HOW TO MAKE HEALTHY PLANT-BASED VEGAN SAUCES.
How many of us have ever wanted something we either can’t afford or don’t have room to store it, but then use Christmas to justify buying it? Like, hey, it’s Christmas; this can be my present to myself!
Well, this year, after being caught up in all of the Instant Pot fervor that’s going around (as of this writing, the Facebook Instant Pot Community is up to nearly 300,000 members!), I decided I just HAD to have this set‑it‑and‑walk‑away electric pressure cooker that cooks your food in a fraction of the time it would take on the stove, without having to tend it constantly. My regular pressure cooker would still work fine, of course; but can’t a grandma enjoy a few lazy moments?
YOU NEED ONE OF THESE!
Here it is! It’s a beauty, no? I was about to take the box it came in out to the dumpster, but then suddenly realized I needed to record the joyous occasion when my Instant Pot arrived at my doorstep. Even the box is special. I’ll miss tripping over it out in my garage.
Yes, I use this appliance‑‑and nearly every single day! Yes, I love it! And yes, it came at the perfect time, just as I was putting finishing touches on a couple of recipes I’ve been working over.
I hope everyone is okay with a “no‑recipe” recipe. Really, this isn’t rocket science here, folks. When I say to just throw stuff in to taste (with a few measurement guidelines), that’s what I mean. Be brave. Engage purposefully with your refrigerator and spice cabinet, and have faith that you won’t be putting anything into these sauces that you don’t like. Trust yourself. You can do this.
NO NEED FOR COWS TO MOO OVER THIS RECIPE
A while back I was watching some old America’s Test Kitchen episodes on Netflix and came across a show in which they demonstrated how to make a Creamy Cauliflower Soup that used no cream. Imagine that. When the testers yummed and oohed and expressed their amazement that there was no cream in the soup, I was IN.
(Note: I just tried to pull up the show so I could pass along the episode number, but apparently it is no longer on Netflix.)
That same night, I marched into my little kitchen armed with a head of cauliflower, a leek, and an onion; and after tasting this creamy soup that didn’t even taste strongly of cauliflower, my brain gears started cranking. By golly, I believed I was on to something!
I thought, “Why can’t I use this creamy soup as a substitute for a white sauce (essentially milk or cream, butter, and flour) in other recipes?”
After experimenting with my base in all kinds of potato, broccoli, creamy vegetable and who knows what other soups, my cauliflower base was in my repertoire to stay!
A BUMPER CROP OF HIDDEN VEGGIES
Here is what I got out of my latest batch: 4 cups of gravy and 5 cups of a “cheese” sauce that is great for mac and no‑cheese, a nacho dip, a cheese soup base‑‑you name it. (Taco seasoning is a great addition for a nacho cheese‑ish sauce!)
What follows are very basic instructions for making this creamy base, with further help for making the gravy and cheesy sauce if you want to create more than just the white sauce. Don’t fear! It will be amazing!
At the most basic level, the three white vegetables I use for the creamy sauce base are a head of cauliflower, one small leek, and maybe one small or half of a big onion. (See that extra thing behind the onion in the photo? It’s a turnip that I grew myself. I had intended to add it in, but I took a bite and decided those things are downright nasty‑tasting! Add other vegetables at your own discretion.)
VEGETABLES AREN’T SWAMP MONSTERS
Peeps, I know I’m not the only one who is still getting comfortable with preparing and eating more of these “big” vegetables that might seem a little high maintenance until you get to be good friends with them. As you can see by my poor, neglected cauliflower that began to show signs of suffering from a terrible disease, all was not lost. The mold on the cauliflower is but a minor flesh wound; a quick grating or cutting away with a knife proves that beauty really IS on the inside.
GEEKY GRANDMA GIRL SCOUT MOMENT
For the science geek within you, here is a 100x close‑up of a little mold spot alongside a 100x close‑up of some teeny cauliflower bits that have no mold. I bet you thought cauliflower under a microscope would be fluffy‑looking and not spiky! Amazing what we don’t see with our limited human eyes. Beauty, I’m telling you.
