We have been experimenting with vegan dishes during the coronavirus pandemic. A basic recipe is “Vegan Cheese Sauce.” It’s a horrible name since it mentions the dreaded dairy product even though there are none in the dish. It’s a work in progress.
Our household began to move away from animal products when it was established in 1982. We became ovo-lacto vegetarians at home. That means we ate dairy products, including those made from cow and goat milk, along with chicken eggs. We have an interest in reducing reliance on those as well.
I am not doctrinaire about diet and maintain a semi-omnivore status. I hardly choose to eat meat, though. The pandemic has us avoiding restaurant dining completely and that was the source of what little meat I ate. For the past year the amount of dietary meat has been zero. I like my omnivore status and remain flexible when socializing outside home when food is involved. Usually, but not always, buffets and snack trays have plenty of vegetarian options. I don’t understand the American idea of eating constantly though, even if it is socially acceptable to serve food at a two-hour reception.
I know how to prepare a chicken and have done so. It was part of my survival training in French Commando School. Other cooking with meat is not complicated. In the unlikely event inadequate plant-based nutrition is available, I can return to survival mode. For the time being, the squirrels, rabbits, deer and raccoons traveling through our yard needn’t worry.
Why do vegan chefs compare their dishes to what omnivores eat? For example, this recipe for vegan cream sauce is intended for a version of vegan “macaroni and cheese.” There is a proselytizing aspect to such nomenclature and the resulting dishes. The vegan chef is recruiting us to join the culture. This dish tastes nothing like macaroni and cheese made with sharp cheddar and that should be okay without the cultural context. There is a whole business of imitation or fake meats and cheeses. As we navigate these waters I’m not sure why chefs don’t just go for dishes that taste good on their own merit.
Raw cashews don’t immediately come to mind as the base for a sauce. They are abundantly available, and easy to work with in the kitchen. The prepared sauce serves in pasta dishes, and more experimentation is needed. Ideas to be considered are using it on a pizza crust instead of tomato sauce and dairy cheese, on tacos, and in dips. The cuisine developed in our household has little emphasis on sauces, so the most likely use is with macaroni noodles. It is a once every four to six weeks dish.
I made vegan cream sauce three times and settled on a recipe. I enjoy spicy food and others does not, so most spicy seasoning is added after serving rather than cooking it into the sauce. If we had them, the dish could be topped with diced raw vegetables like Serrano or Jalapeno peppers, onions, shallots or scallions. Here is what I came up with.
Vegan Cream Sauce
Soak three quarters of a cup of raw cashews overnight in water. The amount easily fits in a quart-sized canning jar. Rinse in the morning, refresh the water, and soak until ready to use.
To a blender bowl, add one cup plant milk, one quarter cup nutritional yeast, one clove garlic, one teaspoon onion powder, one teaspoon Dijon mustard, and salt to taste. (Optional spices to consider include turmeric, paprika, black pepper, red chili flakes, to taste). Blend the mixture until smooth, then add the drained cashews. Blend until it is a smooth consistency. Thin the sauce as needed using additional plant milk. It’s ready to go.
Perhaps the most important aspect of this recipe is to remember it is not cheese sauce. While it may be used the same way, the sooner we embrace the culture, the better we’ll adapt to new dishes in our cuisine.