These homemade Vegan Deli Slices are an absolute staple in our house! Packed with protein and flavor, they’re easy to make and super economical compared to store-bought options. Pile them high in your sandwiches or wraps, or add them to your charcuterie spread for an epic snack time.
This recipe makes vegan cold cuts that are reminiscent of oven-baked turkey slices, but it can be easily customized to any of your favorite flavor profiles.
Why Make Your Own Vegan Lunch Meat?
Nowadays, there are plenty of options in stores when it comes to vegan lunch meat. Unfortunately, they usually come in small packages with just a few servings! At the time I’m writing this blog post (in early 2023), a packet of Tofurky vegan deli slices costs about $4.50 at my local Kroger store and contains only 3 servings.
My partner and I can easily blow through a package of vegan cold cuts in just a day or two! I wanted to save some money and avoid creating so much plastic waste, so I developed this recipe.
Not only is homemade vegan lunch meat much more cost-effective, but it’s also so easy to customize with your favorite spices and seasonings.
Ingredients for Vegan Turkey Slices
The key ingredients for homemade vegan deli meat are extra-firm tofu and vital wheat gluten. Both are a great source of plant-based protein and fiber. Together, they produce a log of seitan that has a texture remarkably similar to store-bought deli slices. It’s easy to slice super thin for sandwiches, or it can be cubed to use in stir fries and other entrées.
- Vital wheat gluten is the pure protein from wheat. It’s available at many regular grocery stores in the baking aisle, but it can also be ordered easily online.
- Extra-firm tofu is mixed in with the vital wheat gluten as an additional protein source. Seitan made with only gluten tends to be quite chewy and dry, but the tofu produces a more tender and moist result with a more neutral flavor. In this recipe, it isn’t necessary to press the tofu; the extra moisture is already figured into the measurements.
- Olive oil and tapioca starch also improve the texture of this seitan. Olive oil helps to keep the deli slices moist. Tapioca starch (cornstarch can also be used) adds a nice meaty chew.
- Nutritional yeast and soy sauce add umami and some saltiness to the seitan dough. You can also use tamari or liquid aminos in place of soy sauce, or a vegan chicken- or beef-style bouillon.
- Garlic & onion powder, paprika, salt, pepper are the simple savory seasoning blend I like to use in this recipe. Feel free to experiment with your favorite seasonings. Sometimes I add a little poultry spice for a more classic turkey flavor.
How to Make Your Own Vegan Deli Meat
Make the Dough
- Drain the tofu and add it to a food processor. (No need to press it first! I’ve taken the liquid into account when testing this recipe.)
- Add in all ingredients except for the vital wheat gluten, and process to form a smooth paste. Scrape down the bowl of the food processor as needed to make sure everything is evenly incorporated.
- Add in the vital wheat gluten and process for a few minutes to form and knead the dough. It’s sufficiently kneaded once it comes together into mostly one large mass.
- If the dough looks very sticky or wet, you can add in extra vital wheat gluten and knead between additions until the dough is firm.
Shape the Dough
- Shape the dough into a log and wrap it first in parchment, and then in a layer of aluminum foil. Seal the foil by twisting the ends like a Tootsie roll.
Cook the Seitan
- Bake the seitan in a preheated 350°F oven for a total of 1 hour. Give it a flip at the halfway point.
- Preferably, allow the loaf to cool to room temperature without unwrapping it. Once it has cooled, it can be sliced and enjoyed. If you refrigerate it for a few hours before slicing, it will firm up considerably, making it easier to carve nice thin slices.
You don’t have to turn your homemade vegan meat into cold cuts if you don’t want to. This recipe can be used in so many ways.
- Stir-fry it: Chop it into chunks or strips to enjoy in stir-fries.
- Fried rice, soup & pasta: Dice it up into smaller pieces and add it to fried rice, soups, and pasta dishes. (I use it in dishes that usually call for diced ham.)
- Holiday roast: If you’d prefer a homemade vegan roast over a store-bought one for the holidays, look no further! This tofu-seitan log can be served whole next to stuffing, gravy, and the rest of the traditional fixings. You can even add your favorite stuffing when shaping the dough into a log. “Carve” it up when it’s time to serve.
- Cutlets: Slice the log on a bias into 1/2″ slices. Bread and fry/bake for crispy vegan cutlets that can be used in dishes like vegan chicken parmesan.
