Dairy-free cheesy potato gratin recipe

This is a super-cheesy, super-saucy variant on the traditional potato gratin which can be served as a filling accompaniment to a variety of dishes. This follows on from yesterday’s cheesy vegetable bake recipe, as I made this a day later (once we finally had some potatoes).

What’s the difference between potato boulangere and potato gratin? A boulangere is a dish where thin slices of potato are put in an ovenproof dish, drowned in a sauce of cream and chicken stock, and baked until the potatoes at the top are crispy. A gratin, traditionally-speaking, is a boulangere with cheese on top. As you can see, the traditional version needs some big changes to make it dairy-free and vegan!

Every Sunday, and at Easter and Christmas, my aunt used to do a stunning roast dinner, and one of my favourite things on the dining table was a big bowl of potato boulangère with the delicious crispy slices of potatoes on the top and soft, saucy potato slices underneath. I loved it. When I had to cut out dairy many years ago after developing CMPA, I thought I’d never get to eat it again.

Sometime in 2012, my aunt gave me a dairy-free potato boulangere recipe and I was very happy to be able to enjoy one of my favourite dishes once again.

Since then, we’ve had four house moves across three countries (and two continents) and I have lost my potato gratin recipe. In the absence of a structured recipe, I devised this dairy-free cheesy potato bake a few days ago as a vegan side dish to go with the Lidl vegan Christmas roast they were selling very cheaply in January. It would also work well with Linda McCartney vegetarian quarter pounders, although you would need to add the quarter pounders to the oven about halfway through cooking this potato bake.

Ingredients:

5 medium-sized potatoes

Dairy-free white sauce (recipe here) or cheese sauce (recipe here). I recommend the white sauce.

100g grated cheese

You can totally cheat on the sauce and use one of plenty of options, such as Asda’s bechamel sauce (white sauce), or Sacla’s Vegan Ch**se sauce, both of which are sold in jars, or Tesco’s instant dairy free cheese sauce mix sachets (do NOT buy the ASDA cheese sauce sachets; they are NOT dairy free, only gluten free).

Method:

Peel the potatoes. Chop into thin slices. Fill a medium-sized glass dish with them.

Make up the white sauce (or cheat and open a jar of it) and cover the potatoes with it.

Cook on 150 degrees for 30-35 minutes then cover with grated cheese. Turn up the temperature of the oven to 180 and put the dish back in the oven and cook for the last 10 minutes, until the cheese has melted a bit and is starting to go crispy.

If you mess this up (as I did this one time) and put the cheese on too soon, just put the food in the oven and keep the oven at 150 for 20 more minutes.

To check if it’s ready, try sticking a fork into one of the slices of potato. If it feels hard, it’s not ready so put it back in the oven. If it’s soft, it’s ready to serve!

Vegan white sauce recipe

White sauce is the foundation of most milk-based sauces, including cheese sauce, peppercorn sauce, bechamel sauce, parsley sauce and soups such as clam chowder (the white one).

I know this because, when I was 11 and learning Home Economics (now called the much edgier “food technology”) at school, I spent most of my time copying pages and pages out of textbooks while my classmates were busy cooking.

At my school, the teacher would buy the ingredients for us and we just had to bring in the money (usually about 80p-£1), or we could bring in the ingredients if we preferred. My mum refused to give me the money for the ingredients OR to buy the actual ingredients, which often left me not able to participate in home economics. The teacher, thinking I was just lazy, made me copy out of textbooks as a “punishment”.

I think I learned more from this than my classmates did. In my experience of attending 13 schools and 3 colleges, home economics teachers are singularly oblivious to the social issues that prevent children from learning. They all seem to be jolly-middle-class women who think everyone has “tagliatelle” at home.

I had been cooking for the whole family since the age of 9, but because I had never eaten a fairy cake, let alone made one, I was seen as “bad at cooking”, a label I internalized and carried with me into adulthood until I finally realized, at 27, I wasn’t bad at cooking, I just didn’t know how to cook the standard middle-class British dishes of the 1970s (which people still seem to judge us on today).

That’s fine, because people like that home economics teacher who think there’s one true way to cook “properly” are usually the first people to get upset about catering for dairy free guests, on the basis that they only know how to follow a bunch of recipes they learned at school or from Delia Smith (sorry, Delia, but you have some unimaginative readers).

So I took great pleasure in subverting white sauce for the vegan agenda and I hope you enjoy the fabulous results of using this sauce as a base for all your dairy-free milky sauce dishes that Western cuisine seems so obsessed with.

This dairy-free white sauce is very customizable, because it’s the base for so many other sauces. Leave it as-is for béchamel sauce (for lasagne/lasagna), or add things to make cheese, parsley, peppercorn sauces etc. It only requires three ingredients to make the basic sauce.

