In the early 1900s, a chef’s wife lost her appetite after giving birth to their son. In an attempt to get her to eat something, the chef took his dish of pasta al burro e parmigiano, pasta with butter and parmesan cheese, and added a ton more butter. The resulting dish was so rich and creamy, his wife couldn’t resist it and that is how Alfredo sauce was created. The first time I tasted Alfredo sauce, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. It was rich, thick, creamy, decadent, and so delicious. It’s no surprise since it’s made with cheese and butter that melt to coat the pasta in a rich, thick sauce. As amazing as Alfredo sauce is, however, it is also not healthy. I actually know two people who had heart attacks after eating a big plate of fettuccine Alfredo. The good news is that we can make vegan Alfredo sauce that is not only healthier, but also compassionate because it’s dairy-free. When you can have delicious decadence that is also healthier and cruelty-free, it’s a win-win all around.
Here’s how to make a creamy, lower-calorie Alfredo sauce.
1. Fix the Fat
Alfredo sauce is made from pure butter but we can pull a few swaps and use a healthier form of fat instead. There are vegan buttery spreads you can buy that taste very close to margarine and butter. There are also healthy alternatives to butter like coconut oil and olive oil. It’s also easy to make your own Homemade Vegan Butter. When you combine an equal amount of fat and flour in a saucepan over medium heat, you make a roux. Add non-dairy milk and you have a thick, creamy béchamel sauce that can go on to become a cheese sauce or an Alfredo-type sauce. When I make my Creamy Rotini Alfredo with Asparagus and Peas, I use coconut-based butter spread.
2. Change the Cheese
You know how people say they don’t think they can live without cheese? Well, that wasn’t me except for just 2 types of cheese: mozzarella and parmesan. I used to buy fresh grated parmesan by the tub in my local Italian deli. Luckily, there are vegan versions of almost everything now including the parmesan used in Alfredo sauce. Now I’m more likely to say I can’t live without my Go Veggie! Dairy-Free Parmesan Grated Topping. You can also make your own vegan parmesan at home. Try this Raw Almond Parmesan and this Brazil Nut Vegan Parmesan. Both are made with nutritional yeast and you could just use nutritional yeast by itself to substitute for the parmesan. Since we’re making substitutions anyway, you can use other vegan cheeses as well. Melt vegan mozzarella like this Fresh Vegan Moxarella Cheese into your béchamel sauce or try vegan provolone or gouda for a milder taste. When I make my Spicy Alfredo with Greens, I use a combination of vegan butter, coconut milk and vegan grated parmesan to make an incredibly delicious sauce with added greens for color and flavor.
3. Cancel the Cream
Authentic Alfredo sauce does not contain cream, just butter and Parmesan cheese. When the Italian dish became popular in America, the recipe was altered to include cream which made it a heavier and richer sauce. Instead of using cream or heavy cream, Alfredo sauce can be made with non-dairy cream or milks. My choice when making a lighter, vegan Alfredo sauce is to use thick and creamy coconut milk. You want to use the thick coconut milk meant for cooking that comes in a can or container like So Delicious Coconut Culinary Milk.
The lite versions of coconut milk and non-dairy milks like cashew milk and almond milk are also good if you want to make a lighter, thinner sauce like my Spaghetti in Lemon Coconut Cream Sauce: bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a handful of salt and 1-lb. spaghetti. Cook until just shy of al dente. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water. Drain the spaghetti and set aside. While the spaghetti is cooking, heat a large skillet or saute pan over medium heat. Melt 4 Tbs. vegan butter in the pan. Add 1 cup lite coconut milk and the juice of one lemon. Stir and let cook until everything is heated through. Add the spaghetti to the pan and toss to coat with the sauce. Add ½ cup of the reserved pasta water and stir. Continue to cook until the spaghetti and the sauce are hot. If the sauce gets too thick, add the remaining ½ cup of pasta water and mix. Turn off the heat. Add the zest of one lemon and season with a pinch of nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste. Top with grated vegan parmesan and fresh basil leaves.
Non-dairy milks and lite coconut milks are also good choices when you are going to use nuts to make cream. Awesome examples are this Creamy Cashew Alfredo Pasta which uses almond milk and this Succulent Tortellini with a Nut Cream and Wild Mushroom Sauce that uses a combination of soy cream and cashews. For more info, read Which Milk for What Recipe: A Non-Dairy Milk Guide for All Your Cooking and Baking Needs.
4. Make Cashew Cream
Cashews are like magic beans – you can make so many different things with them. In 10 Vegan Food Hacks with Cashews, one of those hacks is to make cashew cream. It’s so simple: just soak raw cashews for a few hours and blend them with water in a food processor. That gives you the base you need to make both sweet and savory creams. To make Savory Cashew Cream: soak 1 cup of raw cashews for a few hours and discard the soaking liquid. Add the cashews and ½ -3/4 cups water to a food processor and blend until smooth. Add the zest and juice of one lemon, ½ tsp. apple cider vinegar and ½ tsp. kosher salt.
I like to use a combination of raw cashews and coconut milk to make a sauce that is rich, smooth, creamy and decadent. Although you might think fettuccine when you hear Alfredo, I prefer spiral pasta because the shape allows it to hold more sauce than a long noodle where most of the sauce just drips off. Try making this cashew-based Alfredo sauce or this Spaghetti Squash with Alfredo Sauce recipe and this Vegan Gnocchi with Thyme Vinaigrette and Cashew Cream. Other nuts and seeds can also be used to make Alfredo sauce like this Creamy Pumpkin Seed Alfredo with Kale and Sweet Peas and this Zucchini Pasta with Creamy Cheese Sauce made with walnuts.
5.Make Cauliflower Cream
Creamy Alfredo-type sauces can be even healthier when made with cauliflower. Boil cauliflower until it is soft enough to be mashed. Then cook it in a saucepan with non-dairy milk, nutritional yeast or vegan cheese, garlic and seasonings. Blend until smooth and you have a low-calorie sauce that is rich, creamy and amazing. Try this Fettuccine Alfredo with Zucchini Pasta & Cauliflower Sauce, Vegetable Rigatoni with Creamy Cauliflower Sauce, and Spaghetti Squash With Basil and Creamy Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce. Creamy sauces can also be made with other vegetables like this Raw Zucchini Pasta with Creamy Avocado-Cucumber Sauce.
If you thought Alfredo sauce was a thing of the past, whether for health or ethical reasons, you can have it back. There are so many ways to make an lighter, healthier Alfredo sauce that is lower in calories and cruelty-free. Try them all to see which way you like vegan Alfredo best.
Lead Image Photo: Vegetable Rigatoni with Creamy Cauliflower Sauce