Meat Free Monday: The King Of “Cheese” Sauces

Okay guys.  We’ve been building up to this for three weeks.  Today I share with you the ultimate vegan cheese sauce recipe, the one that you’ll want to make every time you do cheese sauce.  This is advanced sauce making.  It’s the one you can feed your parents and they’ll have no clue that there was no dairy in it.  The one you can use for vegan macaroni cheese, vegan cauliflower cheese or to do the top sauce for a vegan lasagna (leave out the “cheese” if you prefer a white sauce lasagna).

cheese sauce1

It requires the full arsenal of ingredients, but I make it a one-pan meal by cooking my broccoli or pasta in the pan, draining that then using the same pan to do the sauce.

You can measure the ingredients, but I don’t bother because it’s far more important to get a feel for how the ingredients interact with one another, and anyway, it utterly depends on how much sauce you want to make.  As long as there’s a good dollop of each ingredient in its packaging, you’ll be fine.

Here’s what you’ll need:

Equipment: Saucepan, butter or table knife, fine meshed sieve, fork, spoon (also: cheese grater if you’re not using cheese slices and wide meshed sieve as well if you need to get rid of lumps and don’t have a hand blender).

Ingredients:

1. Vegan butter.  I am currently preferring the Pure Soya spread.

2. Flour.  Recipe books always say to use plain flour for sauces, but I use self raising because I don’t “cook” (as in, make recipes that are nutritionally void and generally require some sort of flour) enough to have two types of flour in the house, and usually what I cook is cake, so self raising is just more useful to me and it’s never made a difference to my cheese sauces.  If it matters so much use plain flour.

3. Soy milk.  I haven’t tried it with other dairy free milk but I can’t see why it wouldn’t work, although rice milk is very watery.  I use unsweetened soy milk.

4. Either grated vegan cheese (e.g. Tesco soya medium, Cheezly, Scheeze block cheese or Violife block cheese) or slices of Violife, torn into small pieces (don’t kill yourself, it’s still gonna melt if it’s big pieces).

5. Something you want to cover in cheese sauce.  I go for pasta, cauliflower or broccoli, but it’s entirely up to you.

Method:

1. With a knife, get a dollop of butter and put it in the pan.  I use a small non-stick pan so there’s nowhere for lumps to hide later on.

2. Put the heat on a high medium (electric 4, or gas 20 past, with highest being half past if your cooker knob was a clock).

3. As the butter turns to a puddle but BEFORE it bubbles, grab a fine meshed sieve and pour a bit of flour in there.  You want a 1:1 ratio of flour to butter,

4. Stir continuously with a fork until you’ve got little balls of flour stuck together with butter, in a slightly orangey colour (not brown, that’s burnt, if it went brown, start again).

The flour and butter should look like this.
The flour and butter should look like this.

5. VERY gradually add the milk:  Add a dollop, mix it together until it’s starting to form a thick liquid then add more milk, never stop stirring and never add loads of milk all at once.  If your sauce goes lumpy, it’s because you added the milk too quickly or didn’t stir out all the lumps.  Squash any solid lumps with a fork as you’re doing this.

This is lumpy and watery.  Keep stirring out the lumps and don't add any more milk until this has started to thicken.
This is lumpy and watery. Keep stirring out the lumps and don’t add any more milk until this has started to thicken.

6. Stop adding milk once your sauce is a nice thick sauce-like consistency.  Remember you want it to cling to the pasta or broccoli, not slide off.

7. Add the cheese and stir it in until it’s all melted.

This has thickened and has had the cheese added and is ready to serve.  Or add more cheese if you prefer.
This has thickened and has had the cheese added and is ready to serve. Or add more cheese if you prefer.  Or get rid of any lumps (see below).

8. If your sauce is super lumpy, as mine was (usually when I used dairy free Vitalite to do this), you have two options. Either use a wider meshed sieve (if you have one, the sort that you couldn’t drain quinoa through, but you could drain rice through) or a hand blender.

Lump Removal Method 1: With the sieve, get the bowl ready, put the sieve over it (bowl must be wider than sieve, unless you tilt the sieve so all the sauce falls from one place, or you will have cheese sauce everywhere), pour the cheese sauce into the sieve, and wait for the sauce to drain out, then throw away the lumps that are left.

