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I have found that many packaged and prepared food products in health food stores can be made at home for much less cost and not too much effort. For instance you can make your own hummus, soymilk, and seitan, for a tiny fraction of what people pay for the packaged food, and it's all pretty easy. Most of these recipes are just in my head I've done them so many times. I'll post some here and invite others who have similar easy recipes that save money and packaging to do the same!

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Easy Hummus

One can of garbanzo beans
2-3 tablespoons sesame tahini
1 fresh lemon, squeezed. (bottled lemon juice is OK but not as good)
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1/2 teaspoon or so of salt
a few shakes of peper
1-2 cloves of garlic

Drain half of the water from the can of beans. Put everything into the blender. Blending can be tricky. There will likely be times when you have whole garbanzos floating at the top and nice smooth stuff below and you'll need to go in there with your spoon and mix things up a bit. Be careful ! I have ruined more than one batch of hummus by putting my wooden spoon too far down while the blade was spinning. Most of us don't want to eat wood chips, so watch out with that spoon. The safest thing to do is mix it up with the blade off and then turn it back on after you remove the spoon. Unless you're impatient like me, in which case, be careful with that spoon! If it seems too thick and it's not blending, don't be afraid to add a little more water, but not too much... you don't want to make garbanzo juice... :) Just enough to allow the blender to do its thing.

Anyway, that's the basic idea. There's lots you can play with including:

Adjust the amount of water you drain from the beans to get a different consistency/thickness of your hummus
Add more garlic if you like it!
Add other spices and herbs, like cumin, fresh cilantro, chili powder, cayenne...

A small tub of hummus can easily be $2.79 in the store. When you make your own like this, it'll cost you about $.89 for the can of beans and the other stuff doesn't amount to much cost. You'll probably eat it all up pretty fast and want to double the recipe next time. It's so easy and cheap, why not?

Once you've gotten used to that idea, you're ready for stage two which will save you even more money and packaging. Instead of buying cans of garbanzo beans, go to the bulk section and get some nice organic dried garbanzos and cook them yourself. A lot of people don't like to cook beans because you have to soak them overnight and it still takes several hours after that, but here's a little secret. Get a pressure cooker. You can cook dried beans in 45 minutes! Once you start using a pressure cooker, there's no turning back! Just make sure you read the instructions on your pressure cooker (very important).

Once you have that going, you're ready for stage 3: making your own tahini. This is surprisingly easy and saves a ton of money because prepared tahini is expensive but sesame seeds are usually pretty cheap. All you have to do is toast the sesame seeds (lightly, don't burn them) either on a skillet or on a baking dish in the oven. you can use hulled or non-hulled try both and see which you like better. put the toasted seeds in the blender and add some water, just enough to get it to blend smootly. You may need to get that spoon involved again. You just made tahini for a fraction of the cost! What I usually do now is take some out and save it for other tahini recipes, and leave some in the blender and make hummus with it.

If you use dried beans and make your own tahini, your hummus will be just as yummy as the prepared stuff, but it costs a lot less and doesn't create all the plastic packaging.

