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How to Make Creamy, Oil-Free Vegan Delights

How to Make Creamy, Oil-Free Vegan Delights

Motivational speaker and author Zig Ziglar once quipped, "I'm so optimistic I'd go after Moby Dick in a row boat and take the tartar sauce with me." Although Zig was an optimist, he wasn't a vegan. If he had been, would he have had to forego the pleasure of tartar sauce? What would he serve on his Vegan Crab Cakes

Plant eaters have every reason to be optimistic about creamy, flavorful, satisfying foods. We don't need butter, milk, eggs, or cheese to make foods creamy and delicious. When it comes to food and our health, anything animals can do, plants can do better! So how can we satisfy our craving for creamy when we're eating only whole plant foods? It's easy! Low-fat plant-based cooking is an adventure challenging enough for the experienced chef and accessible enough for a novice. Brave chefs have already explored the territory and have left us many recipes as guides along the way. Follow the hyperlinks through this article for lots of ideas on making creamy, delicious low-fat vegan food.

Purée Plants Into Perfect, Creamy Sauces
Plant-based chefs have some surprising ways to make smooth soups and sauces. Seeds and nuts, naturally rich in whole-food fats, are two common ingredients in creamy, plant-based foods. 

CathyFisher.Straightupfoods.CreamyFalafals.w450.webBaked falafels with tzatziki sauce from Straight Up FoodCathy Fisher of StraightUpFood.com uses cashews to produce a tzatziki sauce for dipping baked falafels. She also uses cashews to give a satisfying texture to mushroom gravy. She achieves a creamy pesto sauce to be tossed with pasta by blending walnuts or other nuts with water. These whip into a rich base for the herbs and other seasonings. Likewise, Brandi from TheVegan8.com makes a flavorful Raw Vegan Ceasar Dressing that incorporates pine nuts for a silky texture. And Jeff Novick, MS, RD, adds sesame seed paste, known as tahini, to hummus to provide a smoother texture. 

While blended nuts and seeds are fabulous for adding a rich, creamy feel to plant-based foods, they can also add a significant amount of fat. As Jeff points out:

due to [the] extremely high calorie density [of nuts and seeds], go very easy on them especially if weight is an issue for you. In general, I recommend consuming no more than 1-2 oz a day at most. If you are struggling with your weight, I recommend either eliminating them or limiting them even more, to no more than 1oz, 2-5x a week. And, when you do use them, make sure you mix them with something low in calorie density, like vegetables or fruits.

Unlikely Vegetables Produce Uncommonly Good, Creamy Foods
Fortunately, nuts and seeds aren't the only way to produce the smooth sensation of creamy foods. The options may surprise you. In an interview, Chef Del Sroufe explained that he was looking for ways to make cream sauce without the fat. He created a bechamel sauce for Forks Over Knives that uses cauliflower to produce a smooth, satisfying texture. According to the interview, the creaminess of cauliflower can be used for soups or even mayonnaise. And, says Chef Del, it's a great way to sneak the healthy cruciferous vegetable onto kid's plates. "I call it health by deception. So if you’ve got kids at home that just don’t like to eat their vegetables, you can purée it and sneak it in there and tell them, 'It’s cream sauce, honey, it’s cream sauce.'"

The natural creaminess of potatoes can also be used to produce smooth-textured soups and sauces. Many vegan soup recipes suggest using the back of a spoon to mash some of the cooked potatoes in a vegetable soup against the side of the cooking pot, then mixing the potatoes back in to thicken the soup. Or dried potato flakes used for instant mashed potatoes are a quick way to thicken a soup and add a creamy texture. But potatoes can also be used to make other types of creamy foods. Yukon Gold potatoes are especially well-suited to the task because they have the right balance of buttery flavor, starchy texture, and creaminess. This recipe for Fat-Free Vegan Cheese Sauce can be used as a dip or poured over noodles for a plant-based mac-and-cheese, while scalloped potatoes with this "cheesy" sauce are the creation of Susan Voisin from FatFreeVegan.com.

