Vegan risotto?
May 29, 2015 3:05 PM   Subscribe

Halp! I am not a vegan. Someone I have a date with is, and I'm making risotto because Reasons. Small problem...

I've made risotto many, many times. Totally comfortable with it. My concern is the usual finishing (mantecato) with butter and cheese. This is obviously a problem for a vegan. I'll note he's a vegan solely because of food preferences (hates the texture of meats, not a fan of the flavour a lot of the time), and skews vegetarian (as in, eats cheese) in the winter months. There's no "OH GOD ANIMAL PRODUCTS" worry here, just respecting choices.

What do I use to substitute for butter and cheese to finish? I cook for a living so complexity of answers isn't a problem. Finances are snug but not super tight, so some spendiness in really specialist ingredients is okay, though I'd prefer to stay away from large quantities of things I am unlikely to want to eat on my own (e.g. a block of vegan 'cheese'). NB: Anything based on nuts is not an option, due to allergies on my part.

Looking around the net I see some solutions; I'm looking for what actual people I trust (as in, Mefites) have tried. Ideally I'm looking for answers from non-vegans who have had classic risottos and can comment on the differences.

While I have a couple ideas in mind, your suggestions about how to do the mantecato vegan-style can change my recipe, that's not a problem. I'm looking for the best solution, and can work backwards to a delicious recipe from there.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering to Food & Drink (30 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I have repeatedly made both of these recipes vegan and both are delicious, with no fake cheese required!

Baked mushroom risotto (The Tofutti cream cheese is a nice touch but I usually don't bother.)

Butternut Squash Risotto (You can use any vegan butter or even olive oil - you can skip the splash of heavy cream and the Parmesan.)
posted by cessair at 3:15 PM on May 29, 2015

I make dairy-free risotto all the time and I have had regular risotto in the past. Honestly, I usually just skip that step or use a dollop of Earth Balance margarine in place of the butter. I don't think you're going to find a decent substitute for parmesan. I make a parmesan substitute out of equal parts pine nuts and nutritional yeast, plus some salt, but that has nuts and is fine for sprinkling on things but wouldn't be quite right for the mantecato, I don't think.
posted by carolr at 3:17 PM on May 29, 2015

I haven't tried it on risotto yet, but Kenji Lopez-Alt's Dried Olive & Miso shake has done wonders on other pastas for me.
posted by CrystalDave at 3:18 PM on May 29, 2015 [5 favorites]

I have made vegan risotto that finishes with a last bit of stock instead of a fat, and I once used some pretty mediocre jar powdery faux parmesan that, eh, it did bring a scent of parm but eh still. My primary experience there is don't do that.

I have actually had this conversation with a person who lived and cooked in Italy, and beans were discussed though I never looked into it before, and I just did a bunch of googling to try to refresh my memory and found this blog post which, in translation says:

Now it is removed from the heat and creamed. To do so you may want to consider the following options: - combine one tablespoon (for 4 persons) of soy butter or non-hydrogenated margarine or - combine two tablespoons of vegetable cream (soy will do), or - to join a cream obtained by blending about 120 grams of white beans (even canned are fine) with a few tablespoons of broth. Stir well, let stand two minutes (no more!) and serve on plates (preferably not heated!). If you like, the rice can be dusted with yeast flakes or with the peeled almonds and ground (with the addition of a pinch of salt). The creaming with the cream of beans will amaze you! (bold mine)

I can't swear by it first hand, but I have used white bean mash to thicken soups and it was damn fine.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:19 PM on May 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

I really like Earth Balance as a vegan butter alternative. I discovered it when living with vegans and it doesn't have that weird margarine flavor. It doesn't taste exactly like butter, but it's close.
posted by lunasol at 3:20 PM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Go with Earth Balance. I'd maybe offer a pinch of nutritional yeast to sprinkle with if your dining partner wishes, but I don't think it's necessary if you have stirred it long enough to make it creamy and smooth and it has lots of flavor.
posted by mynameisluka at 3:22 PM on May 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

A tip on the Earth Balance: use the "Original" variety and not the "Omega-3" variety, which has an inescapable flavor of pond weed.
posted by dorque at 3:26 PM on May 29, 2015 [5 favorites]

When I'm taking a break from dairy, like you do, I've enjoyed this old Moosewood recipe. The corn lends creaminess. It is no Risotto alla Milanese, however -- it very much feels like a vegetarian/vegan recipe. But, it's got good texture and flavors from the vegetables. You could always put a bowl of freshly grated parm on the table for anyone that wants to help themselves at the table.

