Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Random Roadtrip Day 1: Picante de Seitan

**Post Factum:** 
This is one of a series of posts for Vegan MoFo 2010; my theme was a 'Virtual Random Road Trip', where I used random.org's random geographic location generator to select locations around the globe, I then attempted to cook a few dishes from the traditional cuisine of that place. I didn't have a lot of time between generating the locations and coming up with recipes (~ 1 day). So, lacking time to do proper research, I can't vouch for the authenticity of anything I came up with. However, they are what they are, and it was a fun theme. 

The first day of the road trip has landed us in Bolivia, where this spicy dish would be more typically known as picante de pollo. It is a hearty dish full of flavor and very satisfying. The base of the sauce is a paste made from cumin, ground chili powder, and garlic, a combo which seems to be a prevalent flavor profile.

In perusing a few recipes, common ingredients I've come across in Bolivian cuisine include potatoes, onion, and ají peppers ( I gather there are several varieties of these peppers available in Bolivia and throughout South America. See the bottom of the post for more links/info). Some other veggies I noticed popping up regularly are  turnip, celery and tomato...not necessarily all together.

Not surprisingly, I couldn't find any ají peppers in my local shop, so I used a combination of serrano peppers and sweet long peppers. I used this recipe as a guide and came up with the following:

Picante de Seitan (Serves 4)
8 - 10 large pieces of chicken-style seitan of choice (recipe I used is below)
4 medium-sized potatoes (basically 1 potato per person), cut into 2-inch chunks
3 large carrots, cut into 2-inch chunks
1 large or 2-3 medium-sized turnips (I used 1 large rutabaga instead), cut into 2-inch chunks
1 medium onion, finely diced (~ 1 generous cup finely diced)
2 - 4  cups no-chicken broth or regular veggie broth
1 - 2 serrano peppers (depending on how spicy you want it) deseeded and chopped fine
10 small, long peppers, or 2 bell peppers of choice, cut into strips
1 cup garden peas
3 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons cayenne pepper or hot paprika (to make it less spicy, use sweet paprika)
salt to taste (the original recipe called for MSG, but I skipped that part)
oil for sauteeing (or whatever you like to saute with)
parsley for garnish

Liquify the cumin, ground chili pepper, and garlic with about 1/8 cup water or broth in a blender. The end consistency should be a loose paste.  In a large pan, heat a little oil and add the cumin/chili paste to aromatize it, allow to cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently.

spices and garlic

cumin/chili/garlic paste

paste aromatizing in oil

After the paste has sauteed for a couple of minutes, add in the broth, stirring it well to incorporate the paste. Then toss in the potato, carrot, and turnip chunks, bring to a simmer and allow to cook until the veggies are tender and the broth has reduced and thickened a little, ~ 30-35 minutes. Add more broth as necessary to keep veggies covered.

The potatoes should thicken the broth as it cooks, but if it gets towards the end and the broth is not thick enough for your preferences, you could always sprinkle in some arrowroot powder to get the desired consistency.

(Note: The original recipe called for cooking the carrots and turnip with the chicken, so alternately, if you're braising your own seitan, you could toss them in with that. I  chose to cook them in the spicy broth because  the seitan takes longer to cook  than the veggies, and the veggies take up loads of spicy flavor cooking in the broth.)

While the veggies are simmering, saute the peppers and seitan over medium high in a separate pan until they begin to turn golden brown. Toss in the onion and saute for another 2-3 minutes.

When the veggies are tender, toss in the browned seitan, peppers, onions, and the peas and continue to simmer for another  5 minutes.

Serve with rice (if desired) and garnish with freshly chopped parsley.

veggies simmering in spicy broth

seitan and peppers saute-ing

picante de seitan

I decided to make this post extra long (feel free to tune out if you're feeling weary) and provide the chicken-style seitan recipe I used. After a long hiatus, I have been returning to braised seitan lately. For a while, I had turned exclusively to the baked variety, which I continue to like a lot. But, I find that each type has its strengths and lends itself to specific recipes. I thought the braised variety lent itself nicely in this recipe.

Chicken-style Braised Seitan (makes 1 large piece, enough for 8 - 10 slices)

For the braising broth:
6 cups no-chicken style broth or veggie broth ( I used a combo of Edwards & Sons Not Chickn' broth and Seitenbacher's veggie broth)
1 large leek, sliced into 1-inch rounds
1 large handful of parsley
2 teaspoon celery seed
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 bay leaves

Combine all ingredients in a large pot and bring to a simmer.

veggie broth mixes

seitan simmering in broth  (looks kinda gnarly)

For the seitan:
1 cup vital wheat gluten
1 cup low-sodium no-chicken broth, or regular low-sodium veggie broth
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
1 teaspoon soy sauce or tamari (you may want to adjust this depending on how much salt is in the veggie broth you use)
1 tablespoon prepared mustard

Mix the wheat gluten, nutritional yeast, and Old Bay in a mixing bowl. Whisk together the broth, soy sauce, and mustard and add to the wheat gluten. Mix together, adding in small amounts of wheat gluten to get a consistency that you can mold into a shape and is not too wet. Form the seitan into whatever shape/s you like and drop into the simmering braising broth. Allow to simmer for 1 hour... it can simmer for longer if you like.

pre-cooked seitan (looks kind of like a brain)

braised seitan

If you're interested, here a few links to more info about ají peppers:

Seed buyer's page, includes photos of different varieties
Online catalog that sells bottled ají peppers and other chili powder products
History of ají peppers

Tomorrow, more Bolivian eats.


