Friday, November 12, 2010

A Vegan Thanksgiving, Part VII: Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes are not typically one of the most challenging parts of Thanksgiving dinner. Boil, mash, season, and you’re done; not much to it. However, it’s hard to predict what things will become difficult when you try to make them vegan. Apparently, mashed potatoes are one of them.

I thought it would be simple. Replace dairy based butter with non-dairy butter; replace cow’s milk with non-dairy milk. Add salt, and enjoy! But, potatoes have such a bland and passive flavor that they really take on the taste of whatever is added to them, highlighting these flavors in ways I had never experienced.

For my first attempt at mashed potatoes, I erred toward simplicity. Olive oil mashed potatoes are not unusual. I see them in magazines, on websites, and the prepared food bar at Whole Foods. I like olive oil; olive oil is vegan; perfect fit, right? Apparently, I do not enjoy the taste of olive oil with mashed potatoes. Focaccia bread, yes. Mashed potatoes, no. It was too herbal and almost fruity; totally wrong for Thanksgiving dinner.

For the next batch, I went back to tradition. I melted a little Earth Balance with some unsweetened almond milk, and added them gradually to my mashed potatoes, seasoning with salt to taste. These were ineffably better, but still, something was off. I wasn’t totally satisfied.

For the third batch, I replaced the almond milk with soy milk, for a slightly more savory flavor. This went a long way toward achieving my dream mashed potatoes. But again, there was a nuttiness underlying the taste that is not generally a part of mashed potatoes. I attributed this to the earth balance with relies on the fats of nuts for this plant based butter.

My final batch incorporated non-dairy sour cream for an enhanced creamy texture without relying on butter. I also replaced the soy milk with hemp milk. Hemp milk has the most unobtrusive flavor of all the non-dairy milks I have tried. I finished it off with several cloves of roasted garlic for a well-rounded and earthy flavor.

So, after two days and many hours, two trips to the grocery store, innumerable dishes, and a mishap with my potato ricer, here is the winning recipe!

4 potatoes peeled and quartered
3/4 cup non-dairy sour cream (I recommend Tofutti brand)
1 cup unsweetened hemp milk
1 head garlic
Salt to taste

Heat oven to 325º. Cut the top off the head of garlic, so the cloves are exposed. Place in a small oven proof dish, and drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 1 hour, or until the garlic is golden and bubbly.

Place potatoes in a large pot. Cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a knife can be easily inserted.

Pour milk into a small saucepan. Heat milk, but do not boil.

Mash potatoes with a potato masher (duh!), or with a potato ricer. You can also whip them in a stand mixer, but the results will be less even. Add the sour cream, and stir, or blend, until evenly distributed. Slowly add the warm milk to the potatoes, until you have achieved a smooth and moist consistency. Taste for salt. Serve immediately. If you are serving them in the next two hours. Pour 1/4 cup milk over the potatoes and cover with foil. Stir, and reheat if necessary, and serve!

Check back tomorrow for rich and delicious Mushroom Gravy!

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