Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Vegan Béchamel Sauce

I realize that my savory/meal posts are very inconsistently scattered between my baking posts, but that does not mean I am less committed to cooking for daily meals - I just tend to keep things sparsely healthy for those meals, so it's a little less interesting and less photogenic to post those items. Plus I really get excited about sugar and butter and all that good stuff!

Still, I was very enthused about this little, versatile item when it popped up on Chocolate and Zucchini, and ran out to buy some soy milk in order to whip up my own Swiss Chard gratin (pretty stalks of rainbow Swiss chard cooking in the photo above).

There are just so many reasons to make this sauce: it's quick and easy to make with ingredients you probably keep around the house, lower in fat than normal béchamel, vegan, creamy, and tasty enough to use as a base for many different dishes. If you're not vegan, add an egg to the sauce and you get an even richer healthy base for your dish. I didn't have the nutmeg, but it was still good.

I have also fallen in love with Gruyère cheese recently (how often do I say that about a food item?), especially when added to greens and whole wheat pasta, so I was pleased to see that this gratin was topped with the nutty mountain cheese. Okay, the recipe actually calls for Comté, but Gruyère was the much cheaper option at my store, and very good. It also makes use of bran (wheat bran, in my case) instead of bread crumbs as a crisp upper layer, another healthy substitution that won me over.

You should now be convinced that it's time to make a healthy, tasty meal! I've included a series of photos below which portray the changes in the sauce as the milk gets incorporated; sorry there's not better lighting over my stove!

Vegan Béchamel Sauce, from Chocolate and Zucchini

4 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons flour
240 ml (1 cup) plain non-dairy milk, cold or at room temperature
salt, pepper, nutmeg

Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour, stir it in quickly with a wooden spoon, and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring continuously, without coloring (that's a roux blanc).

Remove from the heat, add a little of the milk, whisk it in to form a smooth mixture, then add the rest of the milk over medium heat, a little at a time, whisking well between each addition. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring continuously, until thickened to a velvety consistency. Remove from the heat, season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and use while still warm.

Follow the photo series below if you are uncertain of how the sauce should look as you work the milk in.

Stirring the flour into the oil:

Adding the first bit of milk off the heat:

Next additions of milk:

Starts smoothing out:

Before cooking it the 5-7 minutes:

The velvety consistency, sauce sticking to the sides of the pan:

This is not a technical explanation, just a description of how it worked for me. Happy sauce making!

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