Learning Python: on encouragement and seitan

Thanks so much for the tremendous show of support in response to my last post! I took a risk and shared something tender, and you demonstrated that I really ought to be doing that more often. I feel humbled by the response and grateful for my community.

This weekend I reflected on the role of encouragement in the learning process, especially as I consider what will be helpful to share with my mixed audience of absolute novices and experienced developers at PyTN. For the latter group, I cannot overstate the importance of reaching out to learners in whatever way you feel comfortable: whether that’s a RT, a blog comment, an invitation to coffee, or just letting them know you’re there if you need anything. It’s certainly made a world of difference to me.

And yet, when you reach a certain level of expertise, it can be easy to take your skill for granted, and hard to see the utility in reaching out. You lose sight of the awesomeness of your work because it’s just what you do every day. I reckoned with this Thursday when I taught a cooking class on something very basic and easy to me, but exciting and even intimidating to others: seitan. It was gratifying to consider the learner’s perspective as I prepared my curriculum. While teaching, I was reminded that I have a pretty special skill, one worth sharing, and from that recognition grew a sense of responsibility.

From last Thursday’s cooking class

And so, as I receive encouragement from a community of developers to share my learning journey, I hope folks with more experience will feel empowered to reach out to those of us getting started. Don’t let your years of grinding it out cloud your belief in your own awesomeness and power to make a difference. That tweet or comment may be exactly what we need!

Quality time with tea and Jessica McKellar’s PyCon talk

Encouragement has taken many forms in my learning journey, from receiving support to speak at PyTN, to an email that changed the course of my project, to my brilliant friend Kyle always being there to answer questions, and more. I feel both supported and held accountable, and capable of much more than I thought.

For today’s cooking lesson, I want you to head over to my friend Sarah’s blog and read about the cooking class I taught on Thursday on seitan. Seitan is a versatile, centuries-old protein developed in China and is used in all manner of savory dishes as a vegetarian powerhouse where beef, chicken, or pork might otherwise be used. Sarah does a terrific job covering the material and is adorable and hilarious. Recipes are below, after a few images of how you might use it. Enjoy!

spicy ethiopian-style seitan with peppers

spicy ethiopian-style seitan with peppers

Battered & fried and ready for a variety of uses

Battered & fried and ready for a variety of uses

Pot-roast style

Pot-roast style

Seitan medallions in shiitake and portobello mushroom gravy

Seitan and red beans bourguinonne

Chicken-style seitan, boiled method

  • 1 cup vital wheat gluten
  • 1/4 cup chickpea flour
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • a couple of big pinches of sage
  • 1 cup flavorful broth
  • 2 tablespoons soy sace
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons garlic, pressed or Microplaned

Thoroughly whisk together the dry ingredients: vital wheat gluten through sage. In a measuring cup, whisk the wet ingredients: broth through garlic. Add the wet to the dry and combine thoroughly until a dough is formed. On a floured surface, knead the dough to develop the gluten, about 3 minutes. Tear into three equal pieces and drop into a highly-seasoned broth of your choice (about six cups of whatever vegetable broth you have on hand). Bring broth to a boil and reduce to a simmer, simmering about 45 minutes.

Allow to cool. Chop into small pieces and pan-fry, add to recipes, etc. Store in cooking broth in the fridge, up to a few days. Freezes well.

Italian sausage style seitan, steamed method

  • Two cups vital wheat gluten
  • 1/3 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1/4 cup chickpea flour
  • 2 tablespoons onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons fennel seeds, chopped
  • several dashes of freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon chili flakes (or fewer), depending on how spicy you like it)
  • 1 teaspoon ground smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 cups cold flavorful broth
  • 3 tbsp neutral oil (canola, vegetable, or olive)
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed or Microplaned

Thoroughly whisk together the dry ingredients, vital wheat gluten through salt. In a measuring cup, whisk the wet ingredients: broth through garlic. Add the wet to the dry and combine thorough until a dough is formed. Knead it a bit to make sure everything is incorporated, and then grab a small handful. Place in the center of a square of tin foil and fold like a tootsie roll. (Thanks to Julie Hasson for this method!) Fold gently, leaving room for the seitan to expand (think tamales, if you’ve had practice with those). Place in a steamer basket and steam for 45 minutes.

Once cool enough to handle, chop and pan-fry, add to recipes, etc. Remove all from foil wrappings and store in the fridge up to a few days. Freezes well.

Seriously though, check Sarah’s blog: she explains the process very nicely.