Midsummer Risotto (bonus: summery!)
posted by missmobtown at 3:28 PM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: While that sounds delicious, pine nuts are specifically a thing I cannot eat (nothing more romantic than anaphylaxis!) and which I miss terribly.

CrystalDave, I'll be putting that recipe in my arsenal, as it sounds wonderful. It doesn't look like it would hit the thickening/creaming thing that a mantecato does, though.

Lyn Never, I never (heh!) would have thought of beans. That may well do the trick.

I'm not super concerned about flavour (which I can fiddle with) so much as I am texture. Sorry for not specifying that.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:28 PM on May 29, 2015

I don't think I really used anything but stock when I'd make vegan risotto. Maybe some more olive oil? Everybody liked it fine.

I do make a bean sauce for pasta that's just pureed onions/garlic/stock/white beans that a lot of my omni friends liked. The one note is that it gets grainy after it cools.
posted by kendrak at 3:37 PM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

I would use some olive oil, mostly for some extra fat. Things like nutritional yeast and dried mushrooms can kind of replace the umami parmesan has.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 3:55 PM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

When I've done vegan risotto I go for a lot of mushroom flavor (maybe even truffle oil) at the beginning and the end, and just use olive oil for the other fat needs. Veggie stock is often sort of wanting, so I'd think about how to doctor up a really good stock (adding some soy sauce is one expedient) and trust that to carry you through. I haven't found nutritional yeast to be a good solution, the taste is too distinctive to my palate, but your person might feel differently.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:56 PM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm so bummed about the nut thing because I am assuming Ground Sesame Paste (Tahini) is on the "no" list. It could maybe go great with other veg and especially mushrooms and add a creaminess if you pre-mixed to the right consistency w/ H20, Sea Salt, and maybe a touch of Garlic or quality Garlic Powder? Mixed in at the end to taste. This could also be totally disgusting haha, and you probably shouldn't fiddle with recipes like that before a date!!

Since that's not an option....

Make a rich veg stock heavy on dried and fresh mushrooms & use that. There is a version of Risotto with Red Wine just finish with a quality Olive Oil at the table w/ some fresh herbs on top, skip any cream, butter, or cheese.

You could maybe roast and puree some cauliflower to come up with a creamy element?? But I think it isn't necessary.

Go less, not more. Let the flavors of a few premium fresh ingredients shine.
posted by jbenben at 4:31 PM on May 29, 2015

Just off the top of my head, I'd experiment with using some potato water, to add some starchy texture to your vegetable stock, and a little (very little) Marmite to add a rich, not exactly meaty, but you know, rich flavor.
posted by valkane at 4:36 PM on May 29, 2015

But, now that I think about it, adding starch to a starch is kinda stupid, but that's the way I cook sometimes. Cue that scene from Big Night where the woman orders spaghetti with her risotto.
posted by valkane at 4:38 PM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

When I make risotto for a vegan friend, I just finish with a bit of Earth Balance. But Toffuti would also be an option.
posted by brianogilvie at 4:47 PM on May 29, 2015

Oh, I make risotto a lot as a vegan! I put some Earth Balance in towards the end for (and also for starting), use really good homemade veggie stock, and I don't mind not having any cheese substitute of any sort mostly because everything is so creamy and delightful anyway. I might toss some fresh or frozen peas towards the end because it looks pretty. I mean, you can use Tofutti vegan cream cheese if you like, but I don't think it's necessary. You cook for a living so you got this. If you don't want to spend money on EB, just use really good olive oil, really good veg stock, a decent wine, and you should be golden.
posted by Kitteh at 4:53 PM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've made it. I used a ton of mushrooms. I don't think I added fat at the end, but I would just use olive oil - there's enough starch that it should form an emulsion. I would add a knob of miso (or some nutritional yeast) to approximate the Parmesan.
posted by O9scar at 5:07 PM on May 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

I have Crohn's so I keep refined fats and oils out of my diet as much as possible. But I've also been an OH GOD ANIMAL PRODUCTS vegan for almost 2/3 of my life and grew up on a chicken farm, so my suggestions might possibly cause you to roll your eyes at the deafening ignorance of tradition because OH MY GOD RISOTTO IS AN INSTITUTION HOW DARE YOU.

Steamed cauliflower beat to fluff or puréed with a light miso and maybe a bit of nutritional yeast added to it (thin to taste with water or stock or if you're hardcore a bit of rejuvelac) can make you a wonderful umami crumble-to-paste with a buttery/cheesy mouthfeel (especially if you toast the nooch or maybe even put some scorch on the cauli). My dude likes it best with a bit of sulfurous/eggy kala namak added in at the finish (but just a bit or it starts to taste more like eggs than anything else). If you make your own stock to use when thinning preparations like this, mushroom-and-celery the hell out of it.

