Creamy leek and mushrooms bakes

One of the things I really missed when I changed to a dairy-free, whole food way of eating was creamy sauces, especially the type used for pie. At first, I didn’t know how to create that sumptuous richness and depth without using a whole load of dairy or fats.

After lots of trial and error, I have to say this is my favourite – a delicious leek and mushroom creamy sauce made with a combination of soaked cashew nuts and silken tofu that gives the right balance of lightness and creaminess. And the white wine helps as well!

One of the difficulties with food intolerances is that one recipe doesn’t always work for everyone. I strive to make my recipes flexible for everyone, so if you’re nut-free, just use all tofu, if you are soy-free, just use all nut but add more water. If you are yeast-free, then I’m sorry the wine is out – replace the fluid with a good quality vegetable stock instead. If you are nightshade free, try celeriac slices on top instead. And if you don’t like mushroom, or leek, then use your veggies of choice. Sorted!

This may seem like there’s lots to do, but time-wise this will take you about 40 minutes in total, so why not give it a go and indulge in some super-tasty creaminess for dinner this week? Enjoy.

Creamy leek and mushroom bakes (serves 3-4)
3 medim sized potatoes, washed, skin on
2 good sized leeks, washed and sliced
250g mushrooms, washed and sliced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme
100ml white wine (make sure it’s vegan if you are dairy/egg/fish free)
100g tofu
50g cashew nuts, soaked for a couple of hours
salt and pepper

First cut the potatoes in half, place in a pan of boiling water and cook until you can just about put a knife through them. Drain and leave to cool. Once cool enough to handle, cut into thin slices.

Whilst the potatoes are cooking, pre-heat the oven to 180ÂșC, then heat a couple of tablespoons of water or a teaspoon of olive oil in the bottom of a medium-sized saucepan and sautĂ© the leeks for 3-4 minutes until they start to soften and brown slightly. Add the mushrooms and garlic, and cook for a few minutes until the juices flow out the mushrooms. Stir in the thyme and pour over the wine. Let this simmer for a couple of minutes.

Drain the soaked cashew nuts and place in a blender with just enough water to cover and the tofu. Blend to smooth then pour into the pan and stir to combine. The sauce will thicken as it heats through. Season with salt and pepper.

Once the sauce starts the stick to the side of the pan, turn off the heat and pour into one large serving dish or 3 individual ones. Cover with the potato slices, making a pattern if you so wish. Place in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until lightly browned on top. Serve with a selection of green vegetables.


Saucy cauliflower

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!

Simply Tasty Tomato Sauce

Tomatoes play a major role in my everyday food.  As creamy sauces are generally off the menu, tomato based ones are always the tasty option, and very easy to make. I’ve already posted about the nutritional wonders of tomatoes (see; just to add that tomatoes are fabulous for your hair and skin, repairing sun damage and helping you look vibrant and younger, just like sweet potatoes!

Tomatoes are packed full of beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin A. These protect your eyes, skin and hair and can help to reverse cell damage done by carcinogenic substances and toxins that come from our food and environment. Beta-carotenes are also anti-inflammatory and so can help reduce chronic pain caused by inflammatory conditions, although like aubergines, tomatoes are part of the nightshade family which some sensitive souls are allergic too. It seems in the world of food intolerance and allergies, anything and everything can cause problems for somebody, somewhere.

But for those who don’t have a problem, tomatoes are amazing and really should be included as part of a plant based diet as often as possible.

The tomato sauce in Tomato Power is made by simply roasting fresh tomatoes with some garlic and olive oil, then blitzing them together to create a delicious, flavoursome sauce. Living in India, beautiful, fresh, vibrant tomatoes bursting with flavour were available all year round. Back in the UK, tomatoes are really seasonal and those available in the supermarkets tend to be lacking in lustre and taste. So tinned tomatoes are the only option, which is a shame as much of the wonderfully high potassium content is lost in the tinning process. However, adding in other fabulously nutrient-dense produces like celery, carrot, garlic and basil helps to counter balance some of these loses.

A word of warning if you’re eating out and choose a tomato sauce based dish – check whether the chef has used butter instead of oil. As butter creates a richer flavour, it’s more common than you think. I’ve left a restaurant many times thinking I’ve eaten a dairy free dish, only to be struck by a headache or migraine later on.

This sauce is really easy and the one I used for my sweet potato stack. Best cooked over a low heat, the flavours are intense and can by used as a sauce for pasta, vegetables, bakes etc or watered down with vegetable stock to make delicious soup. Make a large batch and freeze some, so you’ve always got a quick, easy dinner to hand.

Tasty tomato sauce
1 medium onion
1 medium carrot
2 large stick celery
1 -2 cloves garlic (depending on size/taste)
olive oil
400g tin chopped tomatoes
handful basil leaves
salt and pepper
Finely chop the onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Heat a glug of olive oil on a gentle heat, and lightly saute the onion until it begins to soften, the add the celery and carrot. Continue cooking on a low heat for 10 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic, keeping the heat low, and cook for a few minutes, making sure it doesn’t burn. Add the tinned tomatoes, stir well and simmer until everything feels soft and well cooked. Turn off the heat and add the torn basil leaves and season to taste (not much salt as the tinned tomatoes are already a little salty). Cool a little then use a blender to blitz it to a smooth sauce. Use straight away, or reheat when ready – and enjoy!!!