Caramelization, it turns out, is one of the trade tricks for making animal-free products taste meaty. At least, it is for a self-described "stealth vegan" business in Wheaton. "I use tomatoes as caramelizing agents because meat caramelizes," says Carrie Megginson, kitchen manager of Gail's Vegetarian Catering (11307 Elkin St., Wheaton, 301-949-7602, "I try to make things do what meat does."

By "things," Megginson mostly means seitan, the Japanese word (pronounced say-tahn) for cooked wheat protein. While most restaurants that offer faux meat tend to be Asian, Gail's specializes in the European cuisine of the staff's training. The recipe she gave us is easy to make, and this pot roast benefits from a day of rest before eating. That way, the flavors develop, becoming more robust. Perfect for supper after a walk through autumn woods.

Gail's Seitan Pot Roast

*1 pound seitan

1 tablespoon unrefined corn oil

3 medium onions, peeled, halved and sliced thin

3 large carrots, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch slices

3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut in 3/4-inch cubes

6 cups vegetable stock

3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

3-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped or grated

*3 inches kombu (Japanese kelp in strips), roughly chopped or cut into smaller strips to be removed before serving

2 teaspoons dried thyme (or 2 tablespoons fresh)

2 bay leaves

2 cups frozen peas

2 tablespoons grain coffee (such as Postum or Inka), or regular strong coffee

Juice of 1 lemon

* 3 tablespoons kuzu (powdered starch and gelling agent)

1/2 cup water

* 2 tablespoons red or brown miso

Handful watercress, finely chopped, for garnish (optional)

* Available at Asian and natural food stores and some Whole Foods.

If seitan comes shredded, leave as is; if it comes as a lump, cut roughly into one-inch cubes and set aside.

In a large, wide stew pan, heat corn oil over medium heat. Add onions and saute until golden, about 15 minutes. Add carrots and potatoes and saute 5 minutes. Add vegetable stock, garlic, ginger, kombu, thyme and bay leaves, stir and cover. Simmer on very low heat until the carrots are almost tender, 30-45 minutes.

Add seitan and simmer for 5 minutes on medium-low heat. Add peas and simmer 3 minutes. Turn heat to very low.

Dilute grain coffee in lemon juice and add. Dilute kuzu in 1/4 cup water and add. Stir constantly, while it simmers and thickens, about 2 minutes. Dilute miso in 1/4 cup water and add. Stir and simmer another 2 minutes.

Turn off heat and allow to rest 10 minutes. If desired, remove bay leaves and kombu. Serve over rice or noodles, and top with watercress, if you like.

Makes 6 servings.

Per serving: 270 calories, 28 gm protein, 36 gm carbohydrates, 4 gm fat, 0 mg cholesterol, trace saturated fat, 1434 mg sodium, 5 gm dietary fiber