Food & Drink

Olympia woman writes the book on vegan cuisine

Cara Applestein used to be a picky eater. That all changed when she became a vegan.

“There was very little I would eat at all. Being a vegan forces you to cook a little bit and experiment more. You just can’t go out to a store or restaurant and eat anything,” Applestein said.

The eight years Applestein has been vegan have led to a new e-cookbook, “Seitan’s Kitchen,” just released in October. The book contains 161 “devilishly good” recipes that cover everything from appetizers to dessert. The recipes are all Applestein’s.

“At first I was using other people’s recipes, but over time I started experimenting with my own,” Applestein said. “A lot of them I came up with off the top of my head. I like looking at meat recipes and figuring out how to adapt them to vegan.”

Such adaptations require replacing not only meat, but all ingredients that come from or are produced by animals. Vegans don’t eat any of them.

Vegan principles are mainly followed by two types of people: those who don’t want to harm animals and those who eat the diet for health reasons.

“You don’t eat or use anything that comes from an animal: meat, dairy, eggs, fish,” Applestein said of veganism. Vegetarians, by contrast, will eat eggs and dairy, but not meat. But there are many variations of both diets.

“(Veganism is) a diet that lends itself to lower cholesterol, lower fat, not eating as much junk food and processed food,” Applestein said.

Applestein, 24, has been a vegan since she was 16. The Olympia resident is an ecologist by day, working on prairie restoration.

Intentional or not, just about everyone eats vegan at some point in the day. Many foods qualify: potato and corn chips, spaghetti sauce, peanut butter and jelly, rice and beans. Even Oreo cookies.

Applestein’s cookbook has main courses, side dishes and soups. The recipes include sweet potato shiitake soup, chipotle barbecue seitan, ginger spice cupcakes with rum icing, and scrambled tofu. It also comes with instruction in basic cooking skills and a substitution guide.

Many of the recipes in the book use three common meat alternatives: seitan, tofu and tempeh. The three can replace meat’s flavor, texture and part of its protein.



(pronounced “Satan”) is wheat gluten. “It has a very chewy texture. It can also stand in for pork,” Applestein said.

• Tofu, made from soybeans, is widely known, but it’s not common knowledge that it comes in a variety of textures, from soft to firm. Different types may appeal to different people.



is a fermented soy product. But, unlike in tofu, the beans are kept whole. “It’s a much less processed food than tofu,” Applestein said. She takes advantage of its nutty flavor in fajitas and in foods where she wants a smoky flavor. It’s a complete protein but lacks vitamin B-12, which occurs naturally only in animal products.

Cheese is another food that can be substituted with fermented nut (mostly cashew) cheeses which are aged like milk-based cheeses. “You can make pretty good versions of cheddar and goat cheeses by aging a cashew base,” Applestein said.

Many nutritionists and dieticians endorse at least an occasional vegan or vegetarian meal. Applestein has a number of entry-level recipes including stir fries and curries.

“It’s so easy to make vegan curry. You can use any vegetable. You can add tofu but you don’t have to,” Applestein said.