Saucy Spring Flavours: Innovative Vegan Sauces

Innovative Vegan Sauces Transform Ordinary Dishes Into a Memorable Meal

My goal when I wrote the Vegan Cook’s Bible (Robert Rose, 2009) was “to design recipes so good that everyone who enjoys food – non-vegan and non-vegetarian cooks included – would scramble to make and taste them.” I wanted to create new vegan recipes that celebrate the very best of organic fruits, herbs and vegetables. The last thing I wanted to do was to re-work non-vegan recipes by simply taking out the offending ingredient or substituting a vegan alternative.

To me, faux meat and dairy ingredients are poor imitations of something vegans have already decided they do not wish to consume. But I have to admit that at first, the challenge of developing delicious recipes with no eggs to thicken and bind, no butter to flavour and sauté onions, no cream for a silky finish to soups and sauces, and no cheese to melt over, in, and around dishes was no mean feat. So I spent a lot of time working out new ways to flavour dishes using innovative and, as far as I know, brand spanking new vegan sauce recipes.

The Magic of Sauces

Thousands of brilliant chefs before me have developed precise ingredients and techniques for making classic sauces that add finesse to ordinary dishes. Everything from simple gravy to pesto and salsa, to the classic white sauce (or Béchamel if you are French) have become basic tools for transforming ordinary dishes into a memorable meal.

Like those legions of cooks from all the great cooking capitals of the world, I agreed that with a sauce, many of the recipes that were to follow in my vegan cookbook would benefit and be much more interesting. What do you imagine when you think of sauce? Is it a rich and creamy, perhaps heavy and calorie-laden, mixture that relies on butter or eggs or cream? While there are definitely those kinds of sauces to be found, there are as many – especially those from peasant cultures – that are deliciously vegan. So I researched Greek skordalia, a tantalizing blend of garlic, mashed potato and virgin olive oil; the piquant and chunky salsas of Mexico, with their generous handfuls of cilantro; and I explored the Asian chili, soy and bean sauces, rich in exotic spices and just now being used by western chefs.

While the use of sauce is an asset to the conventional cook, it is a necessity to the vegan cook, a welcome invention that extends flavours and textures and adds excitement to what might otherwise be bland and unassuming. Homemade sauce is easy and doesn’t require special equipment or rare ingredients, although the vegan pantry is different than the non-vegan, and you may have to stock your shelves with a few vegan staples. You can save time by making double the amount and freezing the remainder for another dish.

A huge benefit of making and using your own vegan sauces is that they are nutrient dense, and at the same time free of saturated fats. In fact, vegan sauces actually add to the overall nutrition of a dish while contributing very few calories and fats. Because often they contain nuts and seeds, miso, soy or rice milk, and other nutritious ingredients, sauces can be an added benefit to the vegan diet. Here, then, are some of my vegan sauce recipes for using with roasted, baked, steamed or simmered plant foods of all kinds.

Pesto SauceSpring foragers will love this sauce, but fresh organic dandelion leaves are available in health food stores year round. With its tangy taste, you might be tempted to forget that dandelion is a diuretic and tonic for the liver and digestive system. As a sauce for grilled asparagus or mixed with lemon juice as a spring salad dressing, you will find so many ways to use this green sauce. (Makes 2 cups)

Ingredients:

  • 6 wild garlic (ramps), cut into pieces or 2 cloves garlic
  • ¼ cup hulled pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds
  • 12 whole, raw almonds
  • 1 Tbsp natto or miso (optional)
  • 2 cups fresh spinach leaves
  • 1 cup fresh dandelion leaves
  • ½ cup cold-pressed avocado or nut oil
  • 1 Tbsp brown rice syrup, optional

1) In a food processor, pulse garlic, pumpkin seeds and almonds for 30 seconds or until coarsely chopped. Add natto if using, spinach and dandelion leaves to the container and pulse for 1 minute or just until leaves are coarsely chopped.

2) With the motor running, add oil slowly in a thin stream until the sauce is blended and the desired consistency.

3) Tip: Add only the amount of oil needed and drizzle it in slowly. Keep stopping the motor to scrape the sides of the bowl and to check on the consistency so that you don’t get a smooth and oily mixture.

A very easy sauce that is useful in main course dishes, this basic white sauce is light and silky with a roasted, nutty taste. Use this sauce in pasta and roasted vegetable dishes as you would a Béchamel or Mornay Sauce made with cream. (Makes 4 cups )

Ingredients:

  • ½ eggplant
  • ½ butternut squash
  • 1 apple, cored and halved
  • 1 whole head garlic, ¼-inch trimmed from the top
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1-½ cups rice or soy milk

1) Preheat oven to 375° F (200° C).

2) Arrange eggplant, squash and apple cut side down on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with 3 Tbsp of the olive oil. Place garlic head cut side up on same baking sheet. Drizzle with remaining olive oil. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes.

3) Using a slotted spoon, remove apple halves and transfer to a bowl. Return eggplant and squash to oven for another 15 minutes, or until eggplant is tender. Transfer eggplant to the bowl with apple. Continue to bake squash and garlic for another 15 minutes, for a total of one hour, or until tender. Let cool slightly. Scoop apple, eggplant and squash flesh out of their skins and discard skins.

