Buddha Food 

Seitan: All the Protein of Steak, Without the Fat and Cholesterol

Seitan (pronounced say-tahn), the Japanese term for cooked wheat gluten, has a brown color and meaty, firm and juicy texture. It's a versatile healthy, low fat, low carbohydrate, high protein, cholesterol-free animal protein replacement for vegans, vegetarians and even meat lovers who want to give their intestines a break. Also known as “kofu” in China and “wheat meat” and “gluten” in the U.S., seitan is made from the insoluble protein part of the wheat kernel. 

Three ounces of seitan contain 130 calories, 1.5 grams of fat, 0.5 grams of saturated fat, 8 grams of carbohydrates and 20 grams of protein. This compares Amira Elgan favorably with three ounces of steak, which contain the same amount of protein, but also 200 calories and 12 grams of fat – almost all saturated fat. And, unlike the steak, seitan contains zero cholesterol. 

It is believed that vegetarian Buddhist monks created seitan as meat substitute, hence gluten is often referred to in Chinese restaurants as “Buddha food.” 

Making seitan is fairly time consuming, but if you want to take the time to do it yourself, here’s how: 

14 cups water (more may be needed)
¾ cup tamari soy sauce
3 fresh garlic cloves, crushed or finely minced
½ yellow onion, finely chopped
½ celery rib or stalk, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger root
1 (3-inch long) piece of kombu (a type of seaweed) (optional)
8 cups whole-wheat flour

1. In a large pot over high heat bring 10½ cups of water to boil. Add tamari, garlic, onion, celery, ginger and kombu cooking over low heat and continue to simmer for 25 minutes. Set timer.

2. In a large bowl combine flour and the 3½ remaining cups of the measured water stirring to make firm but not sticky dough adding a little more water if necessary so it is not too dry. 

3. Knead dough by hand on a smooth flat surface for at least 10 to 12 minutes until it has an elastic consistency.

4. Place the dough in a large bowl filling up the bowl with semi warm water until the dough is completely underwater and let it rest for 25 minutes.

5. After the dough has rested, put the bowl with the dough and water in the sink and knead it by hand until the water turns cloudy and starchy white. Drain the milky water replacing it with fresh cold water and knead until the water becomes milky. Repeat this process several times until the water remains clear after kneading and the dough becomes firmer and more elastic.

6. Place the rinsed and drained seitan in a dry bowl and let it rest for 30 minutes before cooking.

7. Cut seitan into smaller chunks and place it in the broth. Simmer over low heat for 1½ hours. The seitan should remain underwater. Do not let it come to boil. Continue to reduce heat if necessary. Set timer.

8. Store the seitan in its broth in a tightly covered container and keep refrigerated. Use within a week or freeze with or without broth.

An easier and faster alternative is to buy a commercial package mix such as the Arrowhead Mills Seitan Quick Mix and follow the package instructions.

Of course, the simplest option is to buy it already prepared in vacuum packs or plastic tubs at health food stores from the refrigerated section. Manufacturers such as Lightlife Foods make a couple of organic varieties (barbeque and teriyaki) and White Wave makes several flavors but they’re not made with organic ingredients.

How do you use seitan in meals? Anywhere one might use meat. Slice, dice, cube, shred and add to stir-fries, soups, stews, sandwiches and other dishes – even fajitas! (See the recipe at the bottom of this newsletter.) 

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Reader Q&A 

Q: I don't eat a strictly vegan diet, but I love your newsletter and all the "food for thought." I am wondering if you would address our typical American breakfast, which is almost always laden with awful things to eat, e.g. bacon, sausage, eggs, starches, sugar, etc. What do you suggest as an alternative to what we are used to? 

JT, Santa Barbara 

A: A “traditional” American breakfast consisting of high fat meats and eggs fried in oil provides more saturated fat and cholesterol during one meal than the daily requirement for an entire day—enough to make anyone chronically ill. 

A breakfast consisting of simple carbohydrates such as cold cereals made from highly refined corn, wheat, oats or rice full of sugar and additives, excessively processed flours and mixes, which comprise most breads, bagels, pastries, muffins, pancakes and waffles high in fat and calories are not a healthful way to start the day.

To top it off (pun intended) we garnish our food with concentrated sugar and fat: syrups, jams, butter, trans fatty margarines, whip cream, sour cream, cream cheese and other cheeses. 

The origins of the American morning meal date back to a time when the majority of people spent their days farming without modern equipment, walking a lot and doing much more physical labor that most do today. Such a high-fat diet was somewhat mitigated by a whole lot of strenuous exercise. 

Too many modern Americans have kept the breakfast but dropped the exercise. It’s no surprise that heart disease, cancer and diabetes are on the rise at fast growing rates.

Just eating a doughnut and a sweet latte each morning is sufficient to make you "high" on caffeine and sugar for a short while, followed by a crash that leaves you feeling fatigued or sluggish in the short term and possibly chronically ill in the long term.

Some may argue that grilled lean bacon and hard-boiled eggs, for example, is a nutritious breakfast. Such a meal may be high in protein but also contains unnecessary harmful saturated fat and cholesterol. How such a breakfast can affect people depends on their overall health, overall diet, genetic predisposition, how often they eat this kind of breakfast, how much exercise they do, how many daily servings of fruit, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds include in their diets.

