Monday, February 7, 2011

Might Just Turn Me Vegan "Cheese" Sauce

When I cook for my friends, they sometimes will gush and tell me what a great cook I am and say how they could never make anything like that.  What I try to tell them, however, is that cooking doesn't have to be terribly complicated.  In many cases, getting a basic handle on a couple of magic ingredients can open the door to a plethora of possibilities.

A bit of corn starch, for instance, can do wonders for an overly watery stir-fry.  Heat in a saucepan with some frozen berries and sugar and you have a five-minute fruit filling or yummy pancake topping.

Powdered sugar is another.  Say you have a craving for cupcakes but don't feel like running out to the store to buy canned frosting:  mix two cups of powdered sugar with 1/8 cup butter (or vegan margarine), 2 tablespoons of milk (or substitute) and 1 teaspoon of vanilla.  Or eliminate the butter for a glaze to drizzle onto everything from sugar cookies to cinnamon buns (you can also try substituting lemon or grapefruit juice for a flavor you will just have to taste to believe).

Which leads me to my latest discovery:  nutritional yeast.

Now, I had heard of nutritional yeast before, read it on ingredient lists in obscure vegan cookbooks.  But when you're raised by a mom with celiac disease, anything containing the word "yeast" was strictly forbidden (even though it seems the nutritional yeast sold by Bob's Redmill is okay for people trying to avoid gluten).  As many of you know, living with Sneha this year has already opened me up to a wide array of culinary experiences, from coriander powder, to okra, rolling chapatis and increasingly heightened levels of chili sauce.  Sneha is also a big advocate of nutritional yeast, sprinkling it on everything from rice and veggies, to popcorn, to salads.  I've used it a bit myself, to generally underwhelming results; it's not that I was against it, per se, but it never really blew me away.

Tonight, however, I was having one of those nights where I was starving but not hungry for anything I'd been eating the last few days.  I'd already had vietnamese fresh roles and cashew dip w/ chips for lunch (recipe coming soon), and canned soup sounded less-than-appealing, especially as I'd already finished  off my homemade loaf of bread at breakfast this morning.  And stir-fry just wasn't feeling that exciting.  Usually on these days I give into the boxes of mac and cheese we keep on the top shelf of our cabinet, but I didn't feel like dealing with the congestion that would inevitably follow.  Spying the giant container of leftover pasta from the dinner we hosted friday night, I sighed as I sauteed it with some frozen tomatoes, spices, and spinach.  It wasn't going to be terribly glamorous, but it was going to be dairy-free and the pasta wouldn't go bad.

Still, I couldn't stop thinking about the creaminess of mac and cheese.  If we weren't out of it, I probably would have broken down and tossed in some parmesan cheese.  Often I like to drizzle a bit of white wine into my pasta, but because I planned to share with Sneha this was out of the question.  It was then that I remembered a stuffed baked potato recipe I found over winter break that used nutritional yeast to make a cheese sauce for pouring over broccoli.  Desperate, I did a quick google search and found a  just what I was looking for on vegweb.  The process was simple enough, and luckily I actually had in stock the only weird ingredient, ground mustard powder.

After heating it all up in a saucepan, I poured the creamy mixture onto my pasta and lo and behold:  the perfect creamy tomato sauce.  It's rare I outwardly gush over my own cooking, but this seriously blew my mind.  I've been burned so many times by vegan recipes claiming to taste exactly like the real thing (I'm looking at you, raw Nutella), only to find them watery, grainy, or just downright flavorless.  But this sauce has it all:  color, flavor, creaminess.  It's got all of the warm, creamy qualities of our favorite comfort food without all the lingering guilt.  You could probably even get by if you felt like eliminating the ground mustard if it's not something you keep in stock.

But trust me:  you'll fall in love.

Might Just Turn me Vegan "Cheese" Sauce (from Vegweb)

1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder (I used asafetida)
1/8 teaspoon dried yellow mustard powder
1 cup water

1. Mix dry ingredients, add water, whisk until clumps are gone.

2.  Put in small saucepan with margarine and heat on medium until thick.

Add to pasta, scalloped potatoes, or mix with salsa for queso dip.  The sky's the limit!

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