Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Vegan Osso Buco - Stufato Salvatore

A very special occasion arose this week giving me yet another opportunity to feed open minds with a lovin’ spoonful of gourmet vegan fare – meeting the roommate’s family. While I love to cook just about anyone in my home, this dinner was quite special in the sense that there was going to be another vegan attending. What a pleasure! My roommate’s sister had become recently engaged to a fellow vegan. The couple currently resides in Israel, but they’ve returned to the states to plan their upcoming August wedding. I was very impressed to learn that my roommate’s parents are as equally curious as they are enthusiastic about welcoming a meatless mouth into the family – they have an endearing willingness to further explore the vegan diet since it will be one that will have a larger presence in their lives. This also means of course that they will have to include vegan options on the wedding menu and a vegan cake. His mother had requested that I provide some suggestions regarding recipes or vegan references to help the process – but to jumpstart their faith in the possibility of a successful and delicious vegan event, we hosted a lovely and quite lavish dinner.

You may have noticed by now that I have a somewhat neurotic need to suit the meal as perfectly as I can to the vibe of a crowd before deciding what to cook for them. In this instance, there were several factors that helped narrow this down. First of all, knowing the happy couple lives in Haifa and most likely eats Middle Eastern cuisine on a daily basis ruled out a whole genre. Secondly, they are exploring ideas for vegan wedding dishes which helped me narrow down a type of main dish that might be appealing to a mass of omnivores – something rich but familiar, “meaty,” saucy, and more inspiring than an all-you-can-eat veggie trays with a block of bland protein (i.e. no tofu slabs). While I hesitate to resort to Italian because it seems too easy, I came across a vegan recipe for Osso Buco that inspired me to try a dish that is more complex than pasta and traditionally very much un-vegan. I had never made this in my meat-eating days, but it didn’t matter.

Osso Buco is a delicacy originating from Milan and means “bone with a hole,” as the dish features veal on the bone slowly braised in a wine based broth. I wasn’t eager to mimic the bone, but seitan seemed like a good substitute. While I liked the initial recipe, I was under whelmed by its ingredients. I felt I could jazz it up with fresh herbs, fresh tomatoes, and Gremolata like a real Italian would. So I looked for a traditional recipe and found that classic recipes call for fresh herbs in a bouquet garni, which is just a fancy term for putting a sack of herbs in a pot instead of letting them run wild. Well, I let my herbs have their freedom and threw them right in instead of rounding them up in cheesecloth and limiting their potency. I may have had to pick out their stems in the end, but it was worth it. The flavor was highly present. I also called upon my lovely woodsy mushrooms to add another level to the broth. Many Osso Buco recipes call for chicken broth and while vegetarian chicken broth seems like a good replacement, it often has many artifical flavors and/or MSG. So to give it a "beefy" edge, I rehydrated dried mushrooms before mixing up some vegetarian bouillon. I also added a few dried mushrooms to the stew as it simmered and picked them out in the end (some of my guests preferred no mushrooms which I had known in advance).

The vegan recipe I first found also employed the braising technique. I however didn’t see the logic behind letting fake, flavorless meat sit that long, absorbing soupy liquid, when it has the potential to take on its own rich, complex flavor. I found that marinating the seitan and browning it was a good way to seal in flavor. But to take it an extra step, I finished cooking it in the leftover marinade to make its own sauce. Adding it at the end to a very flavorful stew had much more depth than just making seitan taste like tomato soup. Osso Buco is typically served with saffron risotto, but I took a hint from the Vegetarian Times recipe and made an Asparagus Orzotto (a risotto made with orzo). The two made a lovely pair and were scarfed down to the last scrap by each any every one of us. This would definitely make the final cut for a catered event.

By the way, I didn't feel Osso Buco was necessarily an appropriate names with no bones or holes present anywhere in my meal. So I am affectionately calling this "savior soup." One less baby cow totorture.

Stufato Salvatore
Serves 6-8
Prep time: 45 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour


Marinated Seitan
½ c. Sherry or sweet white wine
¼ c. Hoisin Sauce
2 T. Soy Sauce, reduced sodium
1 T. Rice Vinegar
1 T. Balsamic Vinegar
½ T. Hot or Dijon mustard
4-5 Drops liquid smoke

2 Packages prepared seitan or 2 c. homemade seitan, cubed
½ - ¾ c. All-purpose flour or cornstarch
¼ c. Canola oil, divided

¼ c. Olive oil
1 ½ c. Onion, chopped
1 c. Celery, chopped
1 c. Carrot, chopped
1 tsp. Sea salt
1 T. Garlic, minced
1 ½ c. Dry white wine
4 cups vegetable/mushroom stock*
2 c. Tomatoes, chopped
1 T. Tomato paste
4 Thyme sprigs
1 Rosemary sprig
¼ c. Parsley leaves
3 Bay leaves
5-6 Dried mushrooms (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

½ c. Parsley
1 T. Garlic, chopped
1 T. Lemon zest, finely grated
½ tsp. salt

*Make stock ahead of time by pouring 2 cups boiling water over ½ - 1/3 cup dried mushrooms. Add 1 vegetarian bouillon cube and whisk until completely blended. Add another 2 cups hot water to the mix and let sit 5-10 minutes.

For the Seitan
Mix all marinade ingredients together in a medium bowl. Adjust marinade to taste – add sherry if too tart, add soy sauce if too bland, add more mustard for an extra kick, or add hoisin for a super sweet and salty combo punch. Add seitan to marinade and let sit 30 minutes while you prepare stew.

For the Stew
In a Dutch oven or large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Sauté onions, celery and carrots with salt until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and stir for 1 minute. Turn heat to medium high and add wine, keeping at a boil until reduced by about half or more. Meanwhile, mix the tomato paste with a ½ cup of stock and add mixture plus stock, tomatoes, herbs, and mushrooms (if using) to the pot. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat and simmer for about 45 minutes. Remove any stray stems and mushrooms (you'll have to fish for them).

Returning to Seitan
Place flour or cornstarch in a medium bowl and set out a separate plate for the seitan. Dredge seitan cubes and set on plate, reserving extra marinade for later. Heat half of canola oil in a nonstick skillet over high heat and add half of seitan cubes. Cook until browned on all sides, about 3-4 minutes. Repeat with remaining canola oil and the rest of the seitan. After the second batch has browned, add the first batch back into the pan along with all of the reserved marinade with the heat still on high. Let sauce reduce until thick and nicely glazed over seitan cubes, most of the sauce will have evaporated. Remove from heat and set aside.

For the Gremolata
In one pile, finely mince parsley, garlic lemon and salt together. The salt will draw out the juices from each ingredient and allow them to mesh together nicely. Set aside

To serve
Just before serving, place the cooked seitan in the stew. Stir and let sit 5 minutes. Sprinkle Gremolata on top and serve alongside orzo or saffron risotto.

1 comment:

  1. It was really delicious! I'm the 'vegan' marrying her roommate's brother. The meal was really scrumptious!