Monday, December 6, 2010

Seitan laap

Asian meat recipes are ideally suited for veganization in that they are (1) usually composed of small pieces so they can be picked up with chopsticks; (2) highly flavoured, not relying on the taste of the meat alone; and (3) a fairly small proportion of a meal, generally speaking, in comparison with Western meals, which are traditionally little bits of vegetables constellated around a big slab of flesh. 

This is a Thai salad called laap, which, my sources tell me, means "good fortune."  Why am I making salad when it's -16C outside and just about the kind of weather where I'm getting cold if I don't wear socks to bed?  Well, because I didn't...quite...realize it was, in fact, a salad.  The recipe was so interesting I became fascinated by the process, and the picture in my sourcebook, which is a promising new cookbook I acquired just yesterday called The Food of Asia, doesn't give much away.  The Food of Asia is one of those cookbooks without an author (or rather, without a single author would be more apt) that I got on sale at Chapters, but it's so big I had to reorganize my recipe book cupboard to accommodate it, and so beautiful that I was turning pages for 45 minutes tonight before I finally decided what to make, thinking as I turned each page, "Oh, yes, this!  I'll make this one!  No, that one!"  I'm sure you know how it is.

What finally settled me on this particular recipe was a failure from yesterday, of these:

They don't necessarily look like failures, but what these are is seitan meatballs held together with urad flour, a la my dumplings of genius.  One day very soon my recipe for these is going to strike the vegan world like a planet, but yesterday wasn't that day.  They were too tough (okay, in my book that in itself is encouraging, since most vegan meatballs tend to be delicate) and rather tasteless.  Or, no, not ratherVery.  Unfortunately, I took a few to my sister Dianne's birthday party yesterday, and, surprisingly, several people tried them.  This has never happened before, with seitan.  Alas, that was one lost for the cause!  But I will win them back, I hope.

Little mise en place of what you add to the seitan in the pan
Anyway, on to today's more positive post, these things needed recycling, and how.  Here's the recipe:

Vegan laap
Serves 2
adapted from The Food of Asia

1 1/2 tsp jasmine rice
1 tbsp peanut or canola oil
5 oz ground seitan or reconstituted TVP
2 tbsp lime juice
1 1/2 tsp soy sauce + a tiny crumble of wakame (this is a substitute for fish sauce; if you don't have wakame, just use the soy sauce)
1 lemongrass stalk, white part only, finely sliced
1 oz shallots or red onions, finely sliced
2 kaffir lime leaves, shredded
3 spring onions, finely chopped
1/4 - 1/2 tsp red pepper powder


lettuce leaves
mint leaves
raw vegetables such as snake beans (yard long beans; surprisingly good raw--I didn't believe it until I tried them); cucumber slices, thin wedges of cabbage, sprouts, sliced tomatoes

Why yes, I believe that is a cat hair!

Fry the jasmine rice in the oil.  Do not skip this step and do not substitute; the taste of this is vital to the dish.  When the rice is brown, strain it over a small container to separate the oil, and let the rice cool.  When it's cool and relatively dry, grind it up in a mortar and pestle or small blender.  The smell of this had me swooning and won me over to this dish before I had gone any further.

Now heat the strained oil in a skillet and add your seitan or reconstituted TVP, along with the lime juice and soy sauce/wakame mixture.  Cook until the seitan is light brown, and remove from heat.

Here's the surprising part.  Add the rice powder, lemongrass, shallots, kaffir lime leaves, spring onions, and chili powder.  And...that's it.  That's the dish.  Mine was quite dry (no doubt owing to the toughness of my seitan), so I added a bit more water and zapped it on high heat just for ten seconds or so to get the water absorbed.  It should look something like this:

It's just so good, full of tart, strong, but complimentary flavours, predominantly the fried rice and kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass.  Then you serve it on and with a selection of raw vegetables.  Here was mine:

What an astonishing recipe.  I loved it and will certainly make it again.


  1. Beautiful! The rice powder is interesting. And you're right, the seitan balls certainly don't look like failures...but I get you on the blandness issue...ones I've made are usually on the bland side and they fall apart.

    The veganizable quotient of Asian food makes sense...I found that when I was making recipes from Bolivia, Hungary, and Algeria during Mofo...the recipes relied heavily on the meat to give the essence to the dish...hence I found myself using quite a lot of no-chicken broth and the like.

    Wow, this is another fabulous dish, as only you can make them!

  2. That looks exotic and tasty but I just realized tonight after a raw dinner, that I prefer cooked food when it's chilly out. I'm still hungry, too.

  3. I am ready for the Seitan Meatball Recipe to hit the planet -- I have a big bag of Urad Flour just waiting around for the moment of impact.

    Till then, I plan to make the Emperor's Soy Curls. UPS estimates my six bags of curls should be dropped on the front porch tomorrow.

  4. You've presented this recipe at the perfect time for me. It's very cold here too (though not quite THAT cold), but I've sworn I'm going to eat nothing but salads for an entire month to counteract the immense number of not-particularly-healthy foods I ate in LA. And coincidentally, I kicked that off by ordering laap (though they called it larb) as my last meal out there! It was made with tofu, but I think seitan would be even more interesting.

  5. Rose, yes, I hear you re the flavoring issue. I am so going to get on top of this meatball thing. Once I've got the perfect proportions of seitan-to-urad-flour it will be just a matter of tweaking it for Indian, Hungarian, whatever.

    Andrea, I hear you on the raw thing. In the summer time it's fine, but now it's just too cold.

    Shenandoah, I will use my best efforts. Until then, enjoy the Emperor's Soy Curls!

    Renae, welcome back! Tofu would be good in this dish too, but IMO not as good as seitan or TVP. I'll be all over this recipe next summer, but for now all I want is soup, hot, hot soup!

  6. Wow! This is a great post. I am really thankful that you added all of those pictures. Sometimes no pictures makes it difficult to gain confidence as you are cooking. :)

  7. That looks wonderful and sounds so tasty. Your photos are great too. I agree Asian cuisine is easier to veganise than some others and always has so much flavour!!