If you know anything about Egyptian cuisine, you’ll know that where a sauce is involved, nine times out of ten, it’s going to be bechamel.
Whether it’s on kousa (AKA baby marrow), on top of moussaka or baked into a steaming dish of macarona bechamel – it’s creamy, delicious and has long been a staple in Egyptian households everywhere.
Ours was no exception. Macaroni Bechamel was one of those dishes I absolutely loved as a child, but I mean really – what’s not to love? Well, besides the processed dairy and ground beef, of course.
In all seriousness, despite the fact that I have since lost my penchant for pasta, I still love to recreate comfort-food classics from times gone past and this one had been on my “to-make” list for far too long. So last weekend, after a less-than-glamorous morning of dead car batteries and seedy garages, I picked up the necessary ingredients and got to work.
- 400 grams penne pasta (use GF or wholewheat as desired)
- 2 cups vegan mince (I used the Yves brand) or rehydrated TVP
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 tbsp coconut oil (or cooking oil of choice)
- ½ tsp nutmeg
- 1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce OR fresh sauce made from 3 medium tomatoes
- 3 cups soy milk (or non-dairy milk of choice)
- 3 tbsp all-purpose flour (use cornstarch or arrowroot powder if GF)
- Sea salt and black pepper to taste
- 1 tbsp vegan butter (optional)
- ½ cup vegan mozzarella shreds (optional)
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley for garnish
- Cook pasta according to directions on packaging as indicated and set aside.
- In a medium pan, sautee the onions over medium heat until softened.
- Next, add garlic, vegan mince or TVP and nutmeg. If using TVP, be sure to season well with sea salt and black pepper. Cook for 3-5 minutes until browned before adding in tomato sauce. Stir through and simmer on low heat for another 5 minutes before setting aside.
- Next comes the bechamel sauce, whisk the flour and milk together well to ensure no lumps. I like to use an old jar or a protein shaker bottle for this.
- In a small saucepan melt the vegan butter if using before adding in the milk and flour mixture.
- Whisk continuously on medium heat until thickened and season with sea salt and black pepper as desired. If you have trouble with thickening whisk in another tbsp of flour or cornstarch - depending on what non-dairy milk you use you may have varying results, I find soy milk the best but almond and rice milk also work well. Once thickened remove from heat and set aside.
- To assemble, mix the mince sauce and pasta together and layer in a baking dish with the bechamel sauce. If you like you can mix half the bechamel sauce in with the pasta and then layer however I prefer to pour all the behcamel on top and give the dish a good shake so that it seeps down in between the pasta. If using vegan cheese make sure you layer it underneath the bechamel.
- Bake it in the oven at 200 degrees for 30-45 min or until the top is golden brown - be careful not to overcook as the pasta can get quite dry.
Some notes, as per usual:
- The vegan butter and cheese are both optional. They both give a little more flavour but are not essential if you want to keep it simple. For a more whole foods approach you could use a little coconut oil in lieu of the butter and nooch instead of the cheese.
- Vegan mince and TVP are both soy-based, so if you’re avoiding soy you’ll want to leave those out. Instead, you could substitute with three cups of chopped portobello mushrooms or chestnut mushrooms prepared the same way.
- I use fresh tomatoes for my sauce that I make by blitzing 3 medium tomatoes with a little water, salt, pepper. I then let it simmer on a low heat until it becomes a deep red and reduces a little.
While mine was a little lighter on the bechamel, the result was divine.
I can’t say that it tasted exactly like the “real” thing, but it is just as warming, heartily delicious and devilishly more-ish (just one more piece) as I remember.
I made this for a family iftar and it received two thumbs up from both my vegetarian aunt and pescetarian cousin. In fact, I believe her exact words were “mama I wan’t you to make me this pasta”.
Well, now she can!
Until next time, dear readers.