Apr 16, 2011

Vegan Ham and Yam Cracklins

Meat analog. Is there any less appetizing way to describe vegan meat? Just using the word "meat" doesn't seem right either, given that our diets are meat-free. I propose we come up with another name- an entirely new word, perhaps. Something that sounds yummy, and not like something a replicator on the Starship Enterprise would produce. Any suggestions?

How about saplatein?
Etymology: from the root words, satisfying, plant, and protein

Or maybe protegan?
Etymology: from the root words, protein and vegan

Anyway, it's not meat that I crave- it's the texture. Chewy, dense, tender, and fibrous... yes, fibrous. If you look closely at any good faux chicken or beef on the market, you will notice... fibers. Without them, the wheat gluten and soy protein only offer a good chewy texture, but no fibrous texture. On the ingredients labels of faux meats (another term I really hate) from Taiwan, I've seen everything from mushroom and pea fiber to ambiguous "vegetable fiber." The mouth feel of these saplateins (hey, maybe it'll catch on!) is definitely different than the homemade seitan I'm used to- much more like real meat. SO... I thought I'd experiment a little.

Scouring online, I found that there are really no sources of "vegetable fiber" on the market for this type of use. So then I got to thinking about vegetables that are naturally tough to chew and fibrous, even when cooked. One of my first thoughts was celery. It's very fibrous as well as inexpensive... nice!

Although this is in no way just like ham, it turned out delicious, and with great texture ( I couldn't stop eating it). If you look closely, you can see the little strands of celery poking out. It's a subtle textural thing, and I think I will experiment with other types of fiber in future batches too. Corn, asparagus, and peas come to mind.

Yam Cracklins
One of the best parts of a roast is the crunch of the "skin." Pork cracklins was one of my Filipino Mother-in-Law's favorite foods, and I remember having it once or twice before I went vegan. It was crunchy, fatty, and savory. This version is A LOT less fatty, even though it's deep fried, but it offers a good satisfying savory crunch that complements the roast, or can be eaten by itself.

Vegan Ham Roast (Serves 4-6 people)

1 1/2 C. celery (roughly chopped into 1/2" pieces)
1 C. onion (also roughly chopped)
pinch of salt for saute
7 oz. firm tofu (1/2 of a 14oz. block)
1/2 C. water
1/4 C. soy sauce
2 tsp. liquid smoke
3 T. tomato paste
2 cloves garlic
2/3 C. nutritional yeast flakes
3/4 tsp. salt
2 C. vital wheat gluten
extra virgin olive oil for brushing

Maple Glaze
2 T. maple syrup
1/2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil

1) Saute celery and onions in a dry non-stick pan at medium-high heat with a sprinkling of salt. This will help get most of the moisture out of the vegetables, leaving the fibers more condensed. Do not add any oil or water. Stir often- if it starts to brown too much, turn down the heat. When the onions are translucent and very little steam is coming out, turn off heat and set aside.
2) In a food processor, mix all other ingredients except for the wheat gluten and olive oil, until smooth. 3) Add the celery and onions to the food processor, and pulse until the vegetables are finely minced. You don't want it too chunky, otherwise it'll be more like meatloaf (the resulting mixture looks like creamy oatmeal).
4) Transfer this mixture to a large mixing bowl, and add the vital wheat gluten. Mix until fully combined, then knead for a few minutes.
5) Form the soft dough onto a large sheet of aluminum foil. Fold up the sides snugly, but not extremely tight, as it will expand a little while cooking.
6) Pressure cook on a rack above water for 30 minutes, up to an hour if steaming.
7) Transfer the roast to a casserole dish or pan, and open the foil. Cut a shallow criss-cross pattern on top with a sharp knife. Brush on a thin layer of extra virgin olive oil, and bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes.
8) Whisk together the Maple Glaze with a fork. Brush generously onto roast and bake for another 15-20 minutes until caramelized.
9) It will be done when it's no longer soft and bounces back to the touch.

Yam Cracklins

Skin of 1-2 yams (I picked longer ones) to make about two dozen strips
1 C. water
2 T. soy sauce
1 tsp. your favorite grilling herbs (thyme, black pepper, lemon zest, etc.)
1/4 C. nutritional yeast flakes


Peel the yams with a good vegetable peeler to make the strips. Save the yams for another dish.

Mix the marinade in an appropriate container. Lay strips to soak for about an hour (or longer).

Heat oil to fry, then pat strips gently with a paper towel to remove excess liquid. Fry until golden and crisp, then drain to remove excess oil.


  1. Very cool recipes! I've never had real cracklins, but your yam version looks fantastic: very clever!

  2. Blah, forget about the title, the recipe itself looks mouth-watering! I love, love, love seitan and definitely don't make it enough. I really want to try your recipe next, it sounds so flavorful and looks very tender.

  3. This sounds great! I have to admit, my first reaction to the image wasn't good. This whole VegNews thing has my head spinning. But indeed this sounds very good.

  4. @Cassie- I know what you mean! I am so disappointed with VN! Rest assured, that my photos are 100% vegan and taken personally by me in my living room -haha!

  5. Yum!Thank you for following Be Well Gifts blog I am honored. I am writing today to let you know that I have moved to http://GiftsByKatherine.com and I hope you'll join me there. With gratitude , Katherine

  6. Great recipe, DJ! I agree that the best faux meats have to have that great texture-- it's what I miss the most too.

  7. Thank you so much for this recipe, we tried it last night (- with chickpeas and a bit of water as we had no tofu and used golden syrup, plum jam and water as we had no maple syrup); it was delicious. We are making it for Christmas dinner. :)