Here’s a recipe that hearkens back to the days when I produced commercial meat substitutes. On the days we made UnRibs, you’d walk into the factory and get hit by the smoky smells of garlic, spice, tomatoes, and chiles wafting in the air. It would permeate my clothes, and I’d go home smelling like one giant rib. I’d grab several packages on my way out, and my kids would chomp on them right out of the bag. Ah, those were the days.
Recently, I found the old recipe. It starts out calling for 250 pounds of vital wheat gluten. Well, a few adjustments had to be made, of course. But over the years, I’ve had people ask me if I was ever going to include the UnRib recipe in a book . . . so here it is (almost). These are quite addictive, and I have to hide them from myself so I don’t keep eating them. They really improve in flavor from sitting for a day or two, so make them ahead if you can. Then just keep them around for noshing.
To make it easier for folks, I’ve changed the technique slightly, giving you the option of making them low-fat or not. When I think of ribs, the words smoky, chewy, and savory certainly come to mind, but the word that tops it all is greasy. That flavorful grease dripping down your chin is one of the highlights, don’t you think? Maybe not . . . so there’s a version for you, too! Both versions are tasty, and I enjoy them both. Make a bunch, freeze them, and you can thaw, slice, and cook them whenever you want.
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
2 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon white, chickpea, or red miso
4 or 5 cloves garlic
11/4 cups water
21/2 to 3 cups vital wheat gluten
Oil, for cooking (optional)
31/2 to 4 cups Zippy Barbecue Sauce (recipe below) or your favorite store-bought variety
2 cups water
In a food processor or blender, combine the soy sauce, nutritional yeast, peanut butter, tomato paste, miso, garlic, and water and process until a smooth and creamy slurry is created. If you are using a food processor, just keep everything in there; if using a blender, pour it out into a large mixing bowl. Add 21⁄2 cups of the gluten to the slurry and mix well, either using the food processor or by hand in the bowl. If you’re using a food processor, keep pulsing to knead the dough, adding a little more gluten flour as necessary to form a stiff dough (the more gluten you add, the chewier your ribs will be, so you can control how tender or chewy you want them). It may form one ball in the center or break up into little beads; if the latter happens, all you have to do is push it together with your hands. If you’re mixing it by hand, knead it in the bowl for several minutes until it becomes smooth.
Roll the dough into a log about 6 inches long. Slice the log lengthwise into four “steaks” about 3⁄4 inch thick. Now here’s one of the places where you get to decide whether or not to use oil, and how much. Heat a skillet over medium-low heat—if you’re going for oil-free, make sure that it is nonstick. If you’re using oil, add a couple of tablespoons to the skillet and let it get hot. Add the steaks and cook until browned on both sides. They will rise and puff a little.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. If your skillet is ovenproof, you can just leave the steaks in the pan. If not, transfer them to a baking dish. Mix 11⁄2 cups of the barbecue sauce with the water. Pour the diluted sauce over the steaks in the pan and cover with a lid or aluminum foil. Bake the ribs for 75 to 90 minutes, until the sauce has reduced and just barely coats them and the steaks are chewy and cooked through. They will be relatively tender while hot but will deflate slightly and become chewier as they cool, so fear not if they seem too soft right out of the oven.
Let them cool until they can be handled without burning your fingers. Then slice each steak lengthwise into “ribs” about 1⁄3 to 1⁄2 inch thick. Heat the skillet over medium-low heat. You’re going to sauté the individual ribs once more to brown or even blacken them on both sides. Once again, you can choose to oil or not to oil. If you like your ribs on the greasy side, you’ll want to use a good 4 to 6 tablespoons of oil to sauté them. Or you can just use a dry nonstick skillet. Cook them all until nicely dark on both sides (I like them almost black). Then toss them with the remaining 2 to 21⁄2 cups barbecue sauce. Now you can dig in. Or wait until the next day, when they will have deepened in flavor and become even chewier. To reheat, just throw them in the oven or on the grill, or eat them cold with some potato salad—yum! Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 6 months.
MAKES 8 TO 10 SERVINGS
Zippy barbecue sauce
This is a well-balanced barbecue sauce for UnRibs, tofu, tempeh, or anything else where you want to capture that Fourth of July flavor. It’s got just the right amount of sweetness balanced by acidity, heat, and spice. If you prefer your sauce on the sweeter side, feel free to increase the sweetener.
- 2 (6-ounce) cans tomato paste
- 1/2 cup maple syrup or organic sugar, or 3/4 cup coconut sugar, or more as desired
- 1/3 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons molasses
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (canned), minced
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 cup water
Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and whisk together well or mix in a blender or food processor. Store this in a jar in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 months.
MAKES ABOUT 31⁄2 CUPS
Miyoko Schinner is the founder of Miyoko’s Creamery, which manufactures non-dairy, vegan cheeses. Born in Japan, Schinner lives in Nicasio, California with her husband, Michael and a variety of rescued animals. Schinner is the author of five cookbooks including the bestselling Artisan Vegan Cheese and The Homemade Vegan Pantry: The Art of Making Your Own Staples.