might find it helpful to check out some of the comparable data in the table below.

100g Chicken Tofu Tempeh Seitan
Calories 239 70 192 370
Protein 27g 8g 20g 75g
Iron 7% RDA 8% RDA 21% RDA 28% RDA
Vitamin A 3% RDA 0% RDA
Vitamin B6 20% RDA 17% RDA 0% RDA
Vitamin B12 5% RDA 3% RDA 0% RDA
Calcium 1% RDA 13% RDA 11% RDA 14% RDA
Magnesium 5% RDA 23% RDA 6% RDA
  • Data from multiple sources.

A Personal View

So, the piece above offers some general information about tofu, tempeh and seitan but here is my personal view as an experimental blogger!

Tofu is great.  I have used it sliced and fried, flavoured with soy sauce and sesame or topped with a chimichurri sauce.  I have baked with it and used it in some scrumptious sweet corn fritters and as a feta substiute in spanakopita (recipes to follow).

Tempeh and seitan I like less.  I personally feel no need to eat meat substitutes so I take no pleasure in faux meat products.  Tempeh tastes ok in its own right but I don’t find it to be necessary to a balanced diet.  I would rather eat the beans in their natural state.

I have only eaten seitan once, so I may not have given it a fair try, but I hated it.  The weird, fake chewiness of it was unpleasant and I didn’t feel great after eating it – it gave me a headache and an upset stomach.  This is not entirely surprising as I can sometimes have a sensitivity to gluten and this is condensed wheat gluten.  You may find you like it more than I do.  Give it a go!

All in all, these 3 products have their place in a vegan diet, they provide a soure of protein and, if you want it, some interesting meat alternatives.  I just wish they looked a bit prettier for this blog piece!

 

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Vegan Cottage Pie

Vegan Cottage Pie

I nearly called this vegan shepherd’s pie but I realised that shepherd really does imply sheep – not entirely appropriate for a vegan recipe.  Then I started wondering why cottage pie isn’t called beef farmer’s pie.  I guess it just isn’t.  This one has no meat, so maybe I should have called it vegan kinda cottage pie, but I didn’t.  I’ll stop rambling now –   here it is – whatever you want to call it!

I love, rich warming stews and think they are even better when served with mash – of any kind.  Cottage pie is usually made with minced beef and gravy but this one uses puy lentils rather than meat and has a delicious tomatoey sauce rather than gravy.  If you have a tub of homemade tomato sauce in the freezer as I usually do then it is incredibly quick to make.  If you don’t it might take a little bit longer but it is still not an onerous or difficult recipe.

I chose to top mine with cauliflower mash (because I love it) but you could use mashed potato or mashed butter beans (another favourite of mine).  I served this one with some green veg on the side but there is no reason why you can’t add some to the sauce and save on washing up – broccoli florets, spinach or garden peas would all work well.

I think this is a great dish to serve to unadventurous non-vegans.  The flavours will all be familiar to them and the lentils give the dish a kind of “meaty” texture and flavour without being meaty at all.  They also add a nice dose of protein that will keep you feeling full for hours.  I used a pack of ready-to-eat puy lentils but you can, of course, buy dried lentils, just give them a good wash first and you may have to cook them for a little longer.

Vegan Tomato Sauce with Lentils

Ingredients

Serves 4

1 Pint / 500 ml home made Tomato Sauce

2 medium sized Carrots

250g pack ready-to-eat Puy Lentils

1 large Cauliflower

A handful of Chopped Parsley

Method

Place the tomato sauce in a large saucepan and add 200 ml of cold water.

Peel and dice the carrots and add to the sauce along with the lentils.  Bring to the boil then simmer until the carrot is soft.  Add the chopped parsley and taste.  Add more seasoning if you need to.

Meanwhile prepare and steam the cauliflower.  Mash with a potato masher or blend with a stick blender if you want it to be super smooth.  Season to taste.

Pour the lentil mixture into a casserole dish.  Top with the cauliflower and swirl with a fork.

Place in the oven for 20 minutes until piping hot and slightly browned on top.

Serve with green veg.

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Vegan Laksa

Vegan Laksa Recipe

There are various types of Laksa across Malaysia, Indondonesia and Singapore, this recipe most closely resembles curry laksa; a spicy coconut based curry soup.  It is often made with chicken or fish but this one makes the most of lovely fresh vegetables and is adapted to be suitable for vegans.

You can follow the recipe and make your own laksa paste or you can buy a ready made paste if you prefer but check the ingredients carefully because most of them contain fish sauce which is most definitely NOT vegan.

At a push you could use a thai paste but, again, check for fish sauce in the ingredients.

I made this for dinner for Martin and I on Sunday evening.  I have commited to following a vegan diet for Lent but, as Sunday is usually the day when I have time to cook something special, I wanted to try something new.  It had been a hideously wet and windy day and Martin had been out playing hockey so I knew he would appreciate something warming and tasty.  This Laksa really hit the spot.

