Give seitan a chance. Really.

Give seitan a chance. Really.

Despite it ominous sounding name, seitan (pronounced SAY-tan) is a great meat alternative that has a much meatier look, texture and taste than its better known cousin, tofu.

Whereas tofu is made from soy beans, seitan is made from wheat. More precisely, it is made from the gluten in the wheat, so it isn't a good choice for anyone with gluten sensitivities.

Like tofu, seitan is easy to stir-fry and readily absorbs the flavors of whatever it is cooked with (sweet-and-sour sauces are particularly good). But in taste and texture it more closely resembles chicken breasts than tofu.

A 3-ounce serving of seitan has about 140 calories, 31 grams of protein and 1 gram of fat. A 4-ounce serving of boneless, skinless chicken breasts has 120 calories, 26 grams of protein and 2 grams of fat.

In addition to a stir-fry, seitan also is good ground or chopped and added to tomato sauces for pasta; thinly sliced and layered in a lasagna; or sliced, fried and topped with cheese in flatbread for a "steak" and cheese. Seitan need not be cooked long, just until heated through. It also can be browned with a bit of oil in a skillet.

It is available at natural foods stores and most large grocers. It can be found in the refrigerated section, usually near the tofu and other meat alternatives.

This recipe won't fool fans of traditional jerk-spiced meats, but it is assertively delicious in its own right. And it's an easy way to introduce your family or guests to a new food that is both tasty and healthful.

Start to finish: 30 minutes

Servings: 4

For the sauce:

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 tablespoons water

1/2 cup tropical fruit juice (such as mango, papaya or pineapple)

2 tablespoons molasses or maple syrup

2 to 3 tablespoons soy sauce

1 to 2 tablespoons lime juice

1 teaspoon Jamaican jerk seasoning blend (or more to taste)

For the seitan:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large red or yellow onion, quartered and thinly sliced

1 medium red bell pepper, cut into strips

1 medium green bell pepper, cut into trips

1 pound seitan, cut into bite-size strips

Directions:

In a small bowl, dissolve the cornstarch in the water. Whisk in the remaining sauce ingredients. Set aside.

In a large skillet over medium-low, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the onion and saute until translucent. Add the peppers and cook until the vegetables are lightly browned. Transfer to a plate.

Return the skillet to the heat and add the remaining oil. Add the seitan and increase heat to medium-high. Saute until golden brown on most sides, about 6 minutes.

Pour in the sauce, reduce heat to medium and cook for a minute or so, or until the sauce thickens and the seitan is nicely glazed. Stir in the onions and peppers.

(Recipe from Nava Atlas' "Vegan Express," Broadway Books, 2008, $18.95)