Anyway, now it is time to prepare your vegetables. Chop the onion and leek (using the white and light green part only), then chop the cauliflower separately into chunks.
Using a bit of vegetable stock (or butter if you don’t tell anyone), sauté the leeks and onions on medium heat until they get soft. (Why? Because America’s Test Kitchen said so.)
Watch and stir occasionally so those suckers don’t burn. When soft, add the cauliflower and enough water to barely (or almost) cover. In an Instant Pot it doesn’t matter if your veggies are sticking out of the water; the hot steam under pressure will cook everything in the pot just fine. If cooking in a pot on the stove, cover loosely and simmer until all veggies are soft‑‑up to 30 minutes. In the Instant Pot, it only takes 8 minutes on high pressure!
IMPORTANT NOTE: To avoid over‑salting, if you are only making a creamy white sauce, add up to 1‑1/2 tsp. of salt and pepper to taste (white pepper is great) ‑‑ but when making gravy or cheese sauce, hold off on the salt until the very end!
When the soup is done, simply ladle your cooked vegetables into a blender with‑‑now, listen up!‑‑enough of the cooking liquid to make it the consistency you want. If you add too much water, it could end up runny. Enjoy this as is for cauliflower soup, or use as a base for other soups.
IT’S ABOUT TO GET INTERESTING!
Now for the fun, creative part, where you get to unleash the great chef inside of you. I offer here my two alternate versions to the white sauce base: A “cheese” sauce and a gravy. My last batch yielded 9 cups total, so I made some of each, seen in the first group of photos above.
CHEATING WITH NO CHEESE
If you’ve read my recipe for baked kale chips (located on this very blog), you might notice a similarity between the “cheese” used to coat the kale and the cheese in this recipe. There are a few must‑have ingredients, in my humble opinion, that are what truly “makes” this sauce: lemon juice (for acidity), nutritional yeast (for cheesy flavor), some red pepper OR some carrot (for color and flavor; I like the pepper better), and enough cayenne pepper powder to give it a zing. You don’t want to burn your face off; just enough to give it a bit of sassiness. Also, I insist on a big handful or two of raw cashews to give it some texture “substance.” Cashews are often used in vegan cheese recipes. They’re the bomb.
So here are the ingredients for the basic cheese sauce recipe that you blend up, tweakable to your tastes:
- Cooked cauliflower/leek/onion mixture
- Slightly cooked and chopped red pepper, half or whole, OR some cooked carrot
- Cashews‑‑1/2 cup or more. Use your own judgment.
- Fresh lemon juice (half a lemon if dividing the recipe; whole lemon if making a freezer load of cheese sauce)
- 1/4 cup or so of nutritional yeast
- 1/8 or so tsp. of cayenne powder (or to taste)
- Salt to taste
- Enough cooking water to get the consistency you want.
Here is the sauce mixed into macaroni, topped with tomatoes. It is delicious and freezes very well, as you’ll see noted below if you keep reading.
GROOVIN’ WITH GRAVY
And finally, a plant‑based gravy! So easy…simply add stuff to the white sauce to make it brown, beef‑like (or chicken‑like), and tasty. I just threw stuff in, as pictured above: some Tamari, browning sauce, onion powder, and Better Than Bouillon No Beef Base. You can use real beef or chicken base, but I decided to try the vegetarian variety.
HINT: As mentioned before, don’t add any salt until you have the gravy flavor adjusted, because the bouillon has a lot of salt in it. Sad day when you want to add more bouillon and you’ve already met your quota of salt!
Enjoy! I often make a full recipe of these sauces and store them in the freezer. Even mac & cheese with the sauce added freezes very well‑‑just make sure there is extra sauce because it will be thicker when you pull it from the freezer and heat it up.
If you make this, please let me know how it turned out! Are there any special tweaked versions or spice additions you’d like to share?