I decided to set myself a challenge last night and ‘veganize’ a myrecipes.com entree called pasta with lemon cream sauce, asparagus and peas (click here for the original version) so those wanting to follow a plant centered diet, could see how how to transform a cream based item.
The first, and most obvious, hurdle was to make a cream sauce without dairy. Enter the humble and adaptable cashew. Soaked for a few hours, or overnight in water, the nut becomes soft. Once in this state, it can be placed in a blender and blended until the consistency is very cream-like. You can soak the nuts when you think about it, drain and store in the fridge in a closed container for a day or two until you are ready to cook.
I always look for ways to boost the flavor layers when I am cooking so, this adaptation adds onions, white wine, lemon zest, Dijon mustard, non-dairy yogurt, Herbamare, nutmeg, capers, fresh basil and a great balsamic vinegar drizzle to the original version. The best balsamic vinegar I have found at it’s price point is the Barrel-aged Balsamic from Wine Country Kitchens Napa Valley. It is thick and sweet and there is nothing it fails to improve. Lower on the acid side with a complex flavor profile that makes you stop what you are doing and really notice what you’re eating. This stuff is so good, it spoils you. Better than wine as a hostess gift but so nice you hate to hand it over.
Another trick to making things creamy with little to no oil or fat and without dairy, is mustard. Mustard seed contains 20-30% protein that assists in thickening. This trick is useful when making salad dressings that don’t separate as the mustard works as an emulsifier. My favorite mustard is Gray Poupon and I must not be the only one as the folks at seriouseats.com proclaim it the winner for Dijon in their taste test. It brightens flavors and lowers the amount of salt needed so, if you don’t regularly cook with mustard, salt lightly and taste as you cook to properly adjust the seasoning.
This recipe calls for Herbamare which, among it’s other ingredients, includes sea salt. If you are omitting this item, slightly more salt may be needed. Although on the expensive side, a container easily lasts me 9-12 months and I use it several times a week. This blend of celery, leek, watercress, onions, chives, parsley, lovage, garlic, basil, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, and kelp brings a savory taste to whatever it touches. A favorite for soups, dressings and pasta dishes at our house.
So here is my vegan version. Serves 4 as an entree or 6 as a side dish:
1/2 lb. penne pasta
3/4 cup soaked raw unsalted cashews
1 cup water or vegetable stock
1/2 cup diced onion (I normally like red onions for the sweeter taste and better nutritional profile, but they will lend a slightly pink cast to the final sauce. If that would bother you, yellow onions might be preferred here)
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tbs. non-dairy butter like Earth Balance
1/4 cup white wine
2 tbs. fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 tbs. non-dairy yogurt
1/4 tsp. Herbamare seasoning
3 tsp. lemon zest
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 bunch asparagus washed and cut into 1 inch segments from the tip to about 2 inches from the end of each stalk
1 cup frozen peas
1 rounded tbs. capers
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbs. finely chopped fresh basil
2 tsp. lemon zest for finishing
balsamic vinegar to taste
Begin by cooking your pasta in salted water according to package directions. Half way through the cooking time, add the peas and asparagus. Work on the sauce while the pasta is cooking.
Drain and return pasta, peas and asparagus to the warm empty pot when the full pasta cooking time has elapsed.
For the sauce, into a saute pan or skillet, place the non-dairy butter, white wine, onions and a pinch of salt. Cook the onions over low to medium heat until tender but not browned. Add the garlic and cook until the wine has largely evaporated. The onions and garlic should look moist but not be wet.
When the onions and garlic are done, put them into a blender with the soaked cashews, water or vegetable stock, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, mustard, non-dairy yogurt, pinch of salt and pepper, Herbamare, 3 tsp. of lemon zest and 1/2 tsp nutmeg (freshly grated if you can). Blend on high until all smooth and creamy. In my Vitamix, this is about 1 minute but your blender may vary. Once fully blended, pour over the pasta and vegetable mix and stir to combine. Add additional salt and pepper to taste. Put the heat back on the pot and heat on low to medium for about 2 mins. until everything is piping hot.
To serve, spoon the mix into a hot bowl, sprinkle the top of each serving with the rest of the lemon zest and basil and then finish with a drizzle of the balsamic vinegar.