Let’s be honest. Tofu doesn’t really taste like anything. Neither does pasta, rice, couscous or quinoa. That is, until you put sauce on it. Then the flavor possibilities are endless. Sweet, savory, spicy, creamy, peanut-y – the list goes on.
Having a handle on a few basic sauces can take your cooking from so-so to AWESOME without too much extra effort. This is also true for non-vegans, but I would argue that getting your sauces down is more critical in plant-based cooking. If you’ve ever cooked with tofu, you know it’s like a sponge, soaking up the flavor of whatever marinade or sauce you pair with it. This is why it’s so important to release as much water as possible before you start cooking.
Pasta, rice, couscous, quinoa and other grains are pretty self-explanatory. Each has a naturally mild flavor, but all of them really require a fantastic sauce (and some delicious veggies) to make a balanced, delicious meal. Besides, we humans like our food wet. Have you ever noticed that? Maybe that’s just me. Anyway…
Before I tell you what these super-important sauces are, it’s worth mentioning that there’s more to making a great sauce than flavor. Of course it needs to taste good, but you also want your sauce to stick, smother or cling to whatever you pour it on. That means the sauce needs to be thick and stable. And in vegan cooking, we have to get a bit more creative to achieve this.
Whether you’re new to a vegan meal plan or have been cooking plant-based food for ages, it’s never too late to learn something new. Master the five sauces below and I guarantee it’ll boost your confidence level in the kitchen.
This is a really easy sauce you can jazz up in a lot of different ways. On a basic level, tahini sauce is just tahini (a paste made from ground sesame seeds), lemon juice and a pinch of salt and pepper. If you want to get fancy, you can add cilantro, curry powder, or even orange juice to suit the flavor profile of whatever you’re making.
This recipe from Real Simple is about as basic as it gets.
Get the recipe: Lemon-Tahini Sauce
Where would we be without tomato sauce? I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine a world without spaghetti or pizza. Thus, mastering homemade tomato sauce is crucial to our survival. And, once you make your own, you’ll never go back. That’s right. You won’t want to buy marinara sauce in a jar ever again, so be ready for that reality.
For a basic tomato sauce, you can’t go wrong with this one from the New York Times.
Get the recipe: Simple Tomato Sauce
I love a good peanut sauce with everything from noodles to spring rolls. Though arguably best when paired with Asian food, you can also drizzle it on roasted veggies or tropical fruit for an extra protein kick and lots of flavor. Honestly, you might just want to put it on everything. And that’s totally fine by me.
For a super versatile peanut sauce you’ll want to make again and again, follow this recipe from Cookie + Kate.
Get the recipe: Peanut Dipping Sauce
Everyone remembers diving into a bowl of fettuccine alfredo in his or her pre-vegan days. Now, you can re-live those delicious moments with a plant-based sauce that doesn’t contain a drop of dairy. Use it to smother your favorite pasta, or spread it on a pizza crust and top with roasted squash and arugula.
This recipe from The Endless Meal nails it in both the flavor and consistency categories.
Get the recipe: Dreamy Vegan Cauliflower Alfredo
I really couldn’t think of another word to describe this sauce other than “cheese” because that’s really what it tastes like. I’ve used the sauce from our recipe for Awesome Vegan Macaroni & Cheese in numerous ways. Not only is it good on pasta, I’ve made it to prepare Loaded Sweet Potato Nachos and Scalloped Potatoes.
This recipe belongs to Well Vegan, and I am highly obsessed with it.
Get the recipe: Awesome Vegan Macaroni and Cheese
What are your favorite sauce recipes to cook with? Did we miss any of the basics here?