Christmas always brings a bit of a conundrum for those of us non-meat eaters. At least according to the American traditions with which I was raised, Turkey and mashed potatoes is Thanksgiving fare only, while Christmas Eve was meatballs and gravy with mashed potatoes and Christmas Day was baked ham with mashed potatoes and gravy. (My maternal grandmother, it has to be said, had a particular skill in that she could make ham gravy: not a trivial thing. Required an uncooked ham with a ham bone and probably some secrets and a lot of practice. And it tasted fantastic, almost a little sweet thanks to the pineapple rings on the ham.) Sense a theme here? Mashed potatoes and gravy. As both of my grandmothers know/knew, my absolute favorite food. And a bit tricky when the non-meat-eating thing came up with me, almost 15 years ago. These days, there are options: you can get Tofurky gravy, you can get other sorts of vegetarian gravies in packets. But they’re not truly great. Fortunately there is a secret: onions or shallots, mushrooms, and fortified wine, such as tawny port or Marsala wine. With this killer combination you can make not only gravy but also things like stroganoff, another old family favorite. I have been trying to perfect some of these recipes with all of the holiday events, and I’m happy to say that I’ve got it about down. The stroganoff is trickier due to the delicate nature of milk based sauces, so I’m not quite ready with that one yet, but should you ever have a vegetarian around for a mashed potato themed meal, I can just about guarantee this one.
Cook an onion and a few shallots in olive oil plus a tablespoon or two of butter over medium heat until golden. Add salt and pepper generously at this stage. Add a few handfuls of mushrooms, roughly chopped, I like criminis but sometimes do a mix. Cook until the mushrooms have rendered down in size and are starting to stick to the pan. Deglaze with 1/2-1 cup of fortified wine and cook that down. Add a few tablespoons of flour and mix well, cook the roux-like paste for a few more minutes before adding any liquid. Add 1.5-2 cups of vegetable broth or stock, and a few squirts of either veggie Worcestershire sauce (made without anchovies) or soy sauce to taste. Cook over medium-low heat stirring constantly until thickened.
If my instructions are too hand-waving, find a copy of this book “New Vegetarian,” which is the best veggie cookbook I’ve ever seen and which has a gravy recipe in it (although I dispute her method, the ingredients are similar and the quantities should help for those who like to measure things).
It is because of recipes like this that I will continue to be furious at the French chef who caters dinners that I attend regularly, and who thinks (like many non-vegetarians) that meat should be replaced by starch and tomato sauce should go on anything. I’ve made this gravy twice in the last two weeks, first served with vegetarian Quorn meatballs (Quorn is the only common brand of veggie meat-substitute products easily available in the UK; there is no Boca or Morningstar, sadly!) and mashed potatoes, and the second time with whole portobello mushroom caps with polenta and blue cheese crumbles. Excellent both times, so something for everyone–those who love and loathe the meat substitute products. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve really got to master that Stroganoff recipe.