Lump Removal Method 2: With a hand blender, leave the sauce in the pan and just blend out the lumps.  It usually thickens when you do this (because the lumps are the flour and butter that is also the thickener that gives the sauce its consistency).  If it’s too thick, stir in more milk, a little at a time, until it reaches the right consistency.

9. Use the spoon to get all the sauce out of the pan and enjoy that sauce!  If you’ve made too much, put the rest in a separate bowl in the fridge and enjoy it again tomorrow.

A note on cleaning: Get that pan straight under water if you’re not washing up before you eat.  That stuff can set really quickly.

A note on nutrition: Add a handful of peanuts for protein, and boiled kale for 5 a day if you’re putting this with pasta.

A note on gluten: This DOES work with GF flour, although it tends to require the usual liquid adjustments – but this is another reason why I didn’t give measurements, so just add liquid until it reaches the right consistency.  The chemistry of this recipe is exactly the same.

So there you have it.  The ultimate cheese sauce recipe.  If you were into your cooking before you became vegan, you may notice this is the standard white sauce + cheese recipe, and I’ve fully explained it so you can avoid all the pitfalls I have made with this recipe over the ten years I’ve been making it.

What will you eat yours with?  Do you have any better cheese sauce recipes?  Let me know in the comments!

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Meat Free Monday: Mac and Cheese Recipes 1 and 2

Pasta and “Cheese” Sauce

Before I developed a milk allergy, my favourite food was mac and cheese, although I would make it with lots of different shapes and sizes of pasta (one of my favourites was pasta shells, because they suck up the sauce). Since I’ve been dairy free, I’ve tried a lot of different ways to make pasta or macaroni and cheese.

The one way I absolutely DO NOT recommend is the “vegan” “cheese sauce” that comes in a tub from the supermarket/health food store. It’s a crime against vegetables. It literally tastes like someone threw some herbs in a pan then threw up on it.

Over the next three weeks, I will present several alternative pasta and cheese ideas, leading up to the all-singing, all-dancing “proper” one with a roux and everything; today’s two recipes are the simplest, and both use vegan cream cheese:

1. Using vegan cream cheese, method A:

Ingredients:

1.5 cups pasta per person (pasta of your choice)

About 2 tablespoons of cream cheese per person (you may need more)

About 1 tablespoon of soya milk per person (also works with rice milk, not sure about others).

1. Cook the pasta and drain.  Gluten free pasta takes much less time than wheat pasta as it doesn’t have to soften the gluten protein.

2. In a small non-stick pan (ideally), on a medium heat, spoon your required amount of vegan cream cheese into the pan and add about 1 tablespoon of soya milk per person to start with.

Stir it together while it’s heating until it’s all warm and sauce like. If it’s too thin, add more cream cheese. If it’s too thick or the flavour’s too strong, add more soya milk.

3. Once the sauce is warm enough and reached a decent consistency, divide the pasta in bowls for each person eating and pour the sauce over it in a fair manner, then eat straight away.

2. Using vegan cream cheese, method B:

Ingredients:

1.5 cups pasta per person (pasta of your choice)

About 1/3 of a tub of vegan cream cheese per person.

1. Cook the pasta and drain.

2. Heat the cheese in the bottom of a small non-stick pan (ideally) and once it’s softening, mix the pasta in until it’s all coated in cream cheese.

3. Serve in bowls and eat at once.

4. This one dries hard, so wash your bowls straight after eating.

Note: 

You can make these gluten free by using gf pasta instead of regular, or replacing pasta with either broccoli or cauliflower (although I recommend using my pasta recipe #5 for cauliflower).

These provide none of your 5 a day (fruit and veg), no vitamins to speak of, and negligible amounts of protein. They’re mostly carbs and a smattering of fat. To make it more nutritious, serve with a salad, or replace the pasta with cauliflower or broccoli (or just serve them up on the side) and sprinkle with sunflower seeds or your favourite nuts for protein (dry roasted peanuts are my fave but you gotta eat them fast so they don’t go soggy in the sauce).  I love mac n cheese but rarely eat it these days because it’s a nutritional vacuum.