When I put up a gluten-free post a few weeks ago, I promised I’d later share a bread recipe for readers who identify as gluten fiends.  I didn’t expect to write a post dedicated entirely to the stuff, but after you see what I ate for lunch yesterday, you’ll see why today is, in fact, Gluten Day 2012.

Until I ordered a dish from Woo Ying Vegetarian several months ago, I didn’t even know it was possible to eat wheat gluten.

I didn’t come across it again until Bo Lin Vegetarian Foods in Parker Place, where the containers of marinated, meat-like chunks were neatly lined up and labelled “gluten.”  I ordered the lunch combo that included 3 kinds of gluten, beancurd, and rice for $6.25, and it was delightful.

Interestingly, at both Bo Lin and Woo Ying, the gluten was served at room temperature or chilled.  The lady who served me at Bo Lin warned me of this, though she assured me the rice would be hot.  Both places were also Buddhist, with various books and DVDs displayed alongside the food.

My meal was enormous, but I did my best.  There were three kinds of gluten (sweet and sour, sweet and spicy, and soy sauce) plus bean curd skin.  The bean curd was layered,

while the gluten looked genuinely meat-like, especially the dark, sweet & spicy chunks.  It’s amazing the Power of Sauce and Texture; whether you have pieces of pork or pieces of wheat gluten, as long as they possess the same density and are both covered in the same sauce, it’s really quite difficult to tell the difference.

I find that with most of the vegetarian food I come across in Richmond, they try to recreate meat dishes, rather than avoid references to meat in any form.  To me, this suggests many vegetarians there don’t eat meat for ethical or spiritual reasons, not because they dislike the flavours and/or textures of it.

After my lunch, I began my wheat gluten research in earnest.

It began with this article in Slate, which not only claims that “wheat gluten is healthier, tastier, and more versatile than tofu,” but also said this, which I thought was pretty funny:

So why should you zig while the rest of the country is zagging? Like many of the foods people tell you not to eat, gluten is delicious. Its texture is somewhere between tofu and meat—chewy but not bossy. Broiled or baked, it can serve as the center of a meal. In a sauce, it won’t hide in the background like that culinary Zelig, tofu. Honor the sacrifices of the celiacs among us by celebrating your own robust digestive health with a huge plate of seasoned gluten.

I continued to read up on wheat gluten, and it wasn’t much longer until someone called it ‘seitan.’  Then I realized I have had wheat gluten before; I just didn’t know what seitan was made of!

Then I wondered, ‘why am I so terribly ignorant about wheat gluten?’  The answer is simple: gluten has a bad rep, since gluten-free diets are at an all-time high.  Website after website list gluten’s supposed evils, and with the popularity of gluten-free foods, no marketer would ever dare use the G-word.  It just wouldn’t make financial sense. 

With the beating gluten has taken over the last few years, it’s no wonder that wheat gluten – which is high in protein and an excellent substitute for meat – has to hide behind words like “seitan.”

The pro/anti gluten debate is big and very complicated, and not one I wish to get into here.  If you avoid gluten, I respect that.  If you eat gluten, I respect that, too.  And if you’re a gluten-eating vegetarian, then there are some darn good options for you in Richmond.  Start with Bo Lin!

And now, that recipe I promised you.  I lied a little bit, however, because I decided to share biscuits, rather than bread.  Why?  Because if you do eat gluten, biscuits are one of the best things in the world.  They’re easy to make, endlessly comforting, and can be eaten with just about anything.  In fact, they might even make Lindsay K’s Top Five Favourite Foods list.

My go-to recipe for biscuits is from The Best of Bridge, which I settled upon years ago when I cooked for treeplanters.  After trial and error with a number of recipes, this became my favourite to make, and the treeplanters’ favourite to eat.  They have yeast in them, so just like bread, they need a warm kitchen to rise in.  Enjoy.

Flaky Biscuits

Yields approximately 20 biscuits

1 Tb yeast (1 package)

2 Tb sugar

¼ cup warm water

5 cups flour

3 Tb sugar

1 Tb baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1 cup butter

2 cups buttermilk (or milk mixed with 2 tablespoons lemon juice or vinegar)

In small bowl combine yeast and sugar in water.  Set aside for 10 min.  In large bowl mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Cut in butter to form crumbly mixture.  Stir in yeast mix and buttermilk.  Mix just enough to hold together.  Roll ¾ inch thick on floured surface.  Cut out biscuits with cutter.  Prick tops with fork.  Freeze separately on cookie sheet.  After frozen, stack and wrap well.  Before baking, thaw and let rise until puffed slightly (about 30  min).  Bake at 425 for 15 min on lightly greased cookie sheet.

Bo Lin Vegetarian

4380 No. 3 Road, Richmond BC

604-273-8110

Cash only

Plenty of vegetarian options available, of course!