Laksa Recipe

Ingredients

Serves four

For the Paste

2 Banana Shallots

2 Lemon Grass Stalks

1″ Piece of Galangal (or fresh ginger)

1 tbsp Cashew Nuts

2 Cloves of Garlic

3 Red Chillies

1/2 tsp Ground Cumin

1/2 tsp Turmeric

1/2/ tsp Paprika

1 tsp Ground Coriander

2 tbsp Groundnut Oil (or other flavourless vegetable oil)

For the Soup

400ml can Coconut Milk

1 Pint of Vegan Vegetable Stock

100g / 4 oz Rice Noodles

2 tbsp Groundnut Oil

200g / 8 oz Mushrooms (A mix of shiitake/mini portobello/oyster)

1 Aubergine

2 Pak Choi (cut in half or quarters – lengthways)

100g / 4 oz Baby Sweetcorn

100g / 4 oz Mange Tout

200g / 8 oz Tenderstem Broccoli

A handful of fresh coriander

Method

To make the paste

Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a small frying pan and add the turmeric, cumin, paprika and ground coriander.   Cook over a medium heat for a minute or two until the spices are aromatic but be careful not to burn them.

Peel the shallotts, garlic and galangal and cut into chunks.  Remove the tough outer leaves from the lemon grass and bash the stalk with a rolling pin then cut it into 1″ lengths.  Remove the stalk from the chillies and deseed them if you want to control the heat a little bit.

Put all the paste ingredients into a food processor and blitz until it is well blended.  You can now put the paste into a screw top jar or other sealed container and it will keep for a week or so in the fridge.

To make the Soup

Cook the vegetables in batches then set aside:

Dice the aubergine and cook until browned in 1 tbsp oil.  Sautee the mushrooms in the same pan adding a little more oil if needed.

Steam the broccoli, corn, mange tout and pak choi until tender.

Put the noodles into a heat-proof bowl and pour boiling water over them.  Set aside for five minutes or until soft.

Place 2 tbsp of the laksa paste into a large, deep sautee pan or wok.  Cook for a minute or two until fragrant – add a little more oil if it sticks and then add the coconut milk and stock .  Bring to the boil.  Season with salt and pepper and taste.  Add more laksa paste if required.

Add the noodles and vegetables and reheat.  Serve in warmed bowls topped with some fresh chopped coriander.

 

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Cornish Fairings

Cornish Fairing

Just having a cup of tea and a biscuit.  Do you want one?  These only take 5 minutes to prep and 10 minutes to bake so you could be eating one in half an hour.

I made these to celebrate St. Piran’s Day but, as it falls during Lent, I have also “veganised” them in keeping with my Lenten promise to give up animal products.  They haven’t “crinkled” on the top quite as much as they do when made with butter but they still taste scrumptious; gingery, spicy and crispy – delicious.

I don’t have much more to say on the subject except that my tea is going cold so I might make a fresh one – and have a second biscuit…

Ingredients

100g (4oz) Non-Dairy Spread

100g (4oz) Un-Refined Caster Sugar

2 tbsp Golden Syrup

175g (6oz) Self Raising Flour

2 tsp Ground Ginger

1/2 tsp Ground Mixed Spice

1/2 tsp Ground Cinnamon

1/2 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C / Gas Mark 4

Heat the spread, sugar and golden syrup in a pan over a low heat until the butter has melted, but do not boil.

Sift the flour, ginger, mixed spice, cinnamon and bicarbonate of soda together into a bowl, then tip into the melted butter mixture and mix with a wooden spoon to form a smooth dough.

Place heaped teaspoons full of the mixture on to baking sheets, about an inch apart to allow room for them to spread.

Bake for 8-10 minutes until golden brown. Allow to cool and harden on the baking tray for 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

 

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Sweet Potato and Coconut Dal

 

I made this sweet potato and coconut dal / dhal for dinner for Martin and I last night.

Earlier in the evening we had met up with friends for an “early doors” drink and when we got home we wanted something quick to prepare but tasty and this looked like it would fit the bill.

The original recipe is from a Rose Elliot book called Vegetarian Supercook which I have owned for about 10 years but it is still in print and easily available.  The book contains a number of vegan recipes as well as tips on how to “veganise” some of the vegetarian recipes so I suspect I might be referring to it quite a lot over the next few weeks as I have decided to be vegan for Lent this year.

The dhal (I spell it dhal, Rose Elliot spells it dal) took about 30 minutes from start to finish and a maximum of 5 minutes prep time.  I anticipated serving it with some chapattis just as it is but, when it was ready and we tasted it, we realised that wouldn’t quite be right.  This dish is incredibly sweet – absolutely delicious but very, very sweet.  Martin said it tasted almost like dessert which is, perhaps, going a little too far but I take his point.

Luckily, and I do mean luckily, we had some left over vegetable curry in the fridge.  I had planned to have it for my lunch today but we ate it last night instead and the dhal became a side dish.  In fact the dhal became an absolutely perfect side dish.

I will be making this again but only as an accompaniment to something with a spicy kick – the two balance each other perfectly.

Now – what am I going to have for lunch?..

Ingredients

1lb / 500g Sweet Potato

6 oz / 175g Split Red Lentils

1 or 2 Green Chillies, sliced

14 fl oz /400ml can Coconut Milk

3/4 pint / 450 ml Water

1 tsp Grated Fresh Ginger

1 tsp Ground Cinnamon

1/2 tsp Turmeric

Salt & Pepper

A generous handful of Chopped Coriander

Method

Peel and dice the sweet potato.  Place it in a saucepan with the lentils, chilli, coconut milk and water.  Bring to the boil and then leave to cook gently, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes until the sweet potato and the lentils are soft and the mixture looks thick.

Stir in the ginger, cinnamon, turmeric and some salt and pepper, then cook gently for a few more minutes to blend in the flavours.  Sprinkle with coriander and serve.

NB The spices are added after the lentils are tender – adding them earlier can stop the lentils from softening properly.

 

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