Mission: Vegan Bolognese with “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Parm” Sauce

A trip to my boyfriend’s family’s garden always reminds me of two things. 1) Basil is a girl’s best friend and 2) It really is a crime to pay gosh knows how many dollars a pound for mushy or overly-hard, flavor-less tomatoes. Their lack of smell should probably tip me off. Armed with the spoils of their garden, I set out to recreate one of my omnivore faves: Spaghetti with meat sauce and Parmesan cheese.

When you’ve got fresh, natural ingredients at hand, it’s really not that difficult to pull off a spectacular meal without even trying. Using tomatoes, eggplant, garlic, nutritional yeast, lemon zest and a little imagination, my friend Chef Emilie (No, really, she got her degree here.) created a quick and satisfying dinner. Best of all? No obscure, strange items to search for at the supermarket and none of that horrible why-did-i-eat-so-much-i-feel-horrible ache in your stomach as I so often suffered from when eating omni.

This simple recipe is easier than you think. To make it “meatier,” I simply tweaked this recipe from Food.com to omit all the herbs I didn’t have on hand and add the ones I did (fresh chives and rosemary), doubled the basil and swapped the vegetable protein for crumbly ground seitan (like this one). You can also skip the vegetarian protein (tofu, seitan, etc.) and just keep it easy with veggies, garlic, and herbs. Or get creative and throw in some falafel rounds as “meatballs.” 

For the “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Parm” sauce, we improvised with what we had on hand. A few tweaks later: 4 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes, blended with half a cup slivered almonds, a teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of lemon zest seemed to yield the best, tangy results. Hey, it even fooled the omnivore who dined with us. So you know it must be good. (Disclosure: Before this meal, I was a huge nutritional yeast skeptic myself and thought in no way, shape or form could it replicate a beloved hunk of shaved parm, but the consistency, taste and “mixability” factors were all stunningly spot-on.)