Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Extraordinary Vegetarian Cuisine

In my mid University days (late 1990s) I used to do some voluntary work for a law centre in the city centre.  During my luncheon hours I could be found in the cookbook section of Borders flicking through pages (a guilty pleasure of mine that can now be described as ‘food porn’). I had picked up The Millennium Cookbook: Extraordinary Vegetarian Cuisine, surprisingly it did not feature many glossy or visual presentations, but that did not put me off. As I read through the contents and flicked through the pages, I was immediately enticed by its originality and flavour combinations. Some recipes that stood out to me were Barley Risotto Cakes with Smoked Onion - Chipotle Sauce, Quinoa Pilaf, Strawberry Asparagus Salad, Lemongrass Miso Soup, Tempeh Bolognese and Pizzas. It was the first time I had seen a recipe for seitan meat free sausages. The vegetarian recipes featured in this amazing cookbook were unlike anything I had ever seen in the U.K. It was truly avant garde vegan cuisine for vegetarians and vegans alike.  It was gourmet haute cuisine and offered highly original, refreshing, appealing and creative recipes. I also liked the emphasis on world flavours that were new to me such as Africa, South East Asian and Latin America.

A few months later, I wondered what had I done so. First for spending my student budget on a cookbook, instead of a text book. Secondly, I wondered if I’d ever actually ever cook from it. As the majority of the ingredients were unknown to me and not easily accessible such as *Miso, rice syrup, nutritional yeast, liquid smoke, vital wheat gluten, flaxseed, chipotle, and then there was the actual cooking. There were so many processes, and the techniques seemed complex and time consuming. It seemed like too much fussing about for a student cook like me to bother with, so the book remained at the bottom of my bookshelf for a number of years.

When I discovered food blogging, I rediscovered The Millennium Cookbook again thanks to Catherine of Albion Cooks. I’d often drool over food images on her blog where she had been cooking at The Millennium Cookery school. I would envy her and leave comments on her blog. She would always encourage me to cook from the cookbooks.  The other Millennium cookbook being The Artful Vegan, but I was still rather timid. In actual fact, I think both these books may have been my first ever vegan cookbooks.

Now many years later, the *above named ingredients are finally reaching our British shores and can be found on shelves albeit it through health stores, plus my own confidence and cooking repertoire expanding, I have to admit I am so pleased with the cookbook now. If you are a keen and experimental cook, I totally recommend having this cookbook on your bookshelf, especially when you want to impress vegetarian and vegan diners - Please remember vegetarians and vegans are gourmet diners too. The Millennium Cookbook is a real culinary treasure and opens your mind to new ingredients, flavour combinations and cooking techniques. I am pleased to have rediscovered it and can't wait to create 'extraordinary vegetarian cuisine' in my humble abode. The first of many is the Spicy Fennel Seitan Sausage
I am thankful to both Eric Tucker and Alison Bagby, General Manager at The Millennium Restaurant in San Francisco who have kindly granted me permission to share the recipe for Spicy Fennel Seitan Sausages with my readers.

For those of you unfamiliar with seitan: Setian is wheat gluten. Seitan is wheat gluten. It is made by washing wheat flour dough with water until all the starch dissolves, leaving insoluble gluten as an elastic mass which is then cooked before being eaten. Wheat gluten is most popular in China and Japan where it was first developed, as well as in the cuisines of other East and South east Asian countries. Over the past few years, seitan has become a much valued ingredient in the West, especially in vegan cookery. It is often described as ‘vegetarian wheat meat’ and is used in place of meat in vegetarian, vegan and macrobiotic diets.
There are two methods for cooking the sausages: braising and boiling. Braising yields a softer texture, while boiling gives a firmer textures sausage. I chose to use the boiling method.
Spicy Fennel Seitan Sausage
Makes 4 - 5
2 cups gluten flour (vital wheat gluten)
2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
1 tablespoon mild chilli powder or 2 teaspoons paprika
2/3 teaspoon ground nutmeg (I omitted this)
1 ½ teaspoon dried sage
¼ teaspoon dried red chilli flakes, plus more to taste
2 teaspoons sea salt
½ cup/60ml canola (rapeseed) oil
4 tablespoons Tamari (or soy sauce)
1 cup water
4 - 5 pieces single layer cheesecloth (muslin), cut into 6 x 4 inch pieces (I used foil)
2 cups vegetable stock or water
2 cloves garlic (optional)
2 bay leaves (optional)
Combine the flour, garlic, fennel seeds, cumin, chilli powder, nutmeg, sage, chilli flakes and salt in a mixing bowl. Ina separate bowl, combine the oil, 1 tablespoon tamari, and 1 cup water. Slowly add the oil mixture to the dry ingredients, knead until all the liquid is absorbed and the dough has the consistency of firm bread dough.
Cut the dough into 4 - 5 pieces. Roll out each piece so its is 4 inches long. Place on rolled out piece of dough at the bottom in the centre of each piece of cloth or foil. Roll the cheesecloth or foil around the dough. If using cheesecloth, tie the ends with a kitchen twine; or if using foil just twist the ends, so that each sausage is securely sealed.
To boil the sausages: In a large stock pot, combine the vegetable stock, the remaining 3 tablespoons of the tamari, and the 2 cloves garlic and bay leaf. Make sure there is room enough for the sausages to lie int he pot without bending. Bring the liquid to a simmer and simmer, covered, for 1 hour, or until the sausages are firm and plump. Remove the sausages from the liquid and allow them to cool to room temperature before removing the cheesecloth or foil and slicing. Store refrigerated with the remaining cooking liquid in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
To braise the sausages: Preheat the oven to 400o (Gas mark 6) . Place the dough in an 8 inch baking tin or casserole. Add the vegetable stock, the remaining 3 tablespoons of the tamari, and the 2 cloves garlic and bay leaves, if using . Cover the baking dish tightly with a lid or foil. Bake for 1 hour to 1 ¼ hours, or until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the sausage is firm and porous, with small air pockets. Remove from the oven and allow to cook to room temperature before slicing. Store refrigerated with the remaining cooking liquid in an airtight container for up to 1 week.  From The Millennium Cookbook by Eric Tucker & John Westerdahl.  See here for Chucky's variation.


