How do I get saucier?
November 15, 2018 2:29 PM   Subscribe

I need new vegan sauce ideas and recipes to go with the relatively blank canvas of veggies, proteins, and grains. Help me make dinner easy and delicious.

I like to make bowl type dinners of some veggies (roasted or sautéed) with a protein (tofu/tempe/fake meat/beans/whatever) dumped over some grains (rice or quinoa usually). My go to sauce has long been a lemon/garlic/tahini thing, but I'd like to expand my repertoire. I prefer tangy things, but am open to anything really. The main thing is that it should be quick and easy to make. Bonus if it mostly uses staples (or relative staples) so that I could improvise.

(Last night I made a bowl (rice, marinated tempeh, cauliflower, garlicky spinach, and sweet potatoes) that really would have been better with a sauce. )
posted by kendrak to Food & Drink (29 answers total) 94 users marked this as a favorite
Miso and (cheap) balsamic vinegar make a great sauce, and adding smoked paprika gives a bunch of extra savoury. Thinning up any condiment with balsamic is a really good base for a non-cooked sauce. I get through masses of wholegrain mustard this way.
posted by ambrosen at 2:35 PM on November 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

I make this faux-alfredo sauce regularly. It goes well on a lot of things beyond pasta. It takes a little time to steam the cauliflower and cashews but you can make a big batch of it and it keeps well.
posted by gauche at 2:38 PM on November 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

Instead of Tahini, use mustard. Good mustard. Great with roasted potatoes and brussel sprouts.
posted by gloturtle at 2:39 PM on November 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

Maple syrup + tamari is my favourite for grain/veg bowls. It's particularly good with roasted butternut or sweet potato and tempeh. Equal parts of each (can use less maple and more tamari if you like), simmer in pan while whisking until reduced to the consistency you want. You can easily spice it up, too; just toss in some red pepper flakes and/or grated ginger and/or minced garlic.
posted by halation at 2:40 PM on November 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've really loved every sauce I've tried from The First Mess (all vegan, whole sauce section about half way down the page). This sunshine sauce is SO good as one to start with.

Also mixing pretty equal parts red wine vinegar and good soy sauce (may 2 TBS each?) with a minced clove of garlic and about a tsp of grated fresh ginger and a TBS of minced kimchi (or sub a little hot sauce) and cooking it down until it thickens just slightly is pretty magical.
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 2:42 PM on November 15, 2018 [4 favorites]

Miso and cashews blitzed together makes something vaguely like caesar salad dressing. Works really well in a leafy salad.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 2:47 PM on November 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

Super minimalist peanut sauce: pb, soy sauce, lime juice or vinegar, hot sauce, grated garlic, water to thin it out if needed.

From a Heidi Swanson recipe: mix white miso, harissa, lemon juice and olive oil together to taste. You can use it as a sauce or a marinade.

Romesco sauce: from serious eats

Also, most salad dressings work on bowls, so don't feel limited to just sauces.

Moving into sauces that requires fresh herbs or veggies:

Free-form, guacamole-adjacent sauces: blend an avocado, half a cucumber, any fresh herbs you have kicking around, and something onion-y (onion, scallions, garlic), add salt and acid (lime juice, lemon juice, vinegar) to taste.

Yogurt ranch: small container of unsweetened almond or cashew yogurt, garlic/onion/scallion, fresh herbs (things in the ranch family are good here, but cilantro is great too), apple cider vinegar, salt, garlic/onion powder if you have it. Or try Superiority Burger's Tahini Ranch, which is amazing but more labor-intensive.
posted by snaw at 2:50 PM on November 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

My wife and I often make a turmeric sauce for meals like this...I'm at work so I can't access the specific recipe we use, but it's pretty close to this.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:52 PM on November 15, 2018

The basics of a sauce are fluid, flavour, grease or oil, and thickener. The grease is important as it spreads the flavour better and makes it more savoury. For thickener you can use cornstarch, or almond powder, or coconut. If you use cornstarch make it into a thin paste with cold liquid before mixing it with the other ingredients. To keep it simple prepare your sauce in a measuring cup which you heat in the microwave. If you make the cornstarch into a paste before hand it doesn't lump. I'd avoid using wheat flour as that does tend to lump and cooks slowly enough you can have a raw flour taste. Cornstarch thickens up suddenly, so start by making a very thin paste that pours and looks like artificial milk so it won't turn into a gluey substance.

