There was a time when a big percentage of my cooking involved tearing open envelopes of sauce and seasoning mixes to flavor the rice or noodles that came in the box. They were fast, convenient and tasted good but they were incredibly unhealthy, packed with sodium, preservatives and who-knows-what. Today I see the commercials on TV for those noodle mixes where the chef comes home and turns a package of noodle mix into a “gourmet meal” by adding chicken or shrimp to it and I laugh. Unless she’s being paid by the company, I doubt that any chef would use these mixes when it’s so easy to make noodle sauces from scratch. When you make it yourself, you choose the ingredients and you can be sure your sauce will be healthy, compassionate and delicious. Here are tips for making your own noodle sauces without a mix.
1. Easy Alfredo
Traditional Alfredo sauce is filled with butter and cheese and the Americanized version also has cream. It’s an artery’s nightmare! The powdered stuff may have fewer calories but the ingredients include partially hydrogenated fats, milk, nonfat dry milk, whey, whey protein concentrate, corn protein, dehydrated cheeses and cheese cultures and a ton of sodium. Doesn’t sound so appetizing now, does it?
Instead, make your own Alfredo sauce. Swap out the butter for vegan butter, use vegan cheeses, and ditch the cream for non-dairy versions. You can even make cream out of cashews, cauliflower and other veggies like avocado and cucumber. Check out all tips and tricks in How to Make a Creamy, Lower Calorie, Dairy-Free Alfredo Sauce. Then make this Creamy Rotini Alfredo with Asparagus and Peas, Spicy Alfredo with Greens, Creamy Cashew Alfredo Pasta, Creamy Pumpkin Seed Alfredo with Kale and Sweet Peas, and this Vegetable Rigatoni with Creamy Cauliflower Sauce. You’re not getting any of these out of an envelope!
2. Cheesy Goodness
One of the popular four-cheese pasta sauce mixes does indeed have four cheeses, dehydrated. It also has whey, trans fats, sodium caseinate, corn starch, MSG and artificial colors. If all that cheese is in it, why do they need artificial colors?
Whether you want a light cheesy sauce or the kind meant for mac and cheese, you can have it quick, easy and much, much healthier than these mixes. Learn How to Make the Most Decadent Mac and Cheese and whip up this Very Vegan Mac N’ Cheeze, Extra Creamy Vegan Mac and Cheese or get spicy with this Green Chili Mac and Cheese. Get tons of flavor with none of the bad stuff with this Fat Free Vegan Cheese Sauce and this Spicy Vegan Cheese Sauce. Once you have this Zucchini Pasta with Creamy Cheese Sauce, you will never want that blue box again!
3. Simple Stroganoff
Stroganoff dishes are made with a creamy sauce of sour cream and mushrooms. Traditionally, it’s made with beef and served over egg noodles. Quick mixes are filled with trans fats, colorings and more sodium than anyone needs in their diet. While stroganoff might sound fancy, it’s really easy to make.
Instead, pair healthy, meaty mushrooms with vegan sour cream and made a vegan version that will blow your mind. This Rustic, Creamy Portobello Stroganoff is made with Portobello mushrooms covered in a decadent cashew cream sauce. This Vegan Mushroom Stroganoff has ribbon noodles and lots of mushrooms cooked in a classic sauce with vegan sour cream. Yum!
4. Perfect Pesto
If you read the label of the pesto sauce mix, you’ll see maltodextrin, corn starch, wheat flour, salt, whey, MSG and then finally spinach, garlic and basil. Then sugar – why is there sugar in pesto sauce? I don’t know but I know I don’t want any of that.
It literally takes two minutes to make your own pesto sauce. For tips, see How to Make Pesto Without Cheese – It’s Easy and it is easy. Use spinach, basil, kale or any green you like. Add some lemon juice, spices, and a handful of your favorite nuts (I prefer walnuts). If you want a cheesy taste, toss in some vegan parmesan or nutritional yeast. Then just blend it in a food processor and you’re done! In no time, you’ll be enjoying a big plate of Zucchini Pasta with Basil Hemp Pesto, Basil Pesto Zucchini Pasta, or 5 Minute Basil Pesto Raw Zucchini Pasta. No sugar necessary!
5. Creamy Tomato
If I were making a creamy tomato sauce for my noodles, I would need 3 main ingredients: tomatoes, cream and some spices. Yet the package of a creamy tomato sauce mix lists 18 ingredients and one of those ingredients, dehydrated cheese blends, has 12 ingredients of its own. That’s 30 ingredients just to make a simple sauce. What? And those ingredients include artificial flavors and lots of starches and corn syrups. That’s crazy.
Look at this beautiful Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce. It has fresh tomatoes, Kalamata olives, garlic, extra-virgin olive oil and fresh basil. Simple and delicious. Get the recipe for my Classic Tomato Sauce and if you want it creamy, just mix in 1 cup of non-dairy milk like coconut milk. Add crumbled tempeh to make a “meaty” sauce like this Pasta with Tempeh Bolognese or try a whole new vegetable and swap tomatoes for carrots as in this Penne with Carrot Sauce.
6. Better Butter
Most of us probably grew up eating noodles with the simplest of all sauces – melted butter. It was warm, comforting and delicious. What I don’t remember about that dish was the list of ingredients the packaged mix contains – corn starch, sugar, whey, hydrolyzed protein, and corn syrup. That’s insane!
Keep it simple and use vegan butter with your favorite herbs and spices. That’s all you need for an amazing dish. Add some lemon for tang and pine nuts for texture as in this Lemon-Butter Fettuccine with Parsley and Pine Nuts. Toss in some salty capers and dry white wine to make this Fried Artichokes over Lemon Butter Pasta dish. I feel comforted just looking at these incredible noodle dishes.
7. Asian Delights
I understand that making your own Asian food can seem intimidating. There are a lot of ingredients and it may seem easier to take advantage of a packaged mix. But before you rip open that envelope of teriyaki sauce, read the ingredients. There is sugar, caramel color, corn syrup, and tons of sodium. Now let me give you my recipe for Teriyaki Sauce: combine ¼ cup tamari, ¼ cup water, 2 Tbs. brown rice vinegar, 1 ½ Tbs. brown sugar or maple syrup, 1 Tbs. toasted sesame oil, 2 tsp. Sriracha hot sauce, 4 minced garlic cloves, and 1 Tbs. grated ginger and mix well. Which sounds better? I may be biased but I would choose mine over the packaged mix any day.
Want another recipe? Try the sauce in this Teriyaki Stir-Fry and toss it over your favorite noodles. Or make the sauce in this Teriyaki Romanesco and Beet Bowl. Other Asian noodle dishes you should try include this Gluten-Free Asian Noodle Salad, Dim Sum Soy Sauce Chow Mein Noodles, and Peanut Butter Spicy Noodles.
When I read the ingredients in these packaged noodle sauce mixes, I can’t believe I used to put those things in my body. I’m so glad I learned how easy it is to make healthier versions at home and they taste so much better too.
Lead Image Photo: Vegan Mushroom Stroganoff