Vegan carbonara made using the science of food magic to make a creamy, typically egg and pork based, sauce from plant sources that doesn’t use ultra-processed ingredients! You’re hooked right. Or, you’re at least a little curious. Read on for more information and make sure to tag me on social media when you make your own bowl! My Instagram account info is at the bottom of this post, and I’d love to see your creation!Jump to Recipe
So….WTF is Carbonara sauce? Carbonara is a relatively new pasta dish in the grand scheme of Italian food, but it has roots to many classic recipes like cacio e pepe, pasta alla gricia, and cacio e uova. The main ingredients for a standard Carbonara are eggs, hard cheese like pecorino romano or parmesan, cured pork but more pancetta style than bacon. The result is a creamy sauce with subtle notes of egg that is balanced with the tang of aged cheese and then brought together with salty the bites of pancetta.
To make the carbonara flavor profile happen using all plant based ingredients is the kind of food challenge that I love. I wanted to stay away from using processed ingredients like vegan parm or a plant based “egg”, because I know that not everyone has access to those things or wants to use them. Plus, they can be expensive! My goal wasn’t to make a healthier version of the dish, but one of the benefits of plant based meals is that they are nutrient dense (AKA healthier). Where do the flavors come from then?!?
The first and hardest part I tackled was where to get that eggy flavor without having to turn to black salt, or kala namak, because it’s far too sulphurous for a recipe like this, and that stuff gives me a terrible stomachache. I want to like black salt, because all the vegan cool kids are using it, but I just can’t. Anyways, so, I needed to figure out where to get egginess, and I remembered something I wrote in my book, about cauliflower. Cauliflower has a lot of sulphur in it, but it’s not overpowering. My thought was to boil it for a good long time in veggie stock and then puree it without draining. The result, oddly, had a mild egg flavor/aroma which was perfect for this dish. Next up is where to get that cheese flavor.
Vegan 101. Always have nutritional yeast on hand. Always. You’ll use it in just about everything. First off, WTF is nutritional yeast, or “nooch” as the cool kids say? Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast, AKA dead, that was is the same genus and species used to make bread and bake beer, but it’s grown specifically as a food product. The yeast is grown on molasses or other sugar source, heated to deactivate, dried, crumbled, and packaged. You can get either unfortified or fortified, and the difference is that unfortified is the yeast all on its own, whereas the fortified has vitamins and minerals added. Both kinds of packaged nooch have B vitamins, but the fortified has more. Why use it? Nooch adds a parmesan cheese flavor and a little bit of umami. It’s great for making a cheese sauce, giving a tomato based dish a little kick of flavor, or sprinkled on top of popcorn.
The other key ingredient for any vegan cheese sauce, and one that gets overlooked all the time, is the use of white or mellow miso paste. Most vegan cheese sauces stick only to nutritional yeast for cheesy flavor but white miso makes a major difference. Miso is a combination of fermented soybeans, or chickpeas, and rice. White or mellow miso paste has more rice and a shorter fermentation time with less added salt. Red or dark miso has more soy beans, a long fermentation, and more salt. Red miso is great for a soup or a dish that needs a lot of umami, whereas white gives a cheesy flavor similar to a spreadable cheese.
Finally, the pancetta. Pancetta is thin sliced, salt cured pork belly. Bacon is smoke cured and considered raw meat which needs to be cooked prior to eating. The biggest difference between the two is flavor since they are both made from pork belly. In a carbonara you want the acidic saltiness of pancetta to balance the eggy and cheesy flavor of the sauce. Now, you could skip this in the recipe if you want the dish to be even less fuss, but I really enjoyed the little bits of flavor that it added. I used tempeh, which is compressed and fermented soybean, for the base and then pan cooked it in a skillet with soy sauce, paprika, onion powder, and a little liquid smoke. I know that pancetta isn’t smoky, but I liked the hint of added flavor that it gave to the overall dish.
Last week I was sitting at my kitchen table with my perfectly behaved children who were not throwing silverware at me nor covered in soup that was being applied by make-up, and it dawned on me that I’ve been a bit too extra with my recipes. I’ve had this whole blogging thing completely backwards in my head. I used Instagram and other social media apps to showcase my “easy” recipes and my blog was all about the ones that were too complex for an IG caption. I thought to myself, self, people are going to want to read my outrageously complex recipe post because they want to spend a full day or two in the kitchen just like I do. The result is this recipe. I wanted something that is delicious, limited ingredients, and low fuss. Start to finish I made this meal in 30 minutes with minimal prep work.
- Immersion blender or upright blender
- 2 cups chopped cauliflower (about 1/2 small head of cauliflower)
- 4 cups low sodium vegetable broth (golden color is best)
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 small onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
- 1 tablespoon white miso
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon corn starch
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 pound long noodles (spaghetti, linguine, bucatini )
- 1/2 cup pasta water (reserved after boiling)
Optional tempeh "pancetta"
- 4 ounces tempeh (half a block)
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon nutritional yeast
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke (optional )
- In a small pot heat the cauliflower, onion, garlic, and vegetable stock over medium heat, covered, and simmer for 15 minutes. While cauliflower cooks start to boil water to cook the noodles and make the tempeh.
- Fill a large pot with 2 quarts of water and 2-3 tablespoons of salt. Bring to boil and cook the noodles until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water before draining.
- Optional tempeh instructions: Slice the tempeh into thin strips then into 1/4" squares. The smaller and thinner they are the better they will soak up the seasonings. Heat a small non-stick frying pan over medium high heat. Add in the sliced tempeh and cook for 2 minutes, flipping once, then evenly distribute the soy sauce and cook for 1 min longer. Sprinkle the rest of the spices over the tempeh, toss to coat, then drizzle the olive oil over. Cook for only 1 min longer. *If using the liquid smoke add in with the soy sauce at the beginning.
- Once the cauliflower has boiled add in the nutritional yeast, miso, garlic and onion powder, corn starch and salt. Puree using an immersion or upright blender. An immersion blender is easier because you can puree it right in the pot. Add in the 1/2 cup of pasta water and puree again until smooth.
- Pour the sauce over the drained noodles, either in the large pot or a serving dish, and reserve about 1/4-1/2 cup of sauce to top individual servings. Toss then add in optional seasoned tempeh. Serve with a drizzle more of sauce, some fresh cracked pepper, and any other additional garnishment.
Love this recipe? Make sure to pin it if you are on Pinterest and tag me on Instagram if you make it and post. I love to give people shout-outs when they have made my recipes. I post a lot of recipes to my IG and give plenty of tips and tricks for kitchen time. If you’re not following already make sure to add me!
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