You should be able to find a decent recipe for a vegan Bearnaise.

I like to combine curry powder or curry paste with almond powder or coconut. If I want to get fancy I start by caramelizing onions in the oil and then add the other ingredients. Instead of the curry powder you can use ginger.

Consider going with a vegan tomato sauce. If you buy it in a can transfer it into a glass jar to store it in your fridge. Adding a table spoon of that to the olive oil/almond/curry/onion powder gives you something like a butter chicken sauce, or a korma.

For an odd effect trying mixing tomato sauce with cinnamon and sugar. It comes out rather like barbeque sauce. You don't need much sugar, just enough to balance the sharpness of the cinnamon.

Alternatively add a table spoon of peanut butter and some soy sauce and you get a sort of Thai effect.
posted by Jane the Brown at 3:11 PM on November 15, 2018

Equal parts of soy sauce, peanut butter, honey (try agave or maple syrup if you don't eat honey). Heat gently to melt the peanut butter.

Equal parts soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sesame oil. Add an equal part of sriracha if you like heat.

Mayonnaise (or similar as long as it's tasty), crushed fresh garlic, and a little vinegar.

Tomato sauce with onion and butter. It's still 97% as good if you skip the onion. It really needs butter but if you have a good butter substitute it's worth a try!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:27 PM on November 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

Ohhh chimichurri is great too. An entire bunch of chopped flat leaf parsley, smashed garlic, chili flakes, vinegar, lots of oil, lots of salt. And you can add cilantro, if you like it when everything is ruined :)
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:36 PM on November 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

This cauliflower Alfredo sauce is amazing and doesn’t need cashews. If you keep cauliflower in the freezer, it’s very easy to have ingredients on hand.
posted by FencingGal at 3:48 PM on November 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

I looooooove the miso-tahini-honey sauce in this recipe. It does come out a bit thick so I tend to thin it with water. It's also important to use good tahini and mild miso. You can serve it with the bowl ingredients in the recipe, but I've found it goes well with all manner of roasted veggies/whole grains/pan-fried tofu bowls. (note for non-vegans: it's great over grilled chicken too!)

Tomato sauce with onion and butter. It's still 97% as good if you skip the onion. It really needs butter but if you have a good butter substitute it's worth a try!

I often make this with Earth Balance just because that's what I usually have on hand and it's very good. I'd never do it without the onion though!
posted by lunasol at 4:10 PM on November 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

-super into Zhoug sauce, which you you can make or buy at Trader Joe’s
-trader Joe’s also has a super tasty vegan pesto
-the books “the frugal vegan” and “hot for food” both have several great sauce recipes
posted by nuclear_soup at 4:24 PM on November 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

This Magic Green Sauce is, true to its name, Magic.
posted by misskaz at 4:38 PM on November 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

This carrot miso dressing is amazing!!!
posted by bookworm4125 at 5:06 PM on November 15, 2018

Ginger scallion sauce is pretty great.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 6:22 PM on November 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

How are you with spicy? A tub of gojuchang paste lasts seemingly forever in the fridge and a little goes a long way. I love to mix a small spoonful of gojuchang with honey, tamari, and toasted sesame oil for a spicy sweet nutty glaze. Add a bit of fresh lime juice and some green herbs like cilantro or chives and you've got a full flavor spectrum. (Ah, if you don't do honey then any kind of liquid sweetener will do, the gojuchang is plenty sticky enough to maintain glaze-like properties.) I also use it in marinades, as a stir fry finishing sauce, or in slow simmering spicy soups.

Make a big batch of caramelized onions, blend it and freeze into ice cubes for instant sauce flavor boosters, or of course you can use it as-is. Lots of long term payoff for an afternoon of slow cooker watching.
posted by Mizu at 6:23 PM on November 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

This Mushroom Tahini Sauce is quick, rich and tangy. Leave it chunky or blend it. It's amazing either way. Freezes well too.
posted by 6thsense at 8:28 PM on November 15, 2018

Quick and easy: put tahini and tofu in blender and turn it into a lovely creamy sauce. Season with whatever appeals.
posted by mareli at 2:52 AM on November 16, 2018

(I always make this by sight/taste so I don't have exact proportions; you may need to scale up depending on how much veg/protein you are making)

