A Cuban Picadillo
In my version of this zesty Cuban lunch-counter favorite, finely chopped wheat gluten (usually sold under its Japanese name, seitan) makes an admirable substitute for the traditional ground beef. Sweet raisins, salty olives, and pickled capers infuse the tomato sauce and seitan with irresistible flavor. For optimum taste, prepare the picadillo a few hours before serving, or even the day before.
12 to 16 ounces seitan (wheat gluten), preferably chicken style, drained
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 cup chopped onion
2 medium green peppers, seeded and diced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 cups unseasoned tomato juice
1 can (15 ounces) diced tomatoes with green chiles, with liquid
1/3 cup pimento-stuffed green olives, cut into thirds crosswise
1/4 cup raisins
2 tablespoons drained capers
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
Place the seitan in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until it is chopped to a texture resembling ground meat. (Or chop finely by hand.) If using the traditionally seasoned variety, soak the chopped seitan in water to cover for 10 minutes. Drain. Taste and repeat with fresh water, if necessary, until the seitan tastes fairly bland. Drain thoroughly and set aside.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until it is lightly browned, about 30 seconds. Immediately stir in the onion and green peppers and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened somewhat, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in the oregano and cumin and cook for about 30 seconds. Then add the reserved chopped seitan and the remaining ingredients.
Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat, and cook uncovered at a gentle boil, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened slightly and the seitan has picked up the flavor of the sauce, 30 to 45 minutes. Adjust the seasonings before serving.
Opt for chicken-style seitan if you can find it, as the taste is more appropriate to this dish. Traditionally seasoned seitan, typically flavored with soy sauce and ginger, can be used successfully in the picadillo over quinoa or rice tossed with toasted pumpkin seeds.