The importance of eating breakfast is a debatable subject. We grew up believing that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. However, no studies have corroborated this belief. On the other hand, many schools report that children who skip breakfast show decreased attention span.

Common sense would tell us that after sleeping for many hours without any intake of food, the body is ready for refueling with a nutritious breakfast providing not only energy but also satiety to maintain you through the entire morning, especially for children and teenagers.

If you're an adult, and don't generally feel hungry in the morning, try skipping breakfast and see how you feel. Some people don't eat until lunch, and have more energy all day because of it. 

The important thing is to avoid a breakfast high in saturated fat and highly refined carbohydrates. Refined carbohydrates are overly processed foods void of nutrients and fiber—they’re not much more than a mixture of starch and sugar providing no benefit whatsoever to our bodies. 

High consumption of refined carbs and sugar are in fact harmful and can cause acne, unbalanced acid levels in the stomach, hypoglycemia and damage to the brain and nervous system. In children, it can even cause learning disabilities. 

Most flour cereals and breads are 75% to 80% simple carbohydrate. Dried fruits (raisins, figs, prunes, dates, apricots, apples pears, etc.) should be eaten only occasionally, as their sugar content can be three times that of fresh fruit.

The most important principle of a healthy breakfast is to eat a wide variety of wholesome foods and avoid concentrated fat, sugar and overly processed starches. Breakfast, like any other meal, should be diverse and well balanced. It should vary from day to day and include fresh fruit, nuts, seeds, and whole grain cereals. If your diet includes dairy and meat, then switch to lower fat dairy products and reduce consumption to a minimum. Meats should be as lean as possible and the portions small—if you must eat them. If you choose to eat eggs, skip the yolks and just eat the whites. Boiling or poaching is better than frying, scrambling or making omelets because you don't add cooking fat. 

Breakfast can consist of anything you choose to eat as long as it’s made of wholesome well-balanced, nutritious ingredients. If you want baked tofu, whole grain bread and hummus for breakfast by all means, that’s what you should eat. But then you may want to have salad with nuts, seeds and beans and juice for lunch, fresh fruit when you feel like snacking and some steamed vegetables or even a multi-grain hot cereal for dinner to get adequate nutrition. It doesn’t make much difference in what order you eat the different types of food, what matters is what and how you eat.

Words of Wisdom

Our greatest glory is not in never failing but in rising up every time we fail.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Research Department

A report released at the International Diabetes Federation conference warns that more than 300 million people worldwide are at risk of developing diabetes and that the healthcare cost of this epidemic may be even higher than that of the AIDS pandemic in some countries. 

Diabetes is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. after heart disease and cancer respectively. Diabetes can cause blindness, kidney failure and lead to nontraumatic amputation.

Juvenile or type I diabetes accounts for about five to ten percent of all diabetes cases and occurs in children and adolescents who do not produce sufficient insulin. The most common, adult-onset or type II diabetes occurs mainly to adults who can produce insulin but do not use it effectively. Diabetes in adults is usually precipitated by poor diet and lack of exercise.

Experts warn that incidents of type II diabetes are increasing in children and adolescents as a result of obesity caused by high consumption of fast food and not enough exercise.

Vegetarian Organic Recipe of the Week

Click on the picture for a closer look!

Seitan Fajitas (vegan) 
Serves 4 to 6

This delicious and high-protein dish captures the wonderful flavors of Mexican cuisine. The seitan and vegetables readily absorb savory spices, and the taste and texture are ideal with tortillas. This quick-and-easy dish features delicious bell peppers and tomatoes loaded with vitamin C, beta-carotene, B complex vitamins, lycopene, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus and iron. It may be served with fresh corn tortillas, guacamole, salsa, beans or rice for an unforgettable Mexican feast.

Preparation time: 10 minutes Cooking time: 18 minutes 

Get ingredients ready (use organic ingredients if possible)
4 tablespoons safflower oil
1 medium yellow onion, sliced into thick strips
2 fresh garlic cloves, crushed or minced
7 fresh plum tomatoes, sliced
1 medium yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 2-inch strips 
1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 2-inch strips
1 large Anaheim pepper, seeded and cut into 2-inch strips
1 pound traditional seitan, thinly sliced (two 8-oz packages)
2 tablespoons plus ½ teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ cayenne pepper powder (optional for more spiciness) 
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat oil in a large pot or pan over low heat. Stir in onions and garlic sautéing for three minutes over low to medium heat. Add tomatoes and sauté for three additional minutes. Add all the peppers, seitan, chili powder and cumin cooking and stirring constantly for 12 minutes. Add salt and black pepper to taste and serve. 

Cook’s tip: If colorful bell peppers are not available, substitute with green bell peppers.


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This newsletter is not intended to provide and replace medical advice. The author and editor expressly disclaim all responsibility for any adverse effects resulting from any information, diet or exercise suggestions. It is imperative that the advice of a physician is sought before any diet or exercise programs are adopted.

Copyright© 2003 - 2009 Amira Elgan. All Rights Reserved.