Enjoy!
One of the really nice things about making your own (hummus, seitan, whatever) is that you can adjust the quantities of each ingredient (or add others) to suit your own taste.
For example, I like a REALLY lemony, garlicky hummus, so I would put a LOT more of each than your recipe calls for. I also find that sprinkling sweet - OR spicy - paprika onto the surface makes it look more attractive... and taste so good too! And - since chick peas can cause flatulence - I often stir in some cumin powder.
I live in Europe where I can buy wheat gluten for a ridiculously low price, compared with what they charge for seitan.
And THAT's what seitan is: gluten mixed with water to form a dough*, then boiled until it's done.
Of course, I also add salt, olive oil, spices (coriander, cumin, ginger, paprika, curry...), try different consistencies of dough.
How LONG to boil it, you ask?
Well, when I'm catering for a large group, and want to stir cubes of seitan into a vegetable dish, or - HORRORS - fry slabs of seitan as if it were "chops" or steak, I make a LARGE mass of dough (about 5cm thick and not as wide as the pot I'm going to boil it in [REMEMBER than seitan swells considerably when boiled]) and boil it for up to an hour. It will start on the bottom of the pot, but soon rise to the surface of the watr as it swells. Then I drain it well (especially if it's going to be fried!)
Traditionally, seitan is boiled in water with Japanese dried seaweed, but this isn't strictly necessary. However, I WOULD advise you to boil other things with it: cashews, Chinese dried mushrooms, seaweed, star anise can go in right at the beginning, vegetables and pasta can be added towards the end. In this way, after boiling the seitan, you've got a tasty soup. You can dice some of the seitan to add to the soup, or save it all for a later course, however you wish. But DON'T throw that water away! If you've added spices to the seitan dough, some of these will leak out into the water.)
Much quicker, if a soup is your objective right from the start, you can make up a smaller amount and drop balls of the dough (about 1/2 - 3/4 the diameter of a pingpong ball) into boiling water (with other soup ingredients) and it's ready in just 1/4 hour.

* I find that seitan dough - unlike bread dough - doesn't take kindly to adjustments in ratio gluten/water once you've mixed it together, so your first experiments might turn out leathery or flabby. I advise adding all the dry ingredients first (gluten, salt, spices) and mixing well, then adding a shot of olive oil and as much water as you're planning to. Then mix fairly rapidly. You might not be pleased with your first attempt, but keep at it, you'll get the knack of adding the amount of water that will give you your preferred consistency. And DO persevere! I have NEVER tasted store-bought, ready-made seitan as good as good home-made (and - as Gary said - it's MUCH more expensive). Once you get the water/gluten ratio right, BE ADVENTUROUS! Try different spices, a range of consistencies...
As I wrote above, I live in Europe, but I'm visiting now in the USA, and the only places I've found wheat gluten is in health food stores, where it costs more for 150g than I pay for a kilo in Europe. STILL a lot cheaper than buying ready-made seitan, but I'm ready to try the REAL DO-IT-YOURSELF SEITAN METHOD (for the first time):
Make a ball of dough out of ordinary WHITE wheat flour, about the consistency of normal bread dough. Then continue kneading it... but under running water. (This limits the amount you make.) This will wash out the dissolvable starch and leave you with a gluten/water dough. (You stop when the water runs clear.)
My worry about this method is that - because it would be wasteful and useless to add salt and spices to the original dough (they would just be washed away with the starch) AND because (as I wrote above) a seitan dough, once made up, does not take kindly to modification - I might have to fight the dough to accept addition of oil, salt, and spices... or put up with a much blander end product.
Hi,
For some reason, vital wheat gluten has gotten more expensive in the last couple years. It used to be about $2/lb at my local health food store, now it's more like $3.59. I think still it is much cheaper than buying prepared seitan, because one pound of gluten makes quite a bit.
I have not tried making seitan from regular flour. I have read recipes but it seems very labor intensive and the other drawbacks you mention. I make my seitan from vital gluten flour and I do it in a Kitchen Aide mixer, which kneads the dough. This makes it very easy to make. However I still have not found the perfect recipe. Sometimes my seitan is a little "rubbery" other times too "stringy." I need to keep trying variations (on proportions to water and cooking methods) to get a consistent good result.I'm going to try your suggestions.
Thanks very much
-Gary

Super Easy Sweet and Sour Sauce


here's a little one for you. try this once and you'll never buy sweet and sour sauce in a jar again.

1/2 cup vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons water
4 teaspoons corn starch
1 tablespoon finely chopped orange peel, and/or 1/4 teaspoon cardamom

put all ingredients into a small pot on the stove and cook and stir on medium-low heat. After a few minutes the corn starch will be all bended in and the heat will cause it to thicken. It's very cool to watch this and I have no idea what makes it happen. But it gets all thick just like the stuff you buy in the store. Add a little more water if it's too thick. That's it. Double the recipe if you want to save more for next time. You just made sweet and sour sauce for a fraction of the price of the store-bought jar!

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