I wasn’t always a vegetarian, you know.
Until the age of ten, I rather liked meat: Subway meatball subs split with my dad, a thin patty from Whataburger or even the occasional calamari.
One of my favorite meat memories must have been when I was eight or nine years old. My aunt lived in Philadelphia at the time, and during a visit to her new city, she took me to the Reading Terminal Market for a Philly cheesesteak.
Wandering around that market, with the hot grease dripping down my fingers and the provolone cheese sticking to the corner of my mouth, is something I remember vividly to this day. But strangely enough, I haven’t had a Philly cheesesteak – or a vegetarian version – since.
I guess I thought it could never live up to the memory. This week, though, I decided to try it anyway.
There are dozens of vegetarian/vegan Philly cheesesteak recipes on the internet, but I settled on this one, from lifestyle blog “the literary lifestyle.” What drew me in was the promise of a 15-minute cheesesteak – for a college student, quicker is usually better, and a shorter cook time means a longer eat time.
One of the ingredients, though, threw me for a loop: seitan. I had never heard of it, but I decided to give it a try. Plus, the specific seitan brand that Kroger sells – Sweet Earth – is the brand used in the recipe, so it was a perfect match.
Another weird ingredient was liquid smoke. I don’t eat much smoky food, so I forewent this one entirely, opting not to even try to hunt it down in Kroger.
Aside from that, the rest of the ingredients are pretty simple: bread, cheese, mushrooms, peppers and a few spices, like garlic, paprika and Italian seasoning.
Some changes that I made: I realized halfway through the recipe that I was out of onion powder and hadn’t picked up more at the grocery store, so I added a little extra garlic instead. Additionally, since I had left out the liquid smoke entirely, I used smoked paprika and added a little more than what the recipe had said to get the smoky flavor.
I also opted for typical Kroger sub rolls and regular dairy-based provolone. I’m not vegan, but you can easily go the vegan route by substituting these two things for the vegan options called for in the actual recipe. Finally, since I don’t have a food processor, I chopped the mushrooms and seitan by hand.
The only issue with this recipe, in my opinion, was finding the ingredients. I turned the Oxford Kroger upside down looking for seitan before finally finding it hidden on the second shelf from the bottom in the refrigerated Plant-Based section near Dairy. The recipe itself is super quick and easy to follow, so no problems there.
Enjoy what you're reading?
Signup for our newsletter
Hannah Horsington, the assistant editor for The Miami Student Magazine, was my assistant-slash-filmer for this recipe; she was kind enough to put together a short video on my process for cooking these Philly cheesesteaks, and even kinder enough to eat them with me! We dug into these Saturday for lunch, and though the first few bites were great, the excitement quickly wore off.
The mushrooms and peppers were delicious – even Hannah, who isn’t a big mushroom fan, pleasantly enjoyed the mushrooms, claiming that they weren’t overpowering. The bread was also deliciously crispy. (She ended up rating this recipe a 7/10.)
I, however, thought there could have been more cheese than the one slice called for in the recipe. I also felt the need to add a sprinkle of salt to my sandwich filling. The worst of all, however, was that the seitan was incredibly thick and almost too meaty. There’s a difference between something like the Impossible Burger or the Beyond Burger, which build their brands off of the imitation of meat for non-meat-eaters, and something like this.
I felt like I was eating meat, and not in the good “imitation” way. It was too filling too fast, and I ended up picking a lot of the seitan out of my sandwich, eating a final product of just mushrooms, peppers, cheese and spices.
If you are the kind of vegetarian who enjoys the thick, chewy texture of meat and wants to see that replicated in a vegetarian dish – I have great news for you. Otherwise … not so much.
In the end, the flavor profile was good and I did really like the vegetables. It’s a very hearty recipe that can be done very quickly, cheaply and easily, and it brought back fantastic memories. With that being said, however, I think this may have been my first and final foray into seitan. I didn’t like it, plain and simple, and I’ll be sticking to my beloved veggies from now on.
Have a recipe you’d like to see on The Weekly Veg? Email it to me and I’ll be happy to test and rate it.