penne with asparagus, walnuts and lemon-cashew cream sauce photo by carmen troesser

8 plant-based comfort food recipes

As a chef and teacher, I didn’t used to think much about whole-food, plant-based diets – those that eschew processed foods, meat, dairy, eggs, sugar and oil. But in January, this butcher’s daughter, who took pride in cooking with bacon and butter, had to suddenly shift gears. Why? I almost lost my husband to heart disease. I knew then that life had to change. 

I started thinking about food in a totally different way – got back in the kitchen, researched, cooked, experimented and tested. I put veggies on the center of the plate. These are not, “Oh shit, there’s a vegan at my table” recipes. It’s food that’s familiar, comforting, full of flavor – just not oil. Trust me, no one will feel cheated. This is family-style food that celebrates a place at the table for everyone sharing a meal, because isn’t that what it’s all about?

Penne with Asparagus, Walnuts and Lemon-Cashew Cream Sauce
8 servings

2 lbs. asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
½ cup vegetable stock
½ cup chopped walnuts
2 garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 lb. whole-grain penne pasta, cooked according to package directions
2 cups Lemon-Cashew Cream Sauce (recipe follows)
¼ cup roughly chopped tarragon, for garnish

• To a large skillet over medium heat, add the asparagus, onion and shallot. Cook until the onion is translucent and begins to brown, and the asparagus is tender, about 5 minutes, adding the broth 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time to prevent sticking.

• Add the walnuts and garlic and cook 2 to 3 minutes. Add the cooked pasta and stir to combine, then fold in the cream sauce and transfer to a serving bowl or platter. Garnish with the tarragon.

Lemon-Cashew Cream Sauce
Makes 2 cups

2 cups cashews
2 cups unsweetened almond milk, divided, plus more if needed
¼ cup nutritional yeast
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. lemon zest
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

• Soak the cashews in very hot water 20 minutes.

• In a high-powered blender, combine 1½ cups almond milk, the nutritional yeast, garlic, lemon juice and lemon zest. Add the soaked cashews and blend on high until creamy and smooth, scraping down sides as needed. Taste and add salt and pepper.

• Transfer the sauce to a saucepan and cook, whisking frequently, over medium-low to medium heat until the sauce bubbles and thickens, about 5 minutes. Slowly add the remaining ½ cup almond milk. If the mixture still seems too thick, add more almond milk 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time until it reaches the desired consistency. Keep warm over very low heat until ready to use.

wine-braised jackfruit over creamy polenta // photo by carmen troesser

Wine-Braised Jackfruit with Creamy Polenta

If this is the first time you’ve heard of jackfruit, it was only a matter of time. A healthy and sustainable meat alternative, jackfruit has a great texture, works especially well with bold flavors and makes a great substitute for barbecue pork. It's also the key to making this wine-braised dish you won't believe is meatless.

6 to 8 servings

8 oz. crimini mushrooms, quartered
3 20-oz. cans jackfruit chunks in brine, rinsed
1 cup sliced leeks (white part only)
2 cups vegetable stock, divided
1½ cups diced onion
1 cup sliced carrots
1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup whole-wheat flour
2 cups red wine
1 cup frozen pearl onions
2 bay leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Creamy polenta, for serving (recipe follows)

• To a large Dutch oven over medium heat, add the mushrooms and saute until they begin to release liquid. Add the jackfruit and leeks, and cook until the leeks are translucent and mushrooms softened, about 5 minutes. If the vegetables stick, add the stock 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

• Return the Dutch oven to medium heat and add the onion, carrots, shallot and garlic. Saute until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons stock, saute 1 minute then sprinkle the flour over the mixture. Saute 1 minute, stirring to coat the vegetables in the flour.

• Increase the heat to high and add the wine, scraping up any brown bits to deglaze the pan. Stirring constantly, add the remaining stock and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium. Add the reserved jackfruit mixture, pearl onions and bay leaves. Reduce the heat to low, cover and let simmer until the vegetables are tender and the jackfruit shreds easily, about 1 hour. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve over creamy polenta.

Creamy Polenta

Cashew milk is a perfect choice for this dish because it has a creamier texture than alternatives like almond milk and a milder flavor than something like coconut milk, which would be overpowering. If you’re in a hurry, quick-cooking grits would work, too.

6 to 8 servings

2 cups cashew milk, plus more if needed
2 cups vegetable stock
1 cup Bob’s Red Mill Corn Grits
¼ cup nutritional yeast

• In a large pot over high heat, bring the cashew milk and stock to a boil. Slowly whisk in the cornmeal, making sure there are no lumps.

• Reduce the heat to medium-low and let the polenta simmer, whisking occasionally, until it has a soft, creamy texture, 20 to 25 minutes. If it seems too thick, add a little more cashew milk.

Charred Corn Tamale Pie

Adapted from a “Forks Over Knives” recipe

6 to 8 servings

3 ears corn, kernels removed, about 2½ cups
1½ cups chopped yellow onion
1 8-oz. package cremini mushrooms
3 garlic cloves, minced
½ jalapeno, finely diced (or more to taste)
1 Tbsp. chili powder
2 15-oz. cans fire-roasted tomatoes
1 15-oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 15-oz. can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 15-oz. can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
½ cup water, plus more as needed
½ cup whole-wheat pastry flour
½ cup yellow cornmeal
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. kosher salt
¾ cup plant milk (plus more as needed)
¼ cup finely chopped cilantro
Hot sauce, for serving

• To a hot cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, add the corn. Stir until charred in spots. It will crackle and pop. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

• Return the skillet to medium-high heat and add the onion, mushrooms, garlic, jalapeno and chili powder, stirring occasionally until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add water as needed, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time to prevent sticking.

