I wish I had a quid for every time someone said this to me. The fact is that it just isnt true. However if you want gravy to taste like the gravy you would have with mile-high roast rib joint then obviously any non-meat gravy is just not going to! In my adventures in vegan and vegetarian-land, however, I have learned a thing or two. Here are some of them:
- avoid processed food that wants to look like meat – it tastes nasty. So if you want to eat meat – then eat meat
- If you want a vegetarian sauce that ‘tastes’ like beef or chicken gravy use gravy granules. Read the labels….. they contain no meat but they do contain maltose, dextrose and all sorts of other rubbish
- If you want a tasty vegetarian sauce or gravy made from scratch it is not difficult
- A freezer is the eighth wonder of the world
- Keep a good stock cupboard (arrgghh – I sound just like my gran). The fact is of course that the more ingredients you have, the more options you have.
In my stock cupboard there live the following that assist the ‘gravy’ dilemma:
- Nutritional yeast flakes that you can get in most wholefood stores and some supermarkets. These add a lovely savoury flavour to many dishes, and to gravy. Technicians call it ‘umami’. I call it lip smacking good.
- Marmite (or similar) but not Bovril (obviously)
- Soy sauce
- Tomato puree
- Burgess Mushroom Ketchup
- Passata (tomato sauce in a box or a jar – or a tin of chopped tomatoes put through the blender)
- red lentils
- stock – either cubes or pots or home made
- turmeric powder
- smoked paprika
- good old tomato ketchup and HP
- mushroom ketchup
- ground almonds
- fresh herbs
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Here are some regular attenders at the sauce and gravy table.
Cashew cream sauce
Put two cups of cashews in a bowl with 1.5 cups of water. Soak for two hours only, then blend with two cloves of garlic, a flat teaspoon of salt and 15ml olive oil. That’s it. Could it be simpler? No. It’s easier than making gravy. You can then use this sauce as a base for other flavours, you could add pesto, harissa, chopped parsley or coriander. If it feels a bit too thick, then loosen it with some almond milk. You can serve it hot or cold, thick or thin.
David’s basic tomato sauce
I like to think I am a good cook – never a chef – but David makes a mean tomato sauce. Here goes. Gently fry one finely chopped onion and two cloves of garlic and add a sprinkling of chilli flakes. Then add half a wineglass of red wine and reduce to practically nothing on a high heat. Then turn the heat down and add a tin of chopped tomatoes, or passata, and some salt, black pepper and chopped capers. Then let it simply burble away in the pan until it is thick and reduced, and the oil is splitting in the sauce. Yes splitting, not spitting! This is the stage of ‘cooked-ness’ when the main ingredients of the sauce begin to very slightly separate from the oil. This happens when the sauce is cooked slowly – about 30 minutes in the pan. The key here is to use a wide shallow pan and not a saucepan. You can add whatever fresh herbs you like at the end (never at the beginning) – such as basil, chopped rosemary, tarragon, parsley etc.
Coconut and lentil gravy
Cook a cup full of red lentils in two cups of water until they are ‘floury’ – about 15 minutes. Fry a chopped onion and garlic in olive oil. Add a teaspoon of turmeric powder and a teaspoon on ground cumin. Add four chopped tomatoes or four juicy tinned tomatoes on a high heat and let them sizzle for five minutes, break them up with a wooden spoon then add half a tin of coconut milk and the coooked lentils. Now cook again for 10 minutes without a lid, ensuring all the ingredients are combined. Season with salt and black pepper then blend with a stick blender into a smooth sauce. This is particularly good with dishes that combine brown rice and other vegetables because nutritionally, the brown rice plus the lentils complete a protein chain and without that pairing your body will not extract the full nutritional value of either the rice or the lentils. More about this another day.
Mushroom and onion gravy
This is the one for chestnut sausages or burgers or toad in the hole! First, soak some (a couple of ounces) dried mushrooms in 200ml boiling water for at least half an hour. Chop and gently fry one onion with two cloves of garlic (getting the message here?) in a shallow pan with the tip of a teaspoon of hot smoked paprika. Then add peeled and finely chopped fresh mushrooms. Keep stirring. Take off the heat and add three flat teaspoons of cornflour. Now loosen the cornflour with the liquid from the soaked dried mushrooms. Then chop the soaked mushrooms and add to the pan plus a good tablespoon of Burgess’ Mushroom Ketchup (from most supermarkets, usually on the shelf with the Lea and Perrins). Bring almost to the boil, stirring all the time, then taste and season at the end.
This is the one we use for dishes like nut roast, stuffed cabbage etc. Roast onions, garlic, potato, carrot, celery in a roasting pan with a bay leaf or two, until the vegetables are well cooked but not charred. Add 750ml boiling water to two vegetable stock pots (like Knorr). Mash the vegetables down with a potato masher and then sprinkle on some nutritional yeast flakes – probably about a tablespoon and season with pepper. You probably won’t need salt. Remove the bay leaves. Now slowly add the liquid stock to the vegetables and bring to the boil on the top of the stove, stirring all the time and breaking up any lumps. When fully combined, let it cool a bit and pour it through a sieve if you must or just use a stick blender, to combine it all. Taste and adjust seasoning. Now I don’t know about you, but I find this a right hassle so the best thing to do is when you have a spare hour, make a whole batch and then freeze it. It tastes lovely.
Tomorrow I am going to have a go at cooking with Aquafaba (chick pea water) – it contains miraculous molecules and proteins that make it act like egg. I am going to have a go at making yorkshire pudding with it!