Gone Vegan

Lindsay Hutton discovers the politics and pragmatics behind a meat and dairy-free diet.

Fall is officially here, and Thanksgiving is but a few weeks away.  This will be the first in a series of four lip-smacking yummo Thanksgiving fare sure to impress veggies and carnies alike.

Thanksgiving is a bittersweet time for many. I’m blessed with a riotous, good-hearted bunch of relations, but I’ve heard some horror stories: the octogenarian great aunt who peppers her diatribes with off-colour racial epithets; the brother-in-law who gets loaded to his armpits, each glass of wine making his voice a little louder, a little more obnoxious; the deadbeat cousin who, for decades, refuses to wash a single dish.  For many of us, the only reason we keep coming back to the table is the food, so it is with this in mind that I offer you the best vegetarian gravy recipe known to humankind. Well. The best you’ll find on Green Living, anyway.

Like any food staple, gravy is easy enough. But like any food staple done well, there’s a few tricks that can take it from “meh” to marvelous. First, a word about the thickening process. This recipe calls for corn starch, which most people tend to have in the cupboard and gives a glossy finish to your gravy, but flour or arrowroot flour work just as well (note the amount substitutions below). Starches have a pretty rad particulate property. Long story short, the granules suck up moisture, then BAM! – at a certain temperature (usually between 150 and 190 degrees Fahrenheit) they explode, the starch rushes out and, voila, thickening occurs.

To ensure this happens, gravy has to be stirred frequently at a medium-high heat. Similarly, it’s very important to not just dump in the starch or flour straight from the box. Put it in about a cup of stock, stir it vigorously (FYI, this is called a “slurry”) then pour it in while your sauce is bubbling. Otherwise, the heat will turn it into unappetizing blobs that will not, under any circumstance, smooth away with any amount of whisking.

Obviously, we’re working sans animal fat here, but don’t turn your nose up just yet. The key here is using fresh, good ingredients. The recipe calls for a variety of mushrooms, but as any mushroom aficionado will tell you, the fancier fungi can run you upwards of 12 bucks a pound. As such, white mushrooms are fine, cremini are better (the same varietal as white, but grown outdoors, hence the ruddy, darker skin), but don’t blow your bankroll out of sheer ingredient-envy.

Cozy Mushroom Gravy

2-3 cups sliced mixed mushrooms
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tbsp margarine, or preferably, Earth Balance
1 small onion, chopped very finely
2 tsp soy sauce or Bragg’s (if you roll gluten-free)
½ cup wine, white or red is fine (on the dryer side is preferred for best results, but whatever, I just use whatever’s left over in the fridge)
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp cornstarch dissolved in one and 1/2 cup of stock (or 2 tbsp of flour, or 3 tsp of arrowroot flour)
2 tbsp fresh parsley, minced
Salt and pepper to taste

1.    Slice the mushrooms, remove the stems. Over low heat, melt the margarine, and sauté the mushrooms until soft (approximately 2-3 minutes).  Add the onion and garlic and stir until the onions are soft and translucent.
2.    Turn up the heat to medium high, add the soy sauce, and stir vigourously until mushrooms are slightly browned.
3.    Add the wine, and deglaze the pan, ensuring all the bits are no longer sticking to the pan. Add the balsamic vinegar.
4.    Stir the starch and stock together, then pour into the pan. Continue to whisk as it reaches a boil. Simmer for 3-4 minutes.
5.    If the gravy looks like it needs more liquid, add up to an extra cup of stock. Continue to stir until it thickens to desired consistency.
6.    Finish with fresh parsley, and several grinds of salt and pepper to taste.