• Increase the heat to high and add the tomatoes, black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, 1½ cups reserved charred corn and ½ cup water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer 8 minutes.

• Meanwhile, make the topping. In a medium bowl, combine the remaining 1 cup charred corn, flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. Add the plant milk and stir until just moistened. It should have the consistency of cornbread batter.

• Dollop tablespoons of the topping over the simmering bean stew. Cover until the topping is cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes. Sprinkle with the cilantro and serve with hot sauce.

mushroom and spinach lasagna // photo by carmen troesser

Mushroom and Spinach Lasagna

I’m not going to lie, there are quite a few steps to this lasagna – but it’s so worth it. Fresh pasta is layered with rich mushroom marinara, spinach and tangy, cheesy, nutty dairy-free ricotta. The sauce and ricotta can be made ahead, or if you’re doing it all at once, make the marinara first, then the pasta, then the ricotta while the sauce is simmering. Contrary to popular belief, pasta does not require eggs. Back in the day, only wealthy Italians made egg pasta. All you need is 00 flour, semolina and water.

10 to 12 servings

3 cups semolina
1½ cups 00 flour, plus more for dusting
1 pinch kosher salt, plus more for boiling
1½ cups warm water
2½ to 3 cups Rich Mushroom Marinara, divided (recipe follows)
8 oz. baby spinach, divided
3 cups Almond-Cashew Ricotta, divided (recipe follows)
½ cup nutritional yeast, divided (optional)

Special equipment: pasta machine

• In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the semolina, flour and salt on low speed. With the mixer running, add the water very slowly. When the dough comes together, turn off the mixer and switch to the dough hook attachment.
• Knead the dough on medium speed about 8 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball and let rest covered with a towel 20 minutes.

• Lightly flour a work surface. Cut the dough into 6 equal pieces and cover with a towel. Shape 1 piece into a ½ inch-thick rectangle. Dust lightly with flour and roll it through the pasta machine on the widest setting. Fold the dough in thirds as if folding a letter, then roll it through the machine again. Repeat 4 times, dusting with flour if the dough sticks to the machine. Narrow the machine setting by 2 and roll the dough again. Continue narrowing the setting by 2 and rolling, dusting both sides with flour if necessary, until the dough is about 1/16 inch thick. Dust with flour on both sides and cut into 11-inch pieces. Repeat with remaining dough.

• Prepare an ice bath and line a sheet pan with several clean kitchen towels or parchment paper. Bring a 10-quart pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.
• Boil 3 or 4 noodles at a time, making sure not to crowd them, about 30 seconds. Carefully transfer the noodles to the ice bath, drain, then spread flat on the towels. Repeat with the remaining noodles and set aside.

• Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

• In a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, evenly spread ½ cup mushroom marinara. Layer 3 to 4 noodles on top, then another ½ cup marinara. Layer about a third of the spinach on top, then dot with about 1 cup ricotta. Sprinkle with ¼ cup nutritional yeast, if using. Repeat the pasta, marinara, spinach and ricotta layers two more times. Finish with a final layer of pasta and marinara, then sprinkle with the remaining ¼ cup nutritional yeast, if using. 

• Place the baking dish on a sheet pan and bake 30 minutes. Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees and bake until bubbling and lightly brown on top, about 15 minutes. Let cool 15 minutes before cutting.

Rich Mushroom Marinara
Makes 3½ cups

1 lb. baby bella or white button mushrooms, thickly sliced
2 cups diced onion
4 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup vegetable broth
½ cup dry red wine
1 6-oz. can tomato paste
2 28-oz. cans crushed tomatoes
2 14-oz. cans diced tomatoes
3 Tbsp. dried basil
2 Tbsp. dried oregano
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

• To a Dutch oven over medium heat, add the mushrooms. When the mushrooms begin to release liquid, add the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid is absorbed. When the mixture sticks to the pan, add 1 to 2 tablespoons broth at a time until ½ cup broth is absorbed and the onion is translucent.

• Add the wine to deglaze, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Stir in the tomato paste. Add the crushed and diced tomatoes, basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Simmer about 30 minutes, then taste and adjust seasonings. Simmer 20 minutes.

Almond-Cashew Ricotta
3 cups

2 cups raw slivered almonds
1 cup raw cashews
1 cup water, plus more if needed
¼ cup nutritional yeast
3 Tbsp. lemon juice, plus more if needed
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp. Maldon salt, plus more if needed

• Soak the almonds and cashews in very hot water at least 15 minutes or up to 1 hour, then drain.

• In a high-powered blender, combine the almonds and cashews, water, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, garlic and salt. Blend on high speed until smooth. If the nut mixture is too thick and the blender struggles, add water 1 tablespoon at a time until the mixture is smooth and creamy. When it’s no longer grainy, scrape into a bowl. Taste and season with salt or lemon, if necessary.

Marianne Moore is a longtime contributor to Sauce Magazine. 

Tags : Recipes