Thursday, September 04, 2014

VEGAN MOFO2014: Basic Gravy Number Two - Rich Brown Gravy

Welcome back to Tofu-Mom's Gravy 101!
To catch you up...
It's Vegan Blogging Month, I'm blogging gravy, blah-blah-blah.
I promise by the end of the month you'll ALL be able to make this stuff.

  (And if, by month's end, you still can't manage a pan of gravy, PLEASE leave me a message in the "comments" section and I'll see what I can do to walk you through it.) Everyone needs to be able to whip up gravy when the occasion calls for it.

So. What's next from the world of gravy goodness?
Well, To my way of thinking, there are two basic, "American" gravies; White/Cream/Country Gravy. And Brown Gravy.

Then there are forty-eleven-billion variations on those.  Learn to do these two first, and do them well; Then you can change an ingredient here or there, and make just about ANYTHING!!

A brown gravy that has that rich, homemade, "simmered-for-hours" flavor takes a little practice, paying attention to details and being sure you're using the best tasting ingredients for the recipe - but it's NOT DIFFICULT, I promise.

For this recipe, I am leaving a lot of that "taste" factor up to you.
Trust your own tastes here!
You know what works for your kitchen, what ingredients you have available, your seasoning/spice/salt preferences, your kids/family taste and texture preferences, and your life!!

Let's talk about the ingredients for just a few paragraphs or ten.
Bear with me.
One of the secrets to good, brown, vegan gravy is finding a stock, bouillon or base that's flavorful without being overly salty, and tastes the way you prefer. More herbs? Less onion? Too "mushroom-y"? The perfect umami? That's what your gravy is going to taste like. It will probably take some experimenting unless you've already found a commercial OR homemade vegetable-based broth or stock that you really like.

Sometimes I make my own broth, and that's definitely good - I'll cover vegetable-stock-making later on, but I'm perfectly willing to admit that I "cheat" and use the packaged stuff for convenience and consistency too, no shame there!
So. Make your own if you have the time, patience and an endless supply of vegetable scraps (most vegans probably do have that at least). Or, check out the commercial options at any old, 'regular' grocery store, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, the health-food store, co-op, International Market, online, or whatever is available to you!

What to look for? OBVIOUSLY read labels for vegan ingredients, then you'll just have to buy stuff, try it, taste it, cook with it, adjust seasonings, spices and herbs and try again - until you find the vegetable-based broth or bouillon or stock base that gives the flavor that YOU like in your gravy (and probably soups, stews, etc.).
DO NOT be afraid to experiment a little, or actually combine several to get exactly what you're looking for - but that's OK - do what YOU like!

I don't like to suggest too many brand-names, as each person's tastes are different, and I only have a limited few available in my neck of the woods. Your options will likely be different.
But I know many of you are going to ask anyway, and that's OK :)
I'm not necessarily endorsing any of these, it's just what I'm familiar with and find agreeable enough to use.

If I don't make my own (more on that later) I'll use one or a combination of the following: Bill's Best "Beaf", Better Than Bullion "No Beef" Base, Vogue Cuisine Instant VegeBase, George Washington Broth, and Imagine Foods "Beef-Style" Vegetarian Broth.
Most of these ARE salty. That's probably OK. They're simply a BASE. Feel free to water them down. If they're too bland, jazz them up with red wine (or some apple cider), garlic, herbs, lemon, a teaspoon of tomato paste, onion, mushrooms, whatever. You'll get ideas as the month of gravy-madness progresses...
 (A tip: If you find a combination you like but still feel it just isn't "rich" enough or missing that vital "umami' flavor, try adding a little concentrated yeast extract like Marmite, Vegemite or even soy sauce as a last resort. PLEASE so not use Braggs. I'll rant about that later, but basically it will leave your gravy a bit, or a LOT, 'flat'.)

