This is one from the sounds-weird, looks-weird, tastes-delicious files.
If you’ve spent any amount of time around hippies, you will undoubtedly have run into many a nutritional yeast based concoction. Nutritional yeast, for those of you who haven’t spent much time around hippies or vegans or vegan hippies, is a yellowish flaky powder that’s somehow magically processed from yeast extract (think marmite) and is full of glutamates, which give it a lot of umami flavor.
I came by my love of nutritional yeast (aka “newt yeast”, aka “nooch”) back when I was living on a commune where standard Wednesday lunch fare was a really giant pot of ‘mac-and-yeast’– elbow macaroni with an unctuous, nutritional yeast based sauce. It’s almost as comforting as mac and cheese, which, if you understand my deep love of dairy products, is saying a lot.
In addition to tasting pleasantly savory and a bit cheesy, nutritional yeast acts as a thickener, so you can make a variety of sauces, gravies, and spreads out of it, and use it as a binder in things like veggie burgers or as a part of a coating or crust. So, when I was making a homey meal last week of spinach, walnut tofu loaf and kale mashed potatoes, I turned to the nooch for a quick gravy. I think it’s pretty HACSI, because it’s fast and can be made entirely out of dry goods, which is especially nice for vegetarian cooking, where you don’t get any lovely super flavorful pan drippings as a starting point.
For a co-op sized pot of gravy, I used:
- 1 cup of nutritional yeast flakes
- 1/2 cup of flour (though, I’m sure some combo of GF flours, corn starch, and xanthan gum would do perfectly well for a gluten free version)
- 1/2 cup of oil
- three cups of water
- a heavy pinch of salt
- a pinch each of thyme and rosemary)
- 1/2 cup of butter, cut up into 6-8 pieces (1 stick – likewise, you could just use more oil or margarine, if you wanted it to be vegan)
- 1 tablespoon of wet mustard
- a few splashes of soy sauce
The process isn’t that much different from any other gravy. Toast the flour and nutritional yeast in a dry pan on medium high heat for a minute before adding the oil and whisking vigorously. Once you have a toasty medium brown rue, add the water, salt, and herbs, then turn the heat to medium low and whisk more-or-less constantly until it starts to simmer. Turn the heat down to low, and whisk until the gravy has thickened to your desired consistency – no more than five minutes. Then, turn off the heat, add the soy sauce, mustard, and butter, one piece at a time, whisking until everything is melted and well combined. And there you have a fast, easy, HACSI gravy.
You can easily vary the flavor and texture by using different herbs and spices, substituting stock or beer for the water, or cooking it for longer or shorter lengths of time. My favorite ‘cheese substitute’ for vegan pizza is this same stuff cooked a little longer until it’s really thick (and it does thicken up even more when it cools), which then gets plopped onto the pizza dough in big, gooey, blobs. It makes an okay dipping sauce for vegetables and chips. I’m an umami fiend, though, so I even like it cold, spread on toast. Lots of possibilities.