  1. Shaheen ~ Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! And thanks to both Eric Tucker and Alison Bagby, General Manager at The Millennium Restaurant in San Francisco. I shall definitely be checking out their cookbook upon my next visit to the bookstore. :)

    Tiffany (my wife and much better half) will be doing cartwheels when I tell her that you shared a fennel sausage recipe using seitan! Two of her favorite things... the taste of fennel and newly discovered (to us) seitan.

    May you and your readers have a most fabulous day! Again... thanks.

    Psst... guess what I'll be making in the kitchen this weekend? Hehe.

  2. Huh, those look like legitimate sausages!! I bet they're mighty tasty :) Yum!!

  3. I like your comment that vegetarians and vegans can be gourmets too. All too often the only offering on a menu suitable for them is basically a meat dish with the meat omitted!
    [Thanks for your email. I understand the situation...]

  4. Thank you so much for this interesting post and especially the recipe. I will definitely be trying it. It was only recently that I discovered seitan was wheat gluten. I have cooked with it a bit and I love it.

  5. I've returned to a few cookbooks that I bought in my student years and had the lightbulb moment when they finally make sense - though I am still working up to some recipes

  6. Thanks so much for your comment Chucky,
    I hope both Eric Tucker and Alison Bagby come by and read you comment, its lovely.
    Please do get the cookbook if you can, it really is Still original and different to the many vegetarian and vegan cook books out there. Not just in relation to this particular setan sausage recipe, but to approach to cooking with vegetables.

    Cartwheels - woaw - its been a while since I did one of those! I know there are so many seitan sausage recipes on the blogosphere, but for me this was my first encounter in the late 1990s halted from making as I was unable to find pure gluten flour. Please let me know how the recipe turns out for you. I'm looking forward to seeing these appearing on your blog. Kind wishes.

  7. Thanks Jess.
    I agree, they really do. And yes, they were packed with flavour!

  8. Thank you Mark.
    It something that i have observed over the years and is one reason I don't eat out. The offerings are as you pointed out either 'a meat dish with the meat omitted' which is true of Sunday Roast! and there there is cheesy lasagne, mushroom risotto...

    To be fair though, some places are getting better.

  9. Thank you Veggiegobbler.
    Its lovely to hear from you, its been a while.
    I've been given some wheat gluten, and have been enjoying my cooking experiments with it and the final result :)

  10. Hi Johanna GGG.
    I like it - 'lightbulb moment'.
    Recently, I've been flicking and rediscovering a lot of my old cookbooks, but this one really stood out.

  11. I am an avowed carni- and piscivorous, but I must admit I would love to taste these sausages. I would have never guessed there is no meat inside... Very tempting. Thank you for advising this book, I never even touch vegetarian cookbooks, but this one sounds very special.

  12. That sounds amazing...I'll just have to source the gluten flour and then will really want to give this a go...The flavours sound amazing....Thanks for sharing the recipe.

  13. Thanks Sissi.
    Its great to read that these seitan sausages have tempted you. This is a specialist book and one I would recommend to the serious veggie homecook.

    Thank you Shilpa aka bakingdevil.
    It really is amazing, and the texture has to be tried to be believed. It took me a while to source the gluten flour to try this, so I really hope you find some where you are.


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