There are some recipes that just seem to work best with dairy – white sauce is one. Melting rich butter, frantically stirring in flour to form a roux, then slowly adding creamy milk whilst whisking madly, sending out a little prayer that it won’t be too runny or lumpy. If the white sauce works, the rest of the dish does too.
Since going dairy free, making a good white sauce has been a challenge. Dairy free spread makes a great butter replacement (as long as the pan is not too hot) but soya milk has too much flavour of it’s own and rice milk is too watery. As they were my only options in India, I used vegetable stock to make a savoury sauce for pies but was never really satisfied with the results.
After visiting Vegefest earlier this year, I discovered Kara (or Koko, not really sure which one it’s called!). Made from coconut milk, it’s rich and creamy and perfect for cooking with, particularly sauces. Surprisingly, fresh Kara doesn’t have a strong flavour; the long life one is more coconutty. So white sauce is no longer a challenge if I want to make it the traditional way and dairy eating family members can’t tell the difference!
But this is not necessarily the healthiest route to go. My food journey is about using food to heal, not just sustain the body, so I’m always looking to maximise my nutrition intake by reducing anything processed and inflammatory and focusing on whole foods.
And that’s where the humble cauliflower comes in.
When cooked and pureed, cauliflower makes a wonderful creamy sauce that can be used for pasta dishes, lasagna or even a kind of bechemal sauce. Apparently, you can add nutritinal yeast to create a cheese sauce, but as yeast is a no go area I can’t comment!
Because it’s one of those super-healthy cruciferous vegetables, cauliflower is packed full of nutrients, including a whopping amount of vitamin C, vitamin K and folate, and is pretty good for manganese, B5, potassium and fibre. It’s anti-inflammatory, packed with anti-oxidants and phytonutrients and helps your cells to detox.Of course, every positive has to have a negative, and cauliflower can have a smell issue! Some of the phytonutrients release sulphur compounds when cooked so the house can take on a farty aroma for a while! Minimal cooking produces minimal smell, but for sauce making the cauliflower has to be soft, so keep those windows open!!
To get a good savoury flavour, use vegetable stock; place your chopped cauli in a pan with a tight-fitting lid and pour over the stock, not quite covering all the veg, then boil with the lid on, stirring it up every now and then to make sure everything is cooking. The cauli will break down as it cooks and release its own water. Once cooked, leave to cool in the stock, then blitz it all together (this is why you don’t want too much stock otherwise it’s too watery). This way you retain as many of the nutrients as possible that may have leached out into the cooking water. Then season and serve.
I recently made a pasta sauce this way – whilst the cauli was bubbling away, I sauteed some onion, red pepper, garlic and mixed herbs until everything softened, then added some broccoli and sweetcorn for another few minutes, adding a tiny bit of water from the pasta to stop everything from sticking. Once it was all cooked and properly seasoned, I added the veg to the pureed cauliflower to create a beautifully light, creamy sauce, dolloped it onto the pasta (wholewheat of course!) and watched my 14 year old giant-boy wolf it down, declaring it to be lovely. As macaroni cheese is his favourite meal, that’s quite a compliment!