When I was at school (a few years ago now!), I used to love all my lessons – except for cookery! I just wasn’t very good at it. Or rather, I wasn’t very good at following their instructions and my dishes never quite turned out how I imagined they would. And then my family would have to pretend to enjoy eating it! What made it even more annoying was my brother’s cooking skills were way better than mine. His dishes always turned out brilliantly.
When it came to the time for choosing my options – the subjects to study at O’level – my school report for cookery gave clear, but slightly harsh in my opinion, guidance. Don’t choose it as an option. I was too messy and never followed the rules, and not cut out for cooking. They gave me the lowest grades too. Charming!
I’m very grateful for their feedback though. Firstly, it meant I chose art classes instead of cookery and had much more fun being messy and creative. But rule breaking when it comes to recipes was obviously a deeply embedded skill – something I have put to use creating super tasty but healthy alternative recipes with The Sensitive Foodie. I do however, still make a huge mess when doing it!
This béchamel sauce really does break the rules. But it works! Which makes me very excited.
Béchamel, or white, sauce is a key element for so many other dishes like lasagne, moussaka, macaroni cheese and gratins. Traditionally made by forming a roux with butter and flour in the base of a pan, milk is added gradually whilst you stir manically to prevent any lumps from forming. Eventually a thick, creamy white sauce is created. Or at least that’s the idea – mine never seemed to turn out like that.
Apart from two of those ingredients – butter and milk – not being part of a plant-based diet (as well as one of my big food intolerances!), there is another issue. Heating fats in a pan over a direct heat alters the delicate fatty structures causing them to create inflammation in the body. This applies with all fats including vegan spread or oil – the direct heat is an issue.
For a long time, I chose to avoid recipes with white sauce, or used cashew cream or silken tofu as an alternative. Nothing wrong with that although once baked in the oven, both would dry out which could affect look of the dish. This is also a more costly way of making white sauce plus you need to remember to have those ingredients in your store cupboard.
One day, the solution hit me. It was so simple. French chef’s please look away now!
All I needed to do was mix a little cornflour into soya milk, pour it into a small pan and heat it up. As the milk gets warmer, the cornflour starts to bind with it, making it into a lovely pourable white sauce. Keeping it over a low-medium heat and stirring all the time with a little balloon whisk, it came together in a matter of minutes. That’s it!
You could just leave it at that, but in all honesty it’s very bland. So I’ve started to prepare ahead and add some flavour. First I heat the soya milk with a bay leaf, black peppercorns, maybe a bit of onion and a pinch of salt, letting it just come to the boil before turning it off. Then I leave the milk to steep for an hour or so, letting the flavours disperse into the fluid. When I’m ready to make the sauce, the milk is drained through a sieve to remove all the bits, the cornflour is added and then heated through.
If this all sounds like a bit of a faff, then feel free to just use plain soya milk – the choice is yours (but I recommend giving it a go!).
In addition, once the sauce has been made, a little extra virgin olive oil can be added to make it extra creamy, and again enhance the flavour. Once off the direct heat, the oils won’t be affected in the same way. You can also leave it out if you prefer to be completely oil free.
Once thick and creamy, this gluten free sauce is ready to be used for whatever dish you have in mind.
I will be forever grateful that my cookery teacher never managed to tame my rule breaking tendencies. I’m also very happy to have this fantastically simple and very useful béchamel sauce in my repertoire. I hope you go for a bit of rule breaking too and enjoy adding this sauce to your lovely plant-based dishes.
- 300 mls soya milk
- 1 1/2 tbsp cornflour
- pinch salt
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil optional
For the added flavour (optional)
- 1 bay leaf
- 5 black pepper corns
- 1/4 onion cut into small chunks
- If you want to use the added flavours to steep in the soya milk, pour the milk into a small pan and added the flavours. Bring just to the boil and turn off the heat. Leave to steep for an hour. Pass the infusion through a sieve in to a bowl or jug to remove the flavourings.
- Add the cornflour and salt to the milk and whisk well to combine. You can pop it into a blender pot and whizz for 10 seconds if you prefer to make sure it's all combined.
- Pour the mix into a small pan and place over a low to medium heat. Whisk constantly with a small balloon whisk as the mix starts to thicken.
- Once the sauce is just beginning to bubble, it should be a thick, pourable consistency. Remove from the heat, add the olive oil if using and continue whisking for a minute.
- Use the sauce straight away or cover with some non-stick paper to prevent a skin forming until you are ready.