Far back into my pre-vegan days, when I was pregnant with my oldest son Dominic, I had what you might call a love-hate relationship with food. I loved it, all of it, in large quantities, and hated when I couldn’t satisfy a craving! I don’t recall every having any of those outlandish, cliched cravings like pickles and ice cream, but it’s no exaggeration to say that I had a passionate love affair with junk-food. I look back on those nine months now and cringe, knowing that I could have been kinder to my body and my growing baby.
One of the things I HAD to have, at least two or three times a week, was KFC’s Famous Bowl. Actually, it’s funny that they call it that, because hardly anyone I know has ever heard of it. If you’ve never had one, here’s the gist: layers of mashed potatoes, corn, chicken, gravy, and shredded cheddar cheese. It’s a bowl of stick-to-your-ribs, comforting bliss. I would hit the drive-thru, pull into the parking lot with my bag, and inhale it, the bowl resting half on the steering wheel and half on my giant pregnant belly.
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard this, I’d probably be set for life.
It’s a sentiment I understand. In my first months of being vegan, I worried that I would never experience the joy of cheese again. Tangy, salty, savory, melty, gooey cheese. Over the years in my pre-vegan days, I’d tried a few non-dairy cheeses, and was not impressed. I vividly remember making hamburgers for my boys and slapping a slice of soy cheese on each, hoping it would melt. It didn’t. My son Charlie, who was about 3 at the time, poked at it skeptically and said, “Mom do I have to eat this toy cheese?”
Experiences like this did not make me enthusiastic about the giving up of cheese when I decided to be vegan, but once I found out that dairy cheese is far from a cruelty-free product, I knew I could never eat it again in good conscience, and as I learned more about the non-dairy cheese products available nowadays and tested them out for myself, I breathed a sigh of relief. These newer products had more complex flavor profiles, a more satisfying mouthfeel, and more importantly, MELTED! Today’s vegan doesn’t even need to rely solely on store-bought non-dairy cheeses with the abundance of DIY recipes available online. I sometimes come across a product or recipe that doesn’t please my palate, but at least now, when someone says, “I’d go vegan but I could never give up cheese,” I can say to them with confidence, “Don’t worry, you don’t have to!”
I thought I’d make this blog’s inaugural recipe my own rendition of one that is quite popular among the vegan/plant-based crowd at the moment (though I was working on this recipe long before similar ones started popping up!), and popular for good reason! This cheesy sauce is thick and velvety and sure to please (and fool!) everyone, and doesn’t rely on gobs of oil to achieve a rich, smooth texture and taste…in fact, it’s oil-free! When I gave my mom a jar of it to sample, I asked her if she could identify its main ingredients, and she couldn’t! Its versatility can take it anywhere from mac and cheese to nachos to chili queso dip and beyond, and the star ingredients may surprise you, but they work together to create a truly satisfying cheesiness. Be sure to check out my recipe for Lentil Nachos Supreme at the end of this post using this very sauce!
Vegan Potato Cheese Sauce
A rich and tangy vegan cheese sauce that is sure to satisfy your cravings! Suitable for mac n' cheese, nachos, baked potatoes, or any dish you'd like.
4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced to equal about 4 cups (russets will work, too)
2 small carrots, peeled and cut into thin rounds to equal about 1 heaping cup.
½ large yellow or white onion, diced
½ cup cashews (see note below)
2 teaspoons each garlic powder and onion powder
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ cup nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon tapioca starch or cornstarch
2 teaspoons each mellow white miso paste and tomato paste
Cover the potatoes, carrots, and onion in a large saucepan with about 4 cups of water, and boil until soft.
Using a slotted spoon, lift out the veggies and transfer to your blender, then add all remaining ingredients. DO NOT throw out your veggie water! You'll need it for blending.
Add to the ingredients in the blender 2 cups of the veggie water, and blend on high until fully incorporated. If you have a blender with a tamper, you may need to use it to get things going. If you have a regular blender, you may need to stop and shove things down a bit with a spatula. Add a bit more of the water, blend, and repeat, until you get a free-flowing cheesy vortex happening. If you find that you've added too much water and your cheese sauce is too thin, you can blend in more tapioca or cornstarch a teaspoon at a time to thicken it back up.
This cheese sauce is ready to rock and roll! Try it on this Lentil Nacho Supreme recipe below, then pour the rest into jars and refrigerate for up to a week.
Cashews: if you have a high-powered blender, such as a Vitamix or Blendtec, cashews can be added dry without soaking. If you are using a standard blender, I recommend soaking the cashews overnight for a minimum of 8 hours, OR boiling them until very soft before blending.
By Shannon Cuoco
The Kinder Kitchen http://thekinderkitchen.com/
LENTIL NACHOS SUPREME (serves 4)
1/4 cup (plus a bit more) vegetable broth or stock
2 cups cooked green lentils (not green split peas!)
1 cup each diced white or yellow onion and diced bell pepper of any color
1 14oz can of fire roasted diced tomatoes, drained but not rinsed
1 4 oz can diced green chiles
1 TBS taco seasoning OR 1 tsp each ground cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, and onion powder
2 tsp Mexican (or regular) oregano
About 1 cup of That Potato Cheese Sauce
Any additional nacho toppings desired, such as black olives, salsa, guacamole, etc
Heat broth til bubbling in a large skillet. Sautee peppers and onion in the broth til soft, adding additional splashes of broth to the skillet if needed to keep from sticking.
Add all other ingredients and another splash of broth and heat til bubbly.
Spoon the lentil mixture onto tortilla chips, drizzle with the cheese sauce, and add desired toppings.
I’m Shannon, and it’s my pleasure and honor to be here, bringing you easy-to-make vegan recipes and tips for navigating the brave world of veganism! Some are my original creations, some have been inspired by the work of other fellow vegan home-cooks, and some are “veganized” versions of those favorites we have all loved through the years but now want healthier, compassionate versions of.
If you’re new to the vegan lifestyle and feel a bit mystified by this new way of cooking, have no fear. I will also feature guidance and tips for newbies, from easy vegan substitutes for meat, dairy, and eggs, to commonly asked questions about living vegan in a non-vegan world, to great new vegan-friendly products for health/beauty and home use. And if you have questions that you don’t find the answers to here, let me know! It’s likely that others are wondering too.
A little about me, personally: I live with my husband and four sons in beautiful Western Colorado. My husband Chris is a meteorologist, and in addition to being a blog writer and working on my first cookbook, I am also a nurse, working in an addiction recovery center. I hold a certificate in plant-based nutrition from Cornell University and will be offering personalized, one-on-one vegan lifestyle coaching in the very near future.
I became vegan for reasons of animal welfare and health and wellness, both in equal measure. Veganism is about leading a life of compassion, and I firmly believe that to have a heart open to showing the most compassion to our fellow earthlings, the animals, you must first cultivate a sense of compassion for your own mind, body, and spirit. I try always to love myself and honor the one body and life I have on this planet, so I strive to make healthy choices in what I eat, in exercising my body, in reducing and handling stress, and in my interactions with others, though I am human and just as prone to mistakes as anyone!
So, thank you for being here, and please subscribe to my blog so you can have access to the latest posts.
Happy cooking and much love,