A month or so ago I had been intrigued with a recipe on “Is This My Bureka?” (see sidebar for link) for Romanian mititei, a spicy cross between meatballs and sausages, and wondered whether I could make a vegetarian version with green lentils. Not because I can’t eat beef–I can if it’s kosher–but because I generally don’t like handling meat. (I don’t mind fish nearly as much; don’t ask about the logic, it’s just a preference.) All my meat dishes are still in storage, four months after the move. That’s not accidental–I hate switching over the dishes even more than I dislike handling meat.
So in any case, I tried it. Green lentils are on my list of easy-to-microwave, ultracheap nutritious staples. I cooked up about half a pound of dried lentils in water to substitute handily for a pound or pound and a half of ground beef. The mixture I made was heavy on garlic, pepper, and a variety of spices ground in the coffee mill. It was a lot lower on salt than BurekaBoy’s because I tasted it with a couple of pinches of salt–between 1/4 and 1/2 teaspoon–in the mix and that was more than plenty. Scared to think what a teaspoon and a half would have done. Maybe ground beef requires more, or maybe the lentils don’t absorb and hide the salt flavor as much.
The green lentil mixture was delicious even before cooking–with vegetarian sausage, burger or meatloaf recipes, unless you have raw eggs or uncooked flour in your mix, you can taste for seasonings pretty safely. If you do have eggs or raw flours in the mix or are making a sausage recipe with meat, poultry or fish, cook a spoonful first in the microwave and then do the taste test.
Unfortunately, though, the paste didn’t hang together as well as I’d hoped–cooking it didn’t help much. It was still delicious and spicy, but it just crumbled. And although I could live with it, I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
So my recent purchase of a bag of vital wheat gluten and my first foray into the mysterious world of seitan set me off. What if I added a little gluten to the lentil mix instead of the other way around? That way it would stick together and still be mostly lentils. The proteins would be balanced better by combining a pulse (lentils) with a grain (wheat). It would have loads of flavor without needing soy sauce or salty broth. It would be microwave-steamable, and probably fryable or grillable too. And I could still taste it safely before cooking to ensure there was the right amount of excessive garlic present.
And–half a cup of gluten wasn’t quite enough for the three or four cups of cooked lentils I used. Still kind of dry and crumbly when I made a few small patties and cooked it two ways (microwave and frying pan). I added a little more gluten to the rest of the uncooked mixture. Three-quarters of a cup of gluten per 3 or so cups of lentils was better–I could see the threads of gluten forming as I kneaded it together in the bowl.
The patties were still dryish and of course lentil gray-green, though this version hung together better when cooked. It still tasted good, very peppery and garlicky, with a hint of the allspice, fennel, coriander seed and other spices I’d put in. But because of the dryish texture I wasn’t sure I could recommend it fully–it was definitely a case of “Dance 10, Looks 3” at that point.
I cooked up the rest of the mix by microwave steaming, followed by a light pan fry in olive oil, and bagged them into the fridge. The next day, there they were–still a bit soft and crumbly, but hanging together better with a little more chewiness to them. Still not pretty but they tasted good. Waste not, want not, I thought. Pretty is for some other day.
I toasted a grinder roll and while it was cooking I put a few of the patties on a plate with some low-sodium chipotle salsa (Trader Joe’s, and surprisingly good) and a shredded stick of mozzarella on top, and microwaved them about 20-30 seconds, just to heat through and melt the cheese before sliding the whole thing onto the bun.
And it was about the best parmigiana grinder I’ve ever eaten. Fabulously good. Smoky, spicy, perfect. The night in the fridge seemed to have done the lentil/seitan sausages good–made them a little chewier and a little less dry. The salsa and low-fat mozzarella rounded out the flavor and mellowed the black pepper just enough. I know; adding salsa’s chiles to a large helping of black peppercorns…very counterintuitive unless you like molten lava for lunch. Which, of course, I do.
So here, with some reservations about the looks, is what I came up with. Next time I might go with a whole cup of wheat gluten to see if I can get them firmer without losing the flavor. If you can’t take really spicy stuff, cut back on the black pepper or leave it out, but I like a bit of fresh-ground pepper for its floral notes as well as its heat.
Green Lentil/Seitan Mititei (Sausages)
- 3-4 c. (about 1 lb or a bit more) cooked green lentils, drained
- 3/4 to 1 c. vital wheat gluten (Bob’s Red Mill or other)
- 2 fat cloves garlic
- 1/4 big yellow onion
- 1/3-1/2 c. loose-frozen spinach, optional
- 1/2 t Chinese sesame oil
- 1-2 t. vinegar (apple cider or red wine, not balsamic)
- 1-2 T olive oil
- good squeeze of lemon
- 1/3-1/2 c. water, just as needed
- 7 allspice berries
- 1/2 t. black peppercorns
- 1/2 t coriander seed (or 1/2 t ground)
- big pinch, up to 1/2 t, fennel seed
- 1/4 t each powdered caraway and cumin (or just add the seeds to the grinder if you have whole spices)
- pinch of shwarma spice, baharat, or a small shake or grating of nutmeg
- generous 1/2 t each chile flakes and dry oregano
- 1 T fresh thyme or 1 t. dried
- LESS THAN 1/2 t salt
Grind the spices together to a fine powder in a coffee grinder (to clean, wipe it out well afterward, or grind salt as a chaser and throw it out, then wipe it out with a napkin and water.) Blend the bulk ingredients together in a food processor with at least half the ground spice mix and taste to see if you want the rest (you can save the unused spice mix for a little while in a sandwich baggie but you should use it within a week or so before it loses potency). The sausage mix should be moist but form a coherent doughy mass in the food processor.
To cook, form small patties, either 2 inch rounds or oblong shapes, about 1/2 inch thick, place on a microwaveable platter, cover with another plate, and cook 3-4 minutes on HIGH (reference: my microwave is 1150 W; add time if yours is less). Uncover and test whether the seitan has cooked through–if you’re only cooking a few patties, it might have, but if you’re doing a batch it’ll probably be a little cooked-looking on top and still mushy in the middle. Flip the patties over, recover the plate, and microwave on the other side 2-3 minutes. You may need to let them stand a few minutes and microwave again to get them cooked through. You can brown the patties quickly in a frying pan with a little olive oil instead or in addition to the microwave steaming step.
Cool the patties on the plate and refrigerate overnight in a covered container or plastic bag if you’re not using them immediately–they’ll firm up further and be a little moister the next day. A single serving (2-3 small patties) can be heated up in 30 seconds in the microwave, with or without tomato sauce, salsa, cheese of various kinds, etc. for a great grinder filling.