When I cook risotto for bigger groups, I opt for a more crowd-pleasing approach and swap bean paste for the cauli. A lot of vegans use white beans to avoid messing with the look of risotto, but I absolutely love using a heartier, pulpier bean (like the mother stallards or goat's eye varieties that Ranch Gordo carry). Bean paste emulsifies fats really well, so if you can handle a lot of oil and want a final product that's really il più burrosa, that'd be the way to do it up.

When we have tons of avocados, we've also made a pretty wonderful avocado cream (still along the lines of the suggestions above, with a bit of kala namak and toasted nutritional yeast). My boyfriend loves cheese and butter, but when avocados are coming out of our ears he'll routinely make an avocado risotto. I LOVE it with lots of salt and pepper.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 6:10 PM on May 29, 2015 [4 favorites]

Creamed sweet corn. There's a restaurant here that makes a sweet corn risotto that is absolutely delicious.
posted by jferg at 6:42 PM on May 29, 2015

Response by poster: I'm so bummed about the nut thing because I am assuming Ground Sesame Paste (Tahini) is on the "no" list

Nope. Seeds are not nuts, and are fine.

Corn is an interesting idea. Avocado too, except that dude is Italian and might balk at the idea of avocado risotto. (I wouldn't and want to try.)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:37 PM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

lots of mushrooms, lots of peas and then a drizzle of your favorite oil.
posted by mmascolino at 8:41 PM on May 29, 2015

The rice itself is the source for the creaminess, really. I've made compliments-from-hard-to-please-guests risotto several times that just 'happened to be' vegan, using vegetable broth and white wine (and chopped jalapeno peppers, usually, though leeks work great too and are a bit more traditional).

If you use arborio rice, it lets off a lot of starch. Then you add a good bit of delicious stock and flavors and it makes a nice creamy sauce as it cooks down. The food lab on serious eats did a little investigation, if you want to take a look at it: . They still add cream / cheese but I've never really seen the need when making it myself. (You might need to add a bit more liquid, if you were adding enough butter and cream to noticeably thin the sauce.)
posted by Lady Li at 1:04 AM on May 30, 2015

Best answer: I recently came across the idea that one can make a vegan cream out of onion. Read about it here. Risotto seems like the perfect application. :)
posted by Halo in reverse at 1:39 AM on May 30, 2015 [6 favorites]

P.S. People who are vegetarian for reasons involving texture are also likely to have problems with mushrooms (sometimes squashes too). And as a vegetarian-working-on-becoming-vegan, woe betide the restaurant that serves mushroom risotto (or pasta) as their only veggie option: it reeks of laziness to me. Oh wow, mushroom risotto. Again.
posted by Halo in reverse at 1:43 AM on May 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Olive oil should work, but if you wanted it to be creamier you could try making some cashew cream. You wouldn't need too much - and ingredient wise it's pretty simple (will only be surplus cashews left over)
posted by Atwood at 5:31 AM on May 30, 2015

Response by poster: Halo, thank you! That's actually ideal. (And I'm not doing mushroom; I'm doing something with preserved lemon.)

Atwood, thanks... except I am allergic to nuts as I said in my question.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:42 AM on May 30, 2015

I came here to recommend the onion trick. I've tried it in non-risotto preparations and it really does work. The onion puree can be very sweet though, depending on the onion, so keep that in mind as you balance your flavors.

I've also heard of miso being used effectively in risotto to provide the umami and saltiness of cheese. This Serious Eats polenta recipe gives the general idea, and they mention using it in risotto in the comments. If you don't mind straying from a strictly Italian flavor profile, this Mushroom Miso Risotto recipe is strictly vegan.
posted by tofu_crouton at 10:08 AM on May 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

Huh. I've never seen the onion cream thing before, but part of getting into the habit of caramelizing huge amounts of onions and freezing them has been using them in stuff like this — I was going to recommend a mince or puree. The flavor's definitely distinctive — more than the straight onion cream, obvs. — but I tend to like risotto with caramelized onions in it already.

I don't know if coconut counts for your allergy, but if not, I made a thai curry risotto (I'm obviously not a purist) that came out pretty well. I'd bet you could too.
posted by klangklangston at 8:39 PM on May 30, 2015

Response by poster: So to update:

- 1/2 onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 4 golfball sized preserved lemons
- chili flake
- 1.5L veg stock
- lots of chopped basil

Made risotto as per usual, finished with the onion cream and the basil, served with a splooge of olive oil over top. Delicious, got rave reviews. Thanks!
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:59 AM on May 31, 2015 [4 favorites]

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