Just so you know, it did not end as I had hoped. I envisioned myself sitting peacefully at my kitchen table, sunlight streaming through the window to gaze upon the masterpiece gracing my plate. Instead, the way it ended was with a kitchen that looked like the setting for a flour-bomb testing site and a tragic case of mistaken identity.
Seitan, (with the unfortunate pronunciation of say-TAN), referenced as far back as 535 C.E. in China, is a meat substitute made from wheat gluten. Basically, rinse the heck out of some flour, rinse again, stretch, braid, and cook. Voila, seitan. Simple, right?
There I was, nine cups of flour in a bowl, three cups water, and hands ready for a marathon of mixing. Have you ever noticed how rebellious flour can be? How sometimes when mixing, a little renegade cloud puffs out of the bowl? That’s okay, maybe a little annoying, but when it’s two cups of flour, it doesn’t make much of a difference. Try nine cups of flour and notice the level of containment possible. Right away, my counter and hair were covered.
I began to mix. More tiny puffs of flour escaped, getting onto the floor, the stove, even up on the cabinets. So. Much. Flour. Everywhere. Finally, I had my shaggy ball of dough and began the relentless fifteen minutes of kneading. So. Much. Kneading. My fingers felt like uncooked seitan strands by the end. But I finally did my time, covered my doughball with cold water, and let it sit.
I wish I could say I had done the hard part. I went outside, shook out my clothes, and readied myself for round two. Pour out the water, cover the doughball with fresh water, and knead… again.
I’m not sure if there is a graceful way to knead dough in a bowl of water. If there is, I’m not aware of it. Puddles of milky water now joined the flour patches on the counter. Streams managed to squirt up into my hair and onto my forehead so that I then had streaks running down my cheeks. I was almost as messy as the kitchen.
Once you’ve kneaded the dough a ridiculous number of times and changed the water almost as much, you then squeeze out the liquid and let the dough rest in a colander. Here’s where I should have been sitting on the patio enjoying a cup of tea and the warmth of near success. Instead, I popped the cork on a bottle of wine, reminding myself it was 5pm somewhere and wiped the now sticky streaks from my face. My hands were cramping and shriveled like rotting berries, and I still had more steps to get through.
The next step was to stretch out the seitan 12-15 inches, cut it into three strands, and braid. Simple enough. I managed, surprisingly, to pull this part off with only minor cursing and fumbling. It wasn’t the prettiest braid (if that’s what you could call it). I was to let it rest. Again? So. Much. Resting. More wine.
Here’s where things went decidedly worse. After letting the seitan rest, it now needed to be stretched and tied into a knot. Now, I’ve done difficult things in my life. I’ve managed to raise children into adulthood, after all. But tying knots into the supposedly braided dough with shriveled, aching fingers is not on my list of skills. My braid kept unraveling at the ends, and I just couldn’t quite get all the strands through the same loop. This may seem like an irrelevant step in the directions but trust me it’s not. They asked for at least three knots, and I couldn’t even get one good one.
I looked around my kitchen, the flour splattered across the cabinets like a piece of modern art, the splotches of dough drying to my counters, the empty wine glass, and the patches of stickiness beneath my feet. Like any mature woman in extreme duress, I decided to throw a tantrum. Right there in my kitchen.
I slapped the dough back onto the counter, pounded it with my fist, and let a string of curses fly from my lips. Unfortunately, I had miscalculated the invoking power of my words and the unfortunate pronunciation of what I was cursing. HE arrived in a burst of black smoke and, with a booming voice, threatened, “HARK MORTAL, I’M HERE FOR YOUR SOUL. IT’S TIME TO—”
“Wait, what… what the hell is that?” he asked.
His eyes trailing from my matted starch-water hair to the sad pile of water-logged dough in front of me, he gave me a look of disappointment – and strangely, pity – and then disappeared in that same puff of black smoke, leaving my soul right where it was.
I wish I could say I did the same with the seitan, but somebody had to clean up the mess. It took a few hours, another glass or two of wine, and a pizza delivery. From now on, I’ll be buying my seitan from the store like ordinary people.