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I am a sucker for killer hard rock/metal intros.
Most modern songs skip an intro much like movies skip opening titles, but a great intro can set the whole tone for a song. Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” would not be near as epic without the initial “I AM IRONMAN” followed by that crushing riff. “ALL ABOARD!” followed by Ozzy’s maniacal laugh and “I – I – I” leading into the bassline and classic Randy Rhoads guitar of “Crazy Train.” The thin choppy guitar sound before “Smells Like Teen Spirit” unleashes. The creepy midnight bells and slow guitar dirge that starts one of the most underappreciated AC/DC tracks.
Given this sandwich comes from a recent deep dive into Seitan Worship, I suppose I should’ve used a Black Sabbath song title, but I couldn’t find one with the “bells to balls” pun. To be honest, I am a “just the rockin’ hits” kind of AC/DC fan. I’ve never owned an album, rarely pull up an album on Spotify to play, but nonetheless love it when they show up in a playlist. They are an iconic “bang your head” band that, unless there are deep cuts I know nothing about, never bothered with the sentimental power ballad. Putting a healthy dose of AC/DC hits into a party playlist guarantees a great time.
Seitan is a vegan protein product made with vital wheat gluten. I became interested in making seitan when I started planning a hot dog pop-up for the first issue of Music & Food. I know I am going to need a vegan dog for the night, but the commercially made seitan dogs are WICKED expensive. Turns out, the hardest part of making seitan dogs is finding vital wheat gluten in a neighborhood like Bushwick. Luckily, I found a local organic grocer that stocks Bob’s Red Mill brand. Having bought a couple of bags, I set to work making some hot dog tests.
As I had plenty of leftover wheat gluten, I started thinking of other sandwiches and meat analogs I could make with my new found seitan skills. That led me back to attempt a full vegan makeover of the Quinoa Tifah. That recipe is a riff on a meatball parm using quinoa balls, marinara, and mozzarella cheese. It’s vegetarian but not vegan. The quinoa balls use egg and, well, mozzarella is delicious but not vegan. Sadly this still ends up in the vegetarian category because I simply CANNOT swing with vegan cheese. If you do, then substitute vegan “mozzarella” and some Nooch to create a fully vegan version of this dish.
This recipe originally used walnuts to add fattiness and texture, but let’s face it, nuts are expensive. Plus, with the rise in nut allergies, if I ever wanted to use these balls for a pop-up or competition, I’d need something nut-free. A bit more deep-diving and a few more experiments lead to an unexpected ingredient: potato. Specifically mashed potato. I honestly never thought adding starch to seitan would result in a great meatball like texture, but it truly does. You trade off the kind of meat crumble you’d get with nuts for a velvety mouthfeel that tricks the brain into thinking “meat fat.” The combo of baking, then resting overnight, then frying makes for a VERY satisfying meatball substitute.
On the reheat/frying side of things, I’ve simmered these in marinara and they are delicious. They absorb the marinara like a traditional meatball and hold their texture perfectly. Start with a quick fry, add the marinara, then reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
I was looking for something a bit hotter for this sandwich so after frying, I tossed them in some of my Sweet Lightnin’ BBQ sauce. A brown sugar jalapeno sauce, it brings a subtle heat with balanced sweetness and goes nicely with the melted cheeses. Would it fool carnivores? Definitely not. Is it a delicious and healthier take on a standard meatball parm? Definitely.
Sweet Lighnin’ seitan balls, mozzarella, Asiago, Aleppo pepper, basil, and sea salt on a sub roll
Makes 1 sandwich
3-4 Seitan Balls (see recipe below)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup Sweet Lightnin’ sauce (or your favorite spicy BBQ sauce)
2 ounces low moisture mozzarella or vegan “mozzarella”, shredded
1 ounce Asiago (shredded) or nutritional yeast
Preheat your oven’s broiler.
Place the sub roll under the broiler to lightly toast. Remove from the broiler and set aside.
Place a skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil. When the oil just starts to shimmer, add the seitan balls and toss to coat. Let the balls fry for 2 minutes tossing to keep from burning and to brown on all sides. Add the BBQ sauce, toss to coat, and simmer for 3 minutes stirring occasionally to glaze the balls.
Spread some of the BBQ sauce on the inside of the sub roll. Place the seitan balls in the sub roll. Top with the mozzarella and Asiago (of vegan mozz & nooch). Place under the broiler until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Finish with a sprinkle of dried basil, Aleppo pepper, and sea salt.
Makes about 16 balls
1 medium-large (about 225 grams / 8 oz) potato peeled and diced
1/2 cup cooked chickpeas
1/4 medium onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 cup vegetable stock
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons dried oregano
3 teaspoons dried basil
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or red pepper flakes
4 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 cup vital wheat gluten
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Boil the potato until soft. Drain and mash. Set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, combine the chickpeas, onion (roughly chopped), garlic, the soy sauce, and vegetable stock in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.
In a bowl, combine the vital wheat gluten, paprika, oregano, basil, nutritional yeast, mashed potato and liquid mixture. Mix to combine then use your hands to mash the mixture together into a dough.
Tear off portions of the dough and roll them into meatballs. Place them on a lightly greased or paper-lined pan and bake for 20 minutes, flipping them over at 10 minutes. You can eat them still warm from the oven or you can let them cool and reheat them later. I find that letting them cool helps them firm up to a more meaty texture.