Alright readers, I've been holding out on you. When I did my Christmas round-up I left out the best part - the part where my mom veganized my favourite childhood meal for Christmas Day lunch!
I was born and raised here in Canada, but my parents came from Croatia in the 1960s. As a result, I was raised somewhere in between the old country and the new. Nike shoes and Rainbow Brite and Mr. Rogers spliced together with never believing in Santa Claus and Croatian school on Saturday mornings.
It also meant eating some meals that my non-immigrant schoolmates found rather questionable. Although, I should note, that I was a spoiled brat and got away with eating far less of the old school meals and far more of North American takeout variety than the majority of my Croatian school counterparts.
There was one Croatian meal, however, that I never turned my nose up at. One meal that in all my attempts to Canadianize myself, always gave me away as a not-quite-from-here citizen.
This meal is what the fancier folks call polenta, but we called it zgance. And my grandma's was the best. The zgance itself is nothing more than cornmeal, salt and water, but what made my grandma's so good was the fact that she baked it.
And doused it in her red sauce.
Ohhh buddy, that sauce.
When I was a kid the sauce was made with chicken (although even back then I refused to eat the chicken - proof that I was a vegetarian in the making long before I stopped eating meat). My mom so cleverly subbed in seitan instead!
In previous blog posts, I've touched on the concept of nostalgic eating as one of the more difficult obstacles encountered as a vegan, particularly around the holidays. It is often difficult for those of us who went vegan as adults to use food as a means of reminding us of long forgotten traditions and much simpler times, something so many people do at Christmastime. The longer we are vegan the more new vegan food associations we make, of course, but there's something special about triggering childhood memories via food.
Having a veganized version of Zgance and Red Sauce took me back to side-ponytails, New Kids on the Block cassette tapes and fighting over the blue plastic cup at my grandma's house. I know that it won't do the same for you, but it is such a delicious and hearty meal in and of itself that I urge you put a little Old Country flair into your modern diet.
Now, let me preface this recipe with a disclaimer: my mom and grandma are kind of rebels in the kitchen in that they don't use recipes. If you ask them for a recipe they will first be reluctant and second provide you with something that is nowhere near an exact science. I suppose spontaneity and flying by the seat of your pants add to the cooking experience, but for those of you who are anxiety-prone like myself, here is my mom's best attempt at quantifying my grandma's Zgance with Red Sauce:
Zgance with Red Sauce & Seitan
For the Red Sauce:
1 tbsp canola oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 stalks of celery, finely diced
1 heaping tablespoon paprika
4 cups of roma tomatoes skins removed & diced (my mom used about 1 1/2 of the 28oz cans of whole roma tomatoes which she put through a food processor)
salt & pepper to taste
4 cups of seitan diced into 1" cubes & pan seared for a few minutes*
1) Put 1 tbsp of canola oil in a heavy-bottomed pot or pan at medium heat. Add the onion and saute until soft & translucent.
2) Add the celery and cook until soft.
3) Add paprika & stir.
4) Add tomatoes & salt & pepper.
5) Simmer gently for about 1 1/2 hours. If you find the sauce too thick for your liking, add 1/4 cup of warmed vegetable broth at a time until it reaches your desired consistency (I like it thicker, but still runny).
6) Add seitan the last 5-10 minutes, just enough to warm through.
For the Zgance:
2 cups of cornmeal
5 cups of water
Salt to taste
1) Preheat oven to 350F. Boil the water in an oven-safe pot. Pour the polenta in at one side of the pot. Let simmer gently, for about 15 minutes, without stirring.
2) After it has simmered for the 15 minutes, remove about 1/3 of the water in the pot. Place it in a measuring cup because you will be needing it shortly.
3) Start mixing the zgance with a firm wood spoon, slowly adding back the water until the mixture is smooth but thick. While most of the fancy polenta recipes you might find in the blogosphere call for a really smooth, almost thin polenta (the consistency of mashed potatoes, usually), zgance is meant to be lumpy so don't worry about getting too fancy schmacy with it (this is, after all, what peasants ate - or so google tells me!).
4) Remove pot from the stovetop. Cover, and place in the oven for about 30-40 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes or so.
5) Spoon seitan and sauce over polenta and enjoy!
* My mom used this recipe for seitan, but included poultry seasoning in the mix. Further, she left the soy sauce and ginger out, and instead boiled it in vegetable broth with some sliced garlic, celery and onion added in. Go for the pre-packaged variety if you have it available to you and convenience is your thing.
This makes a motherload of zgance and red sauce. I don't know how big a serving size technically is (although I'm fairly certain that it is far less than what Paul and I seem to think it is). In terms of measurement the best I can do for you is tell you that we had enough for lunch, dinner and breakfast the next morning. How's that for some spontaneity in the kitchen?