4) In a blender or food processor, combine rice milk, apple, eggplant and squash. Squeeze garlic flesh out of the skin and add to the blender bowl. Blend until the sauce is liquefied and smooth.

5) To store: Place sauce, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Put this easy-to-make sauce to work with steamed, roasted or stir-fried vegetables, or use it with pasta or rice. It combines well with nuts, lentils and rice, making those ingredients so much more interesting. Double or triple this tasty sauce for convenience. (Makes 1 cup)

* Note: Galangal is an edible root, similar to ginger, but with a different, tart flavour. The fresh root is rarely available in Toronto, but dried galangal is often found in blocks – similar to the blocks of dates – in health food stores.

Yellow Coconut Curry SauceIngredients:

  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • ¼ onion
  • 6 dried apricot halves
  • 2 cloves garlic or 8 cloves roasted garlic
  • 2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tsp grated lemon zest
  • 1 Tbsp coarsely chopped galangal*
  • 2 tsp miso paste
  • 1 tsp chile flakes
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • ½ tsp caraway seeds
  • ½ tsp fennel seeds
  • ½ tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • ½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut, optional

1) In a blender, combine coconut milk, onion, apricot halves, garlic, lemon juice and zest, galangal, miso and chile flakes. Process on high until blended.

2) In a saucepan, combine coriander, caraway, fennel, fenugreek and turmeric. Toast over medium-high heat for 2 to 3 minutes or until the seeds begin to pop and their fragrance is released. Scrape the coconut mixture into the saucepan and bring to a light simmer. Simmer gently, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes. The sauce should be thick and creamy.

3) Strain into a bowl and stir in the coconut if using.

4) To store: Place hot sauce into a glass Mason jar, screw on lid, and place in refrigerator for up to 5 days. Or place in plastic container and freeze for up to 3 months.

Roasted Red Pepper SauceI love this sauce on pasta and bruschetta, or with fish and chicken. It is colourful and tasty. There are some very good roasted peppers in jars and if you are using them, use the garlic that is usually packed with the peppers. Drain and save the marinade as a substitute for the vinegar in the recipe. (Makes 2 cups)

Ingredients:

  • 2 roasted red peppers or 1 jar (500 ml roasted red peppers, drained)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1-¼ cups slivered almonds
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh basil
  • ¼ cup red wine or balsamic vinegar
  • ¾ cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

1) In a food processor or blender, combine peppers, garlic, almonds and basil. Process until finely chopped.

2) With the motor running, add the vinegar and oil through the opening in the lid and process until the sauce is smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3) Store sauce tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

With their delicate taste and creamy texture, cashews make this sauce very different from a peanut sauce. Use it as a marinade for tofu, with pasta and rice or with milder tasting vegetables. (Makes 2 cups)

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp olive oil, divided
  • 1 onion, cut in half and sliced
  • 1 leek, white and light green parts, sliced
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/3 cup whole cashew nuts
  • 1 cup soy or rice milk
  • 8 roasted garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp chipotle chile pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • Freshly ground sea salt and pepper

1) In a skillet, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over high heat. Add onion and leek. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes or until soft.

2) In a small skillet, over medium-high heat, toast the cumin seeds and the coriander seeds until lightly coloured or until the seeds begin to pop and their fragrance is released, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir into onion-leek mixture. Let cool.

3) Add remaining 1 tsp olive oil to the skillet used for toasting the seeds. Heat oil over medium-high heat. Add cashews to the pan and toast, stirring frequently for 5 minutes or until lightly browned.

4) In a blender or food processor, combine soymilk, toasted cashew nuts and roasted garlic. Process until smooth.

5) Add the onion mixture, chile pepper flakes and cinnamon and process until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

6) Store sauce tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

This is an all-round great sauce for marinating tofu and tempeh in preparation for the grill. It adds a zing to grilled vegetables as well. As the tomatoes cook, the skin wrinkles and pulls away from the flesh, making it very easy to peel. (Makes 2 cups)

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 4 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp finely chopped candied ginger
  • 4 medium tomatoes, quartered
  • 1/2 cup molasses or brown rice syrup
  • 1 Tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves or chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 tsp hot chile flakes, optional
  • freshly ground sea salt and pepper

1) In a saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until slightly softened. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes. Onions should be very soft. Add tomatoes and cook, stirring frequently for another 15 minutes. Using a fork, remove and discard the tomato skins.

2) Stir in molasses, vinegar, thyme and chile flakes if using. Simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until thick and slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

3) To store: Place hot sauce into a glass mason jar, screw on lid, and place in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Raspberry SauceServe with waffles, crepes, pancakes or with a chocolate mousse. It is delicious when drizzled over fresh fruit.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries (drained if frozen)
  • ½ cup brown rice syrup
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon

1) In a saucepan, combine raspberries, syrup and cinnamon. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer gently, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes. Let cool.

2) Add to blender and process until smooth.

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