Susan's latest culinary experiments center around using onions to add a creamy texture to plant-based dishes. Her Fat-Free Onion Ranch Dressing is great for dipping or for drizzling over a crisp salad. Says Susan, "It doesn’t have the over-the-top richness of dairy ranch, but I think you’ll find that it’s tangy and flavorful and just creamy enough." In the video below, she shows us how to make her Fat-Free Onion Cream which forms the base for the dressing.

Don't Leave Out the Legumes
In addition to using vegetables to make creamy foods, legumes of all kinds can lend a smooth texture. The Engine 2 recipe for hummus omits tahini and still produces a satisfying dip. While canned chickpeas can be used, home cooked chickpeas can be "over cooked" just a bit, making for a smoother hummus. We might think that since guacamole is plant-based already, it wouldn't need any substitutions. However, green peas can replace some or all of the avocado in guacamole, seriously reducing its fat content. Beans can also add a wonderful creaminess to a meal, either alone or blended into other dishes. Pinto beans can be pureed into an oil-free version of "refried" beans. Other varieties of legumes can be used to make creamy, satisfying soups like this New Orleans' Style White Beans or Split Pea and Yam Soup. Peruano or Cannellini beans are mild flavored and can be used to make sauces like Smokey Cheez Sauce or Cannellini Bean Sauce. And red lentils give a creamy texture to healthier versions of traditional Indian dishes like Fat-Free Dal Tadka.

Oil-Free Cooking is a Happy Adventure with a Sweet Ending
Plant-based eaters don't have to stop with the entrée. Creamy, low-fat, whole-plant dishes can take us from the appetizer straight through to a satisfying dessert. A smooth textured pumpkin pie can be achieved without the addition of eggs or dairy milk. No-Bake Vegan Strawberry Pie gets its lightness from tofu.* Instead of ice cream, Ridiculously Easy Pineapple Sorbet is a simple, sweet ending to a plant-based meal. Even pudding is possible with a recipe like Vegan Mexican Chocolate Sweet Potato Pudding.** And creamy Nutty Frosting makes a perfect topping for an oil-free baked dessert to eat at home or out on an excursion.

Even though low-fat, plant-based cooking may not be an adventure on the scale of pursuing Moby Dick in a row boat, there is certainly much reason to be optimistic about the plant-based exploits we can undertake in our own kitchen. This style of cooking frees us to explore new and creative ways to satisfy our cravings. Chef Del says that discovering cauliflower as a creamy base was a fortunate accident that happened while making another recipe. That's how many new ideas come. For example, you may discover that you can lower the fat-content of a creamy soup by substituting some of the cashew cream with blended, well-cooked whole grains. Or, you can vary the amount of liquid in a recipe to make your plant-based sauces thicker or thinner. Hummus, for example, can be conveniently adjusted in order to use it as a sandwich spread or as a salad dressing. 

By optimistically trying new recipes and experimenting with old ones, you'll discover that creamy foods don't require artery-clogging oil or animal products which raise the risk of cancer. Check our the websites below to start on your own plant-based adventure. A happy — and heart-healthy — ending awaits.

*Most shelf-stable brands of tofu like MoriNu use soy protein isolate. Instead, look for refrigerated, water-packed tofu made from whole, organic soybeans and cut the block of tofu to match the amount of MoriNu called for in the recipe.

**For chocolate desserts, I prefer to use carob powder to avoid caffeine. For my patients following the Starch-Smarter or Starch-Smartest diet plans, cayenne pepper should be avoided.

Explore the following web-sites for low-fat, whole-food, plant-based recipes:

(1) StraightUpFood.com

(2) FatFreeVegan.com

(3) TheVegan8.com

(4) HappyHerbivore.com

(5) ForksOverKnives.com

(6) Engine2Diet.com

(7) NutritionStudies.org

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