If you're still following me after this entire gravy thesis, it's FINALLY time for the recipe!! It's a slightly tweaked version of one I've posted before; one of those "basics" I use often. And while it IS maybe a tiny bit more involved, time-wise, than the White Gravy, PLEASE DO NOT BE INTIMIDATED! I was wordy and wrote out a LOT of details, it's still actually quite simple - you CAN do this!
The results are well worth it for a very flavorful "Brown Gravy", the comfort-food stuff my family likes best on mashed potatoes, hot "beef" sandwiches, with meatballs, over lentil loaf, nut burgers or seitan/gluten.

Rich, Brown Gravy

1/2 cup coarsely chopped onion
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh mushrooms
1/4 cup coarsely chopped celery
2 Tbsp fresh parsley
1 tsp. oil
28 oz. Vegetarian "beef" or vegetable broth of your choice
(I usually use "Imagine Foods" in the aseptic box, but make your own from scratch, use bullion-powder-cube mixed into water, or do whatever you want; just have 28 oz. of brown, flavored, brothy-type liquid to start out with.)
2 Tbs. red wine
(the alcohol cooks off, or use apple cider, water or more broth)
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/2 tsp. sage (1 Tbsp. chopped fresh is awesome here if you have it)
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 Tbsp. Earth Balance or other margarine
2 T. all-purpose flour

ONE:  In a large, moderately hot frying pan, brown the onions, mushrooms, celery and parsley. You don't need them cooked all the way through, just a quick sizzling stir for a few minutes over heat to start them caramelizing.

TWO:  Add all the remaining ingredients EXCEPT the vegan margarine and flour.
Bring to a boil; cook at a low-to-medium boil for 6 - 10 minutes or until liquid is reduced to about 2 cups (APPROXIMATE! I just eyeball it, it needs to reduce somewhat, but isn't a huge deal if it's more or less).
Remove from heat.

THREE:   Be careful here, it's HOT! Strain broth mixture through a sieve into a bowl; press vegetables to get all the juice out and then discard solids.
(I know, I know!! This step sounds sounds wasteful, but it results in a silky-smooth gravy - if you want chunky vegetable gravy just skip the 'straining' step and chop the vegetables finer beforehand, or puree the mixture - Alternately, you can save the cooked veggies and add them to a loaf, soup or patties).

Over a plateful of goodness!
FOUR:  Set broth aside in a bowl, to cool a bit. TASTE it at this point.
If it's too salty, add a bit of water.
Too bland, add a few drops lemon, Tabasco or soy sauce as you prefer.
Add just a few drops at a time, taste and add again if needed.
Doing it slowly keeps you from adding too much.

FIVE:  In the skillet you just used; melt margarine over medium-high heat until starting to bubble. Sprinkle in flour, and mix to make a paste.
Stirring with your wire whisk, cook 2 minutes or until a bit browned or tannish, stirring constantly (This is your thickener or "roux"). Don't let it get any browner!
Take off heat and allow to cool a bit.

SIX:  While off the heat, SLOWLY add 1/4 cup broth mixture to roux, little by little; stirring well with a whisk. Slowly add in remaining broth mixture, still stirring well with a whisk.

SEVEN:   Turn heat back on to medium-high.
Bring mixture to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer (just barely bubbling) for 3 + minutes, or until thick, stirring (with a whisk) constantly. I can't emphasize the stirring part enough.
Gravy takes attention, DO NOT try it the first few times when you have toddlers, kittens and gerbils running amok in your kitchen. Not that I would know, just sayin'....
Once it has simmered and thickened, remove from heat. Adjust seasonings to taste, again (more salt or pepper maybe, sage, Marmite, onion powder, a drop of lemon juice - a bit of any of these will definitely brighten the flavor, IF needed.)
Serve with....... anything! Potatoes, noodles, dumplings, gnocchi, polenta, tofu, tempeh, pierogies, rice, meatballs, toast, beans, roast veggies orrrrrr straight from the pot with a spoon, whatever... YUM.


littleveganbear said...

Wowzers, that gravy does look rich! I never liked gravy before going veg, but maybe it was more an association thing because now that I've tasted mushroom gravies and the like, I really enjoy them. I will have to give some of yours a go - my boyfriend is always looking for the best vegan gravy!