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Could It Be ... Seitan?

Chef Richard Ng spices up bland meat substitutes.

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Richard Ng isn't a vegetarian -- "unless," he says, "I'm traveling in China. Then, for sanitation reasons, I usually stick with vegetable dishes." But Ng, who co-owns the Bo Ling's restaurant dynasty with his wife, Theresa, is discovering that a growing community of noncarnivores lives in the area, and he's making vegetarian cuisine a bigger part of his business.

In April, the Ngs moved their Sunday night "Vegetarian Feasts" from their Overland Park restaurant to the bigger space at the Plaza Bo Ling's to accommodate hungry vegan crowds -- including a group that drives all the way from Topeka -- and meat-eaters who are adventurous enough to take a culinary walk on the not-so-wild side. The Plaza, Ng says, also attracts "a more diverse customer base than the suburbs."

Still, the suburban vegetarians can't be ignored, so Ng returns to Overland Park on Saturday to show off his vegetarian cooking skills with demonstrations at the Whole Foods Market. "I'll be preparing two different recipes," he says. "The first will be seitan cooked with daikon."

What with what? "Seitan is a meat substitute made from wheat gluten," Ng says. "It's firmer and chewier than tofu. But nobody wants to eat anything called wheat gluten. That's why they call it seitan."

At his Whole Foods demononstration, Ng will slow-cook the "meat" with anise, ginger and daikon, the white oriental radish with a sweet, fresh flavor. The end result, he says, will be a concoction that sort of looks like a meat dish but doesn't really taste like a meat dish. That's good, considering its main appeal is that it isn't a meat dish.

"We'll also be selling things like vegetarian buns and noodles," Ng says. Those are for the purists, who don't want anything that even looks like meat.

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