Ingredients:

25g Dairy-free butter

250ml Soy milk (other milks such as almond also work)

25g Flour

This will make enough sauce to cover two servings of cauliflower cheese. As you can see, the measurements are a ratio: For every gram of butter you need one gram of flour, and 10ml of dairy-free milk (add a bit more milk for a thinner sauce). This makes a very easy-to-scale recipe and I often measure my ingredients by eye, adding one part flour to one part butter, then I add the milk slowly from a big carton until I hit the right consistency.

Method:

Put the vegan butter in a saucepan and put it onto a medium heat. Melt the butter.

As the butter turns into a puddle but before it starts to bubble, add the flour gradually, stirring constantly. You are currently making something called a roux, which is the base of most thickened dishes.

Keep stirring (it might start to feel quite dry) until the roux turns crumbly and very slightly golden yellow (don’t let it burn). The quality of the roux will determine the quality of the finished sauce. If the roux turns brown, throw it away and start again.

The flour and butter should look like this.

Gradually add the non-dairy milk, a dash at a time (about a tablespoon’s worth, or a shot, if that’s easier to eyeball), stirring continuously. Only add more when the milk starts to thicken. I usually take the pan off the heat for this part because it’s easy to burn the milk. If you add the milk too quickly, you will get a LOT of lumps (some lumps are inevitable). Squash the lumps out with your fork.

Keep stirring the mixture until it’s a nice, thick, saucy consistency.

Now you’re done! It’s time to either serve it, if you’re making this as a béchamel sauce, or to add the other ingredients such as dairy-free cheese, if you’re making cheese sauce, or peppercorns, if you’re making pepper sauce.

Has your sauce gone lumpy? Fix it!

The main way this sauce can go wrong is if you end up with lots of lumps in a fairly watery sauce. There are two ways you can fix this:

Either use a fine-meshed sieve (if you have one; the sort with holes small enough to drain rice without any grains falling through) or a hand blender.

Lump Removal Method 1: With the sieve, get the bowl ready, put the sieve over it (bowl must be wider than sieve, unless you tilt the sieve so all the sauce falls from one place, or you will have cheese sauce everywhere), pour the cheese sauce into the sieve, and wait for the sauce to drain out, then throw away the lumps that are left.

Lump Removal Method 2: With a hand blender, leave the sauce in the pan and just blend out the lumps.  It usually thickens a LOT when you do this (because the lumps are the flour and butter that is also the thickener that gives the sauce its consistency).  If it’s too thick, stir in more milk, a little at a time, until it reaches the right consistency.

Holland-ish Sauce Vegan Hollandaise recipe for eggs benedict and eggs royale

I’m having serious cafe withdrawals at the moment. I miss going out to cafes and ordering food that I can’t make at home. So today I decided to do what I used to do in China when I felt like this. I decided to bring the cafe to me.

I was craving eggs royale, which is the salmon version of eggs benedict. It requires a bread bun, cut in half, on which a poached egg and a piece of salmon are arranged, and they’re drizzled with Hollandaise sauce.

Hollandaise sauce is notoriously hard to make, and I don’t know how to poach an egg without a poacher, and I have to avoid dairy, but I decided not to let any of that stop me from achieving my dream.

First, I found out that Emma Bridgewater mugs are REALLY well made. You can put one in a pan on direct full heat on a stovetop and it poaches an egg. It does take a few minutes but it gets the job done. That was my second attempt at poaching an egg (my first attempt was a complete disaster and resulted in an egg-splosion because I tried to do a “proper” poached egg where you basically whisk boiling water into a vortex then drop an egg into it. I do NOT have the skills for that, apparently).

Then there was the problem of the Hollandaise sauce. Here’s the recipe I adapted:

1 packet of silken tofu (300g or about 9 oz)

1/8 cup of lemon juice

1/8 cup nutritional yeast

1/8 cup dairy free butter

1/2 tsp turmeric (for colour)

1/2 tsp oregano (flavour)

a good pinch of garlic (flavour)

a good pinch of pepper (flavour)

Blend the tofu until it’s a smooth liquid. Then put it in a pan with the other ingredients and heat on a medium heat until the butter is melted and the sauce starts to turn a bright yellow. Serve over eggs benedict or eggs royale.

This recipe is so much easier than making the complicated emulsion for proper hollandaise sauce. If you want something with a more traditional flavour, ditch the oregano.

The main point to note with this recipe is absolutely don’t use the firm spongy kind of tofu. It won’t blend into a liquid, it will turn into a scrambly mess. The sauce itself is vegan but I obviously poured it over things which were non-vegan.

IMG_0590b

Lastly, the taste test. I thought it was really nice when it was cooked for long enough, but when I tasted it during cooking, it kept tasting excessively lemony, so definitely simmer it for at least 5 minutes to draw out the other flavours in this sauce.