Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Vegan BBQ "Ribs"

One of my younger brothers, recently married, came to visit last month with his wife, and since I was making them vegan dinner I wanted it to be good, rather than the tasty-but-unimpressive fare I usually consume, too lazy to put much effort into cooking unless I need to. Why shouldn't I have cereal for dinner, after all? So I made them edamame, and some of my fried seitan strips with vegan chili mayo to dip it in. (There was going to be pasta with mushrooms too, but I didn't have time to finish it, and anyway that's incidental to this post.) As I was explaining to them what seitan is before dinner, my brother surprised me by saying that he knew what it was, and that he'd eaten it often while living in Chile. I was astonished and pleased. My brother had spent some amount of time there living with a vegetarian who did most of their cooking, and who would often make dishes using vital wheat gluten, so he was well acquainted with it. (He really enjoyed my fried seitan strips, by the way.)

For the unfamiliar, seitan is dough made from vital wheat gluten. Wheat flour minus starch equals gluten. Vital wheat gluten can be found in bulk in health food-type stores, and even major groceries can be seen to carry little boxes of Hodgson Mill brand wheat gluten, either in the organic section or in the baking section (it's often used in making bread).

Anyway, my brother promised to send me some of those recipes once he got back home, and this is the first one of them that I've tried out: vegan "ribs". I enjoyed it immensely. The "ribs" turn out crunchy on the outside and juicy inside, and flavorful, and they satisfy that craving for savory foods. They're best eaten the same day you make them, as they become chewy and less impressive (though certainly still delicious!) after a night of refrigeration.

Vegan Ribs
2 Cups vital wheat gluten
1/3 Cup nutritional yeast flakes (not the same thing as brewer's yeast! go to a health foods store for this.)
2 Tablespoons paprika
1 Tablespoon salt (really, I use only half a Tablespoon, and it seems fine to me)
2 Cups cold water
1/2 Cup smooth peanut butter
1 large onion, minced small
1/2 Cup olive oil
2 Cups barbecue sauce

In a large bowl, thoroughly stir together the gluten, yeast, paprika and salt. Pour in the water all at once and quickly mix with a fork or spoon. Additional water may be necessary to moisten all of the dry gluten. Don't worry that the ball is rather solid, it is supposed to be. Pour off any excess water.

If you want your ribs chewy, leave the ball just as it is. If you want it slightly less chewy, knead it by hand for 1 to 2 minutes. Return it to the bowl, and coat with smooth peanut butter on all sides. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onion; cook and stir until golden brown. Remove from the heat. Pour the onion and oil over the ball of gluten. Poke the ball several times with a chopstick, knife or even a fork, to allow the oil to soak into the ball. Let cool.

When the ball is just warm enough to be manageable, use your hands to mix the oil and onions in. There will be a lot of oil that will not mix in and tiny pieces of gluten that will not stay attached. That's okay. The oil mainly helps the gluten absorb the spice. Just mix as much as you can.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

Break off chunks of dough and shape them into strips by pulling and twisting. You want them to be about 4 inches long and 1/2 inch thick. Don't try cutting these, or rolling them out, as that will make them behave more like bread and change the texture appreciably. Place the strips on a greased baking sheet.

Bake for 40 minutes in the preheated oven. Remove from the oven and coat each piece liberally with barbecue sauce, then return to the oven for another 10 minutes.


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