Soy sauce - maybe 3-4 tbsp
Dark sesame oil - about 1/2 - 1 tbsp (use way less if using regular sesame oil, the dark oil is milder)
Maple syrup or agave - about 1/2 tbsp
Apple cider vinegar - tiny bit (maybe 1/4 tsp)
Mix well

I like to marinate cubed tofu in this (15 minutes does it), broil the tofu til crispy, and stir fry veggies (usually cabbage, onion, carrots, celery, broccoli) in a nice hot wok with a little oil and the leftover sauce, stirring in a little corn starch slurry to thicken if needed (you don't need much). Throw it all together and enjoy.
posted by AV at 4:03 AM on November 16, 2018

It's not amazing (other commenters might be able to advise how it can be improved) but I make a homemade sweet and sour sauce from store cupboard ingredients which is reasonably tasty:

equal proportions of tomato puree & a light tasting vinegar (ideally rice wine vinegar but white wine vinegar will work),
half as much brown sugar,
a little flour or cornflour to thicken
a bit of pineapple juice (from the tin of pineapple I'm adding to the dish)
a little grated fresh ginger
Simmer on a low heat while I'm cooking the other ingredients (chicken in my case but presumably tofu in yours).

Also stir fries with soy sauce, fresh coriander and grated fresh ginger, it's more of a thin coating than a sauce but really tasty. Green peppers, courgettes (zucchini) and mushrooms work really well in this.
posted by *becca* at 4:51 AM on November 16, 2018

About equal amounts:
soy sauce
rice vinegar
Optional additions (singly or mixed):
minced garlic
toasted sesame oil
grated ginger
hot pepper flakes (or other source of hot spice)
posted by dancing leaves at 6:36 AM on November 16, 2018

lime juice
fish sauce
minced garlic
pinch of sugar
hot pepper flakes
posted by dancing leaves at 6:40 AM on November 16, 2018

Ethnic Herb/Spice Combinations
--Stir into your choice of "liquid": yogurt | vinegar + oil | mayo | cream

CHINESE: anise seed, chile oil, garlic, ginger, spicy pepper, sesame oil, sesame seed, soy sauce, star anise

MEXICAN: chiles, cilantro, cinnamon, cocoa, coriander, cumin seed, garlic, oregano, vanilla

ITALIAN: basil, bay leaves, fennel, garlic, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary

INDIAN: chiles, cilantro, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin seed, curry, fenugreek, garlic, ginger, mint, mustard seed, red pepper, turmeric

GREEK: cinnamon, dill, garlic, lemon, mint, nutmeg, oregano

CARIBBEAN: allspice, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, curry, garlic, ginger, lime, nutmeg, oregano, spicy pepper, thyme

THAI: coconut cream, fish sauce, lime juice, chilies, garlic, cilantro, lemongrass, Thai basils, mint, ginger, galangal, tamarind, turmeric, shallots, kaffir lime

NORTH AFRICAN: cilantro, cinnamon, coriander, cumin seed, garlic, ginger, mint, red pepper, saffron, turmeric
posted by dancing leaves at 6:43 AM on November 16, 2018 [5 favorites]

If you like nutritional yeast as much as I do, definitely try Yumm Sauce. The ingredient list is a little long, but you just dump everything in a blender and whiz it up. It's SO good.
posted by Empidonax at 8:18 AM on November 16, 2018

So much yum. But ctrl-F and no recs for The Saucy Vegetarian must be rectified stat!! It's a fantastic cookbook that will give you an incredible breadth of no-cook sauces to suit anything you want to top off or mix in. I've bought several copies over the years as gifts and at some point may have to replace my own from all of the love and sauce-splatters it's received in the kitchen.
posted by shelbaroo at 3:49 PM on November 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm lazy and just make quick aiolis. Vegan mayo + herb that pairs with food style + squeeze of lime or lemon, salt and garlic optional. I throw everything into a cup and pulse it with a stick blender, takes less than 5 minutes from start to finish.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 7:54 PM on November 16, 2018

Thanks everybody! I marked some best, but y'all are great and really helped me think of sauce in new ways. I made it again last night with a miso/tamari/rice wine vinegar sauce that really helped. I can't wait to try more combos.
posted by kendrak at 1:41 PM on November 19, 2018

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