Whenever the hour strikes for comfort food, I opt for this nutritious and delicious version of creamy pasta. Three components come together to form a very convincing pasta dish: Cooked spaghetti squash, cheese-free pesto, and a nut-based cream sauce. Gourmet vegan dishes (like this) work by combining a variety of textures and flavors. Where one component may fall short of what we are ‘‘used to,’’ the others can pick up the slack.
Vegan ‘‘cream’’ sauce?
If you have never tried it, vegan cream sauce is fun to make and quite delicious. However, it is not the same as a buttery bechamel, and no one will argue that! Just as you would not eat other vegan substitutions on their own (i.e. plant-based milk, flax ‘‘eggs,’’ tofu scrambles, etc.), a dairy-free sauce is best poured over, mixed into, and served with other ingredients.
Skeptics might view this as ‘‘covering up’’ bland food, but a more optimistic approach embraces it. Ask yourself, how can I layer ingredients to build an exciting meal? How can I pack more nutrients into this dish? And, how colorful can I make my food? Think of plant-based milk poured over your favorite granola and berries, flax eggs used in gooey dark-chocolate vegan brownies, and a tofu scramble with mushrooms, peppers, onions, a drizzle of hot sauce, and a sprinkle of cilantro. Suddenly, these plant-based substitutions are not so boring.
Pesto to the rescue!
In this dish, a fresh, herby, garlicky pesto picks up the slack and carries its veggie-powered team to a home run. You can make your own pesto or use a store-bought version. Just make sure the ingredients are natural: olive oil, basil, nuts, garlic, salt, pepper, etc. No milk powders or hydrogenated oils, please! Be a detective and check which kind of oil the manufacturer has used. More often than not, jarred pestos are made from sunflower oil or a 90% : 10% ratio of sunflower to olive oil. This reduces production costs and maximizes profits. Don’t settle for less than healthy.
And in regards to nutrition…
Spaghetti squash has nearly half the calories and carbohydrates as other winter squashes, like pumpkin and butternut varieties. A generous 3-cup serving of its pasta-like flesh equals just 100 calories, 21 grams of carbohydrates, and 5 grams of fiber. Not to mention, as a whole plant food, spaghetti squash offers a variety of vitamins and minerals to your body. Traditional white pasta, served in the same hearty amount, has 650 calories, 120 grams of carbohydrates, and less fiber. Pasta is a go-to food for many people, especially on busy weeknights. So, regularly substituting squash is a fantastic way to intake more nutrients and aid weight loss.
CREAMY PESTO SPAGHETTI SQUASH RECIPE
- 1 spaghetti squash
- ⅓ cup homemade pesto or your favorite store-bought version
For the cream sauce:
- ½ cup raw cashews, soaked in a bowl of water overnight
- ¾ cup vegetable broth
- ¼ cup nutritional yeast
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- Dash of red pepper flakes
- Salt and pepper
1. For the squash: Preheat oven to 400° F. Grease or line with parchment paper a baking sheet. Slice the squash in half lengthwise, through the stem. (Do so with your sharpest knife, tip first, then slicing down confidently and using a rocking motion). Scoop out the seeds and loose pulp to yield two long boats. Place the squash boats cut-side down on the baking sheet and roast for 40 minutes. The squash is ready when you can pierce the flesh easily with a knife, and the tough outer skins starts to pull away. Remove from the oven and let cool.
For the cream sauce: Drain the soaking cashews and rinse well. Add all the ingredients to a high-speed blender. Puree until you achieve a thick cream consistency, 3-4 minutes. Pause to scrape down the sides with a spatula or use the blender’s tamper tool. If necessary, add a splash more of broth to help along the process. Check the seasoning of the cream sauce, and add more salt, pepper, or vinegar if you desire.
2. When the squash has cooled enough to handle, use a fork to scrape the strands of “spaghetti” away from the skin. Add to a large bowl, and combine with the pesto and half of the cream sauce. Mix well, taking care not too turn the squash into mush. Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary. Scoop the mixture into serving bowls (or the empty squash boats) and garnish with the remaining sauce, a sprig of fresh parsley or basil, and a sprinkle of nutritional yeast.
A few more vegan recipes to try this week:
- Vegan sweet potato mash with spinach
- Kale and avocado salad with roasted carrots
- Almond butter fudge energy bites
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