Thursday, April 9, 2009
Not Your Momma's Tuna Noodle Casserole
Nope, my “tuna” noodle casserole is vegan and much lower in fat and salt than the original classic. I’ve been feeling really stressed lately with the moving plans and our upcoming attempt to scout out property in too little time. When I’m stressed, junk food happens. I crave the comfort foods of childhood and tuna noodle casserole is a dish I remember fondly from church potlucks. I know what I am really trying to capture is the memory of fun, jovial gatherings of friendly folk rather than the actual dish, but I can’t replicate those times. The best I can do is hope a healthy facsimile of a dish associated with that time will ease my stress.
I hunted around online for the classic recipe as a jumping off point. It would need serious veganizing. After all, the original has tuna, egg noodles, and cream of mushroom soup. I wanted to replicate the flavor as much as possible without the fish, egg, or dairy in it.
Challenge #1: replace the tuna
This was actually the easiest of the replacements. Garbanzo beans (chickpeas), smashed with a fork, make a great stand-in for tuna. For tuna salad sandwiches without the tuna, just mash the garbanzo beans and add the normal tuna salad ingredients such as mayonnaise, pickle relish, and sweet onions.
Challenge #2: replace the egg noodles
This one was more challenging. Sure, I could have picked up some regular fettuccine to use in place of egg noodles, but I wanted to make this more difficult. I hadn't made pasta from scratch in ages and looked forward to the excuse to try to make eggfree noodles. Normal egg noodles are simply a combination of semolina, egg, and oil. Without the egg, I had to work a little harder to get an egg-like flavor. Here is the recipe I came up with:
1 cup semolina
1 tbs nutritional yeast
1/4 tsp onion powder
3 tbs flax egg substitute
1/2 tbs olive oil
Up to 3 tbs water
On a kneading surface, mix dry ingredients together.
Make a well and add the flax mixture, oil, and 1 tablespoon of water. Mix until the dough holds together, adding a little water if needed. Once the dough holds together, knead until smooth. This will take about 5 minutes and is hard work because this dough is stiffer than bread dough.
Let dough rest for 15 minutes, and then cut the dough into balls. Work with only a small portion at a time to keep it manageable. I doubled the recipe above but would not recommend that for the first time you try this.
Continue kneading the dough by passing it through the #1 setting on a manual pasta machine. (This can also be done by hand with a rolling pin.)
Each time the dough comes out, sprinkle it with semolina and fold it in thirds to pass it through again.
When it is nice and smooth, start passing it through progressively smaller settings on the machine. You can fold it in half or thirds before doing this or just pass the sheet through. For my noodles, I went up to setting #6.
My wide noodle cutter on the machine does not work well so I decided to hand-cut the pasta. I laid the long sheets down on my working surface and used a pizza roller. As you can see, I didn't make even cuts.
I carefully peeled these up from the cart and hung them on a clothes drying rack. It is not necessary to dry the homemade pasta; it can be cooked immediately, but I was making this several hours in advance and needed to dry it without it all clumping together.
When it was dry, I removed it from the rack. Some of it broke at the top, so I quickly learned to hold the tray underneath as I was lifting them up. Cleaning the floor before doing this is a good idea!
Homemade pasta cooks much more quickly than store-bought. If cooked while fresh, it should be dropped gradually into the boiling water so that the water never stops boiling. With it dried, we just put it all in at once and started testing it after just a couple of minutes for doneness. I wanted it quite al dente for the next part of the recipe.
Challenge #3: replace the cream of mushroom soup
This wasn't too difficult. I was not happy with the results of a recipe I tried in the past, using fresh mushrooms that are sauteed and then added to a cream sauce. This time, I opted to use my dried mushrooms. Dried mushrooms have a much more concentrated flavor.
I didn't measure for this recipe so adjust seasonings to your liking.
~1/2 cup whole wheat flour
~1 tbs arrowroot
~2 tbs nutritional yeast
~1 tsp onion powder
~1 tsp salt
~1/4 cup crushed dried mushrooms
3 cups soy milk
Mix dry ingredients in a saucepan.
Stir in milk.
Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly until it thickens.
Tuna Noodle Casserole also needs green peas and potato chips. I didn't have any peas left in the freezer so I had to use canned. The day before, I picked up a bad of natural potato chips that were on sale.
Once the soup was thickened, I stirred in the smashed garbanzo beans and the drained peas to heat them through. I poured this into a 13 x 9" pan and mixed it with the cooked and drained pasta.
Ordinarily, the dish would bake for half an hour at 400 degrees. Then the potato chips would be crushed and sprinkled over the top before baking it another 10 minutes. That sounded like a lot of energy to use, which is why I made sure to heat the beans and peas with the soup first. I immediately sprinkled the dish with the potato chips and baked it a mere 15 minutes.
It was delicious! I now have a great recipe for a pretty healthy comfort food that could even go to a church potluck.