Once I was going to write a cookbook.
Then other things happened, like that time I bought that building and opened that chocolate shop.
So from time to time I’m going to post some of the things I wrote for the cookbook here. OK? A friend of mine recently asked me about what to do with artichokes, so I thought I’d write a blog post about that. In order to write that post, I need to refer to this post, which I originally wrote for the cookbook. So here we go!
Let’s talk about white sauces.
First, let’s look at a photo of a lasagne made with my cashew béchamel, which I mention below:
New White Sauces
When people decide to stop eating dairy, one of the things they often miss the most is the creamy texture of dairy-based “white sauces,” (and the dishes they are commonly used in, such as macaroni and cheese) along with cheesy dishes like pizza and lasagna. Happily, tastier vegan cheeses are being developed all the time, so not wanting to eat animal cheeses no longer means forgoing these dishes.
Sadly, many vegan cheeses are still made with low quality and extremely processed ingredients and contain off-flavors and textures. As with all foods, the challenge is finding a high-quality product. The trick with vegan cheese is to find a brand that is made with few ingredients and with artisanal techniques, just as high-quality animal cheeses are. Brooklyn, NY, based Dr. Cow is one company that makes nut-based cultured cheeses that are aged using traditional techniques. Their vegan cheeses are clean-tasting, soft, and creamy, perfect for spreading on crackers. For a meltable cheese, Teese and Daiya are two brands worth seeking out.
However, to make rich white sauces, it’s not necessary to rely on purchased vegan cheeses. Below are my techniques for making several variations on white sauces, using nuts or tofu.
What most of us think of simply as “white sauce” is usually a version of the classic French béchamel sauce, which is traditionally made from a roux (equal parts fat and flour, whisked together over low heat) and milk. Endlessly versatile, this sauce forms the basis for countless classic dishes, including many lasagna recipes, classic macaroni and cheese, and moussaka.
Nouveau Cashew Béchamel Sauce
Along with spicy peanut sauce, this is my go-to weeknight sauce. You can make it in the time it takes to cook pasta. Though it doesn’t include a roux (not to mention that it doesn’t include cow milk) and therefore isn’t a “real” béchamel sauce, I call it béchamel because it has similar uses.
The ingredients below are guidelines, feel free to vary them to suit your tastes.
You can soak the cashews for this recipe (in a covered container, at room temperature) for a few hours or up to three days, changing the water three times a day. Soaking the nuts makes for a creamier sauce and also cultures them a little, thus making them more easily digested and flavorful.
You don’t need a high speed blender (like a Vita-Mix) for this recipe, but it does make a creamier sauce in less time.
This sauce seems very thin when freshly made, but when tossed with hot vegetables or pasta, it tightens up a lot, so it’s better to err on the side of a loose consistency.
Makes about one cup sauce.
1/3 cup cashews (use raw cashews if you plan to soak them. Cashew pieces are fine—and often much less expensive than whole cashews.)
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon white miso
1 1/2 teaspoons shoyu
½ teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons prepared mustard (Dijon is nice)
1 small clove (or ½ medium clove) garlic
2-4 tablespoons olive oil
freshly-ground black pepper to taste
- Blend all ingredients for 3-5 minutes, or until completely smooth.
- If serving with pasta, blend in about ½-¾ cup of the water used for cooking the pasta, otherwise use plain water.
- Taste and continue adjusting flavors until sauce is balanced and flavorful.
- Mix with macaroni to taste for a perfectly creamy new macaroni and cheese. I like to eat this dish with plenty of cracked pepper on top and greens sautéed with garlic on the side.
- Replace as the white sauce in any lasagna recipe.
- Add pesto for a creamy pesto sauce.
Classic baked macaroni casserole: Sauté one diced onion in a few tablespoons of olive oil. When golden brown, add 5 tablespoons of flour and whisk for a few minutes until a thick, emulsified roux is created. Over low heat, continue whisking while slowly pouring in a double recipe of Cashew Béchamel Sauce. Bring sauce to a boil, whisking often, and turn off heat.
In an 8’x8’ ovensafe dish, mix sauce with 8 oz. cooked macaroni. If you have pesto on hand, mix in two or so tablespoons as well. Preheat oven to 375°F.
Use purchased high-quality breadcrumbs, or make them by rubbing two slices of artisan bread with a garlic clove, drizzling with olive oil, sprinkling with salt and toasting until crisp. Pulse in a food processor until fine. Set aside.
Moisten mixture with ¼-1/3c water, depending on how dry it looks, then sprinkle an even layer of breadcrumbs on top (all bread crumbs might not be needed). Garnish with a few sprinkles of paprika, then bake for 25-30 minutes, or until bubbling and browned. Serve hot.
Cashew béchamel sauce can also be easily turned into delicious homemade salad dressings.
A few ideas and guidelines:
- Unless you want to make a large quantity of dressing, halve the recipe. If the dressing is being stored overnight, add a few tablespoons of water, as it thickens up overnight.
- For a creamy, lemony dressing, whisk or blend in two tablespoons or more lemon juice.
- Or, blend or whisk in two or three tablespoons vinegar—white wine and red wine are good choices.
- If you like chunky dressings, do not purée the cashews until completely smooth.
- Substituting almonds for the cashews makes a nice almond dressing, and adding apple cider vinegar reinforces the theme. Using skinned almonds is fine, but use blanched almonds if you prefer a lily-white sauce.
- For a more ranch-like flavor, add 1-2 more cloves garlic and a tablespoon or so each of prepared horseradish, chopped red onion, and lemon. Add more black pepper and a few tablespoons white wine vinegar. Keep tasting and adjusting flavors until it tastes right to you.
- For a Caesar dressing, omit the nutritional yeast, add another clove of garlic, another tablespoon lemon juice, 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, and ¼ cup olive oil. Blend and taste for mustard, shoyu, and vinegar. Dress torn romaine lettuce leaves with the dressing and garnish with homemade croutons, lots of cracked ground pepper, and crumbled nori seaweed.
- Blend in ¼ of a ripe avocado and a good amount of lemon juice for a creamy avocado dressing.