Recipe FAQ – Substitutions & Variations
Q: Can this recipe be made gluten-free?
This is a question I get often, and unfortunately there’s no good substitution for vital wheat gluten in this particular recipe. It provides all the protein and structure.
Q: Can Vegan Deli Slices be made oil-free?
Yep! Simply omit the oil from the recipe. The slices will be a little on the dry side, but they’ll still be very delicious.
Q: Can I make this without a food processor?
You can use a blender to purée the tofu with the wet ingredients and spices, but a blender won’t be able to knead the dough in the same way as the food processor. You’ll need to hand-knead the dough.
To use a blender, simply add all the ingredients except for the vital wheat gluten to a blender, and blend until smooth. Then add the vital wheat gluten to a bowl and pour the wet mixture in. Stir to combine, and turn the dough out onto a clean surface and knead until firm. Then proceed with the shaping and cooking instructions as written.
Storing Your Homemade Vegan Deli Slices
Refrigerator: Your plant-based deli slices can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to a week, but they are best enjoyed within the first 5 days.
Freezer: Freezing is a great option if you don’t think you’ll be able to eat the entire batch within the first week. Store for up to 1 month in the freezer, and simply defrost in the refrigerator overnight.
You can either freeze log whole, or pre-slice it before freezing. It will be easier to defrost if it’s pre-sliced, but if you’re not sure about how you want to use it, feel free to freeze it whole. If freezing whole, make sure it has cooled before placing in the freezer.
More High-Protein Vegan Recipes
Homemade Vegan Deli Slices
- 1 (14 oz) block extra-firm tofu
- 1-2 teaspoons liquid smoke to preference
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons olive oil or oil of choice
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon salt
- black pepper to preference
- 1 1/2 cups (180g) vital wheat gluten see notes on measuring
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Make the Dough
- Drain the tofu. It's not necessary to press the tofu; the liquid is figured into the recipe. Break it up into a few pieces and add it to a food processor.
- Add in liquid ingredients: liquid smoke, soy sauce, and olive oil. Also add in tapioca starch and seasonings (nutritional yeast, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, salt, and pepper). Process into a smooth paste, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed to incorporate everything evenly.
- Add in vital wheat gluten and run the food processor to combine all ingredients and knead the dough. The dough will go through a few phases: first it will come together; then it may appear to crumble apart. Keep processing and eventually the gluten will develop, and it will come together into a firm dough again.
- The dough should be firm enough that it "cleans" the sides of the bowl — i.e., it should not be so wet that it sticks to the container. If it does, sprinkle in vital wheat gluten 1 tablespoon at a time, processing to combine between additions, until a firm dough is achieved.
Shape the Dough
- Remove the dough to a clean surface. Knead it 2-3 times, then shape it into a log.
- Optionally, rub about 1 tablespoon of your favorite seasoning blend to coat the outside of the seitan. Check the notes section for some of my favorite recommendations.
- I like to first wrap the seitan in a layer of parchment, followed by a layer of aluminum foil. You can wrap it directly in aluminum if you feel comfortable doing so. Twist off the ends of the foil like a Tootsie roll to seal it in. Make sure the edges of foil overlap each other by at least a few inches, otherwise the loaf might burst out of the seam as it expands during the cooking process.
Oven Cooking Instructions
- Place the wrapped loaf on a baking tray. Cook in the preheated 350°F for a total of 1 hour. I like to rotate the loaf by 90° every 15 minutes so that a new section is on the bottom each time. This prevents the spice blend from burning, or the bottom of the loaf from getting overly dark or dry.
Instant Pot Cooking Instructions
- Add 1 cup of water to the Instant Pot and place a rack to keep the seitan log from touching the bottom. The loaf can be wrapped in foil as directed above, or in several layers of cheesecloth secured with twine. Place the seitan on the rack.
- Put on the lid, set the valve to Sealing, and pressure cook on High for 45 minutes. Allow to release naturally for 15 minutes before removing the seitan.
- When the loaf is done cooking, remove it from the oven and, without unwrapping it, allow it to come to room temperature on the counter. Once it has cooled, place it in the fridge to chill for a few hours or overnight. You can eat it while still warm, but the texture improves and it is easier to slice when chilled, especially if you're going for thin deli slices.