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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. 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. More about those in a later article.
As I had plenty of leftover wheat gluten, I started playing around with other flavors and ideas. I have a bit of a Tex-Mex obsession so I decided to work on chipotle spiced seitan. Around the time I was researching spicy seitan, The Takedowns announced a meatball competition. This led me to consider entering the chipotle seitan in ball form with a warm salsa “marinara” and a bit of nacho whiz for color and heat balance. I planned on calling the dish “Hell’s Balls,” but unfortunately, life got in the way and I wasn’t able to compete.
I then decided to take the chipotle seitan balls and do a full vegan makeover of the Quinoa Tifah. That recipe is a riff on a meatball sub using quinoa balls, actual marinara, and mozzarella cheese. It’s vegetarian but not vegan. The quinoa balls use egg and, well, mozzarella is delicious but not vegan.
It took a bit of work to get the seitan ball texture right. At first, they were either too mushy or spongy. They did not have that meatball crumble texture and fattiness. I finally landed on adding nuts to up the fat content and the spaces around the nuts in the mix add that crumbly texture. I went with a combo of cashews and walnuts but one or the other would work just fine. Steaming the seitan first, cooling, then baking gives the balls a crisp outer crust.
The seitan ingredient list might seem rather long, but trust me this is a quick process. I use a food processor to make it even easier, but you can certainly make this mixing by hand. I tend to make seitan the day before I want to use it as a rest in the fridge overnight greatly improves the texture and flavor.
Besides adding a fattiness and texture, the other reason I have cashews in this recipe is to substitute the mozzarella with a nacho whiz made out of cashews. To be clear, this is NOT cashew cheese sauce because there is no such thing as cheese made from nuts. It’s a major pet peeve of mine when vegans use meat-centric names for plant products. I made Cashew Whiz which has a creamy cheesy flavor but is not anything even close to cheese. It does add a nice flavor kick especially if you go the Nacho Whiz route by punching up the heat level.
The salsa here is as simple as it gets. Some canned tomatoes (or fresh tomatoes if you have them), peppers, onion, spices and a bit of acid (lemon or lime juice) tossed in a blender. For the sandwich, I took the baked seitan balls and tossed them in a pan with the salsa to heat up the sauce and coat the balls.
Would it fool carnivores? Definitely not. Is it a delicious and healthier take on a standard meatball sub? Definitely. Plus, it turns out making seitan and cashew whiz are pretty damn simple.
Chipotle seitan balls, nacho whiz, Aleppo pepper, salsa, and sea salt on a sub roll
Seitan Chipotle Balls (see recipe below)
Nacho Whiz (see recipe below)
Hell’s Balls Salsa (see recipe below)
Toast the sub roll.
Put the salsa in a skillet over medium heat. When the salsa just starts to bubble, toss in the seitan balls and stir to coat. Let the balls and salsa simmer for 5 minutes stirring occasionally to coat the balls.
Take two spoonfuls of warm salsa and spread inside the sub roll. Place 4-5 seitan balls (depending on their size) in the bun. Top with a bit more salsa and a generous drizzle of nacho whiz.
SEITAN CHIPOTLE BALLS
Makes about 16 balls
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 large white onion chopped
4 garlic clove chopped
2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/4 cup cooked chickpeas
2 tablespoons carrot pickles, chopped before processing
2 tablespoon walnuts
2 tablespoons cashews
1 tablespoon Nutritional Yeast
1 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1-ounce chipotle pepper in adobo
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 cup sparkling water
3/4 cup vital wheat gluten
In a skillet over medium heat, saute the onion and garlic in the oil until the onion softens. Add the fennel and coriander seeds and toast them until fragrant. Place the onion, garlic, and spice mixture in the bowl of a food processor.
Add the chickpeas, carrot pickles, walnuts, and cashews to the food processor bowl. Pulse until the nuts are chopped but not pulverized. Add the nutritional yeast, spices, chipotle, soy sauce, tomato paste, and sparkling water and pulse until just combined. Add the vital wheat gluten and process until it forms a ball.
Turn the seitan ball out onto a cutting board and knead for a minute. You are just looking to make sure everything is incorporated and work the dough slightly but not heavily. The more you knead this, the less it will have a sausage/meatball texture.
Roll seitan into 1-ounce balls. Place an inch or two of water in a large pot with a steamer basket and lid. Bring water to a boil. Add the seitan balls to the basket trying not to crowd them, Reduce heat to medium, cover, and steam for 50 minutes. Check the pot at about 25 minutes to make sure the water has not boiled off.
When the seitan is done steaming, transfer the balls to a plate and let cool. You get the best texture by letting these rest overnight in the refrigerator, but a few hours in the fridge before baking will also work.
Preheat oven to 400 – bake 12 minutes until crisp & browned turning once halfway.
Makes about a cup
1 cup raw cashews
2 tablespoon Nutritional Yeast
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2/3 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons Valentina
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
Add the cashew nuts, nutritional yeast, crushed garlic and lemon juice to the blender jug. Add sea salt and black pepper. Measure out the water and add it in. Blend until very smooth and creamy.
For a thicker nacho whiz, use less water. For a thinner salad dressing consistency, use a little more water.
HELL’S BALLS SALSA
Makes about 2 cups
1 jalapeno, de-seeded and chopped
1/2 red pepper, chopped
1/4 red onion, chopped
2 cups crushed tomatoes (or fresh tomatoes diced)
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Place in blender. Blend until combined.