Thursday, October 8, 2009

Stew of baked wheat gluten, potato, turnip, carrot, and cabbage rolls

First, let me say that I've been wanting to make this dish for over 20 years. So thanks, people who invented VeganMoFo and all participants, and this particular October challenge, for giving me some motivation. The recipe comes from Madhur Jaffrey's World of the East Vegetarian Cooking, which I think is the second cookbook I ever purchased, and I have been reading it pretty steadily all this time, though it has taken me a while, and considerable education, to gather up courage and ingredients to try many of the recipes. Back in the day, you couldn't get the ingredients. Gluten flour? Wha? Then the recipes, though beautifully written, often seemed extremely complicated. This is a good example. It's a stew with essentially five ingredients, but you have to make these special cabbage rolls to go on top, and you have to organize the vegetables in the stew pot? Maybe you need the patience that comes with age to appreciate it, but in my kitchen this book is only now coming into its own—as a cookbook; as literature and art it's been there all along and has never, for instance, been relegated to the temporarily out-of-circulation cookbook collection in the basement stacks.

I don't know how many of you have seen World of the East Vegetarian Cooking, but it is printed on brown paper and illustrated throughout with fantastically gorgeous line drawings. They're not just pretty, they're decadently, inspirationally beautiful (the artist is Susan Gaber). This recipe merits an entire page showing you how to make the cabbage rolls. The thing about these cabbage rolls is that until today I didn't quite believe in them. I didn't believe they could actually be made. What you do is take three (according to the recipe) or two in my case (I was still the doubting Thomas) large whole leaves of Chinese cabbage, thick fat stiff white stems included, and put them into a big pot of boiling water. After they've boiled a while and are starting to soften up, add 15 leaves of spinach (or in this case the green parts of two medium bok choys). When everything is wilted, pour it into a colander and drain, then run cool water over it.

Take one cabbage leaf and lay it out flat on a cutting board. Take the other and do the same, but alternating ends, so the thick end of the top leaf goes over the thin end of the bottom (and if you're using three, which I see now would have worked fine, alternate again). Now take all the spinach/bok choy leaves and lay them flat right down the centre of the two (three) leaves. Roll it all up tight into one big roll, and squeeze some of the water out. Now cut the roll into one-inch pieces. You may have to squeeze water out of these as well. You're done! Aren't they great! click on the image for an even more stupendous closeup!

Woo hoo! How easy is that? Well, easier to do than to contemplate, at least for me!

The gluten balls I've been making forever, and they look trippy but this is probably the easiest thing you can do with gluten. Just take some gluten flour (say, a cup), and add some cold water (say, 3/4 cup) and mix it up into dough. If the dough is stiff, add more water. It will only absorb a certain amount of water until it's had enough. Gluten is the ultimate narcissist and loves itself more than water, more than anything. Take your glob of dough (it makes no difference if it looks like it has veins or isn't fully mixed, as long as there are no actual floury parts left) and, keeping your knife and hands and work surface wet, cut it into approximately ¾ inch cubes or pieces. Again, it doesn't matter if the cubes are perfect. Many recipes will tell you to form them into little balls—forget it, don't waste your time; you're going for approximately equal volume; the shape is of absolutely no consequence as you'll see as soon as they hit the oven.

Don't let the cubes touch! They will permanently meld and make you angry. Segregate them on a very lightly greased cookie sheet about two inches apart. Bake in a preheated 375F oven for about 15 minutes. Check on them: they'll puff up and look amazing, like little cream puffs. They will be round, my friends, whatever shape they were when they went in. Some of them will sidle over and meld with their neighbors. Stay calm; you'll be able to pull the cooked ones apart. They'll turn a lovely golden colour and then it's time to take them out. Alas, they deflate almost immediately. They just do. Now remove them onto a plate, pull any melded ones apart, and let them cool. They'll turn leathery, and eventually crispy, and will live forever in your freezer, which is where I got mine from or I would have blogged this process, because it is fun and neat, like a science experiment. These little crispy gluten balls can be tossed into any kind of soup or stew, Asian or Western. The cooking is all done, but after they're dried they need to be rehydrated in a tasty stock or sauce before they're really edible. But they are edible, and seem to go best in soups or light stocks like this one.
The stew itself is made of a turnip, a potato, a carrot, vegetable stock, soy sauce, and salt, and is served with reconstituted English mustard and extra soy sauce on the side. Japanese cuisine aficionado that I now am, I would have preferred wasabi to the mustard, but the tastes are very similar.

Oh, I said that VeganMoFo was part of my inspiration to make this stew tonight. Here's the other part:

Canada is weather.


  1. You put that together so beautifully. I have this cookbook, which sadly I have not used more than once or twice...I must try this recipe now.

    Thank YOU for the inspiration. Snow already? WOW.

  2. Thanks for the gluten recipe, I've added it to my list of things to try! It sounds like the type of gluten served in a lot of Chinese restaurants in England which I've enjoyed eating in the past so I'm looking forward to giving it a go!