  1. yay food that looks like brains!! always more fun:) love the way you plated the food. looks like restaurant fare! i was reading about bolivia(i was trying to guess what you would be cooking yesterday) and i read that they eat a lot of pork over there...lol

  2. Nice post! That "paste aromatizing in oil" is particularly, almost geologically, impressive! And I love your new header. What I know about Bolivia could fit on the head of a pin, so I'm looking forward to your next offerings, and the rest of the road trip. Pictures of seitan always make me hungry, even it if is gnarly.

  3. This sounds delicious. I really like the how-to format with all the photos. And, like Zoa, I think the header is very cool, especially the license plate!

  4. Wow, Rose, this really looks and sounds delicious! You put an amazing amount of work into this post - researching Bolivian cuisine, creating this recipe, cooking it, and sharing all those wonderful photos and instructions so we could replicate it - thank you so much! You are a rock star MoFo'er, girl! :-)

    I'll bet the aroma of this dish cooking was heavenly. Those spices! YUM!

    I've never found the Seitenbacher veggie broth locally, but read excellent reviews on it at Amazon. I'll need to order some one of these days!

  5. This is way out of control. You've totally blown everyone out of the MOFOing blogging water. What more could you possibly have planned????

  6. That sounds and looks fantastic! I can't wait to see more of Bolivia!

  7. I totally agree with Shen! Wow, you did an awesome job and with amazing pictures!

    I will have to try your Braised Seitan that looks like a brain. :o) I've actually never tried seitan, but it sounds like something I would like, especially the way you made it!

    Great job!!!!

  8. Michelle

    Glad you appreciate the brain-like quality of that seitan...sort of gives a new meaning to "brain food". You're right about Bolivian food and pork...and meat in general for that matter. Though many of the recipes seem very easy to veganize.

    Seitan (and tofu) always make me hungry too! The gnarlier, the better. :D

    It is a pretty tasty dish...anyone who likes cumin and chili will probably enjoy it. Glad you like the license plate; I doctored it, and wasn't sure whether it would come out very legible or not...I couldn't find a font that mimicked the real license plate font...I wonder what it is.


    This post had me scrambling a little...I'm starting to think that I bit off more than I could chew (pun intended:D, but authentic or not, this is a tasty dish.

    The Seitanbacher broth is really good. It's just nutritional yeast and herbs and adds a lot of flavor. I often use it to season other dishes aside from just veggie broth. It's nice to have in the cupboard.


    Out of control...you've pretty much summed up my life these days...I do have a plan for today, and then after that, who knows?

  9. Mo
    Thanks! More Bolivian-style eats are in the plan for today.

    Michelle (not DirtyDuck Michelle)

    You're so sweet, thanks for the encouragement. The brainy seitan worked well with this. It has a soft texture, and sometimes I'm not in the mood for it, just depends on the dish and the day. Let me know how what you think if you try it.

  10. Okay as soon as the weather chills up again I'm so going to make this.

  11. I agree with SV and the others! Amazing post. You should also link up to Wing-it Vegan's E.A.T. World Challenge. The kids and I are learning about different countries this year so I'll remember your meals when we get to these places.

  12. Wow. this is right up my alley! Looks great!

  13. Dreaminitvegan

    I'm sure you'll come up with a delicious version!


    I will definitely check out the EAT challenge, sounds fun, and must be very fun activity with the kids. Thanks for the heads up.


    As the queen of seitan that you are...I'm sure you'd do wonders with this dish!

  14. Wow - I love the new header! Super cool. I'm still not driving to Bolivia, though. I want to come up with a more interesting header now, too. Peer pressure.

    I also love how you put the spices on the ruler; that is indeed a SPICY sauce! I'm going to have to look for Seitenbacher broth. I haven't seen it in ages but I love it for a clear-ish soup mix, just that with a few veggies.

  15. Wow that looks GREAT! Happy MoFo'ing!

  16. Jessica

    I hear you on the driving thing, so I've decided that although the picture at the top implies we're driving, we get there magically...kind of like Bill and Ted in their excellent adventures...we just sit in the car, wiggle our fingers and make a funny finger-wiggling noises, and then we magically arrive in a few seconds...more fun and definitely more environmentally friendly than driving. :D

    I really like the Seitanbacher too; it's a handy thing to have around.

    Can't wait to see your new header!

    Happy MoFoing to you too...I checked out your blog and I love that fruit killer guy.

  17. Your seitan looks so good! And the first picture of this post is so pretty, I'd love to try that dish.

  18. That looks delicious! I love the colors.

  19. Thanks Bonnie and Melomeals Melody! :) <3

  20. oh my goodness! I've been so busy lately, I didn't even know your road trip had begun! I've never eaten anything from Bolivia before. This sounds and looks too good. I love the presentation too..with the red plate and the added pepper. Really nice!

  21. Awesome. That dish is gorgeous!

  22. This comment has been removed by the author.

  23. Please confirm that this recipe is asking for 2 TABLESPOONS of ground cumin please? It seems like an awful lot and just wanted to confirm. Thank you

  24. Janus:

    Yes, I used 2 tablespoons, but you can reduce the amount to your taste.
    You could maybe start with 1 tablespoon or even 1/2 tablespoon and taste it, adding more if you think it needs it.



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