Why It Works
- Tofu creates a silky, egg-like base for the sauce, while miso and nutritional yeast give it a richer, eggy quality.
- King oyster mushrooms are meaty enough to stand in for pork, and mild enough to not make the whole dish taste like mushrooms.
- Sauerkraut brine adds the lactic tang of Pecorino Romano, while keeping the sauce 100% vegan.
Carbonara may be one of the most difficult recipes to vegan-ify, since every major ingredient in the sauce is off-limits. But by eating lots of the real deal and getting mighty crafty with an array of unlikely ingredients, I managed to create a vegan carbonara that captures the essence of the original like no other: It's silky and rich, unctuous, and studded with meaty bits, with the sharp, lactic tang of Pecorino Romano (but, of course, no actual Pecorino Romano).
- 7 ounces silken tofu (1/2 of a 14-ounce block; 200g)
- 1/2 cup (120ml) sauerkraut brine (see note)
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast (1/2 ounce; 15g)
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) white miso
- Generous pinch cayenne pepper or red chili flakes
- 3 generous dashes (about 1/4 teaspoon) smoked paprika
- 2 teaspoons (8g) freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) white wine vinegar or fresh juice from 1 lemon
- Kosher salt
- 1/2 cup (120ml) extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 4 ounces (115g) king oyster mushrooms, stems and caps sliced into 1/2-inch "lardons"
- 1 pound (450g) dry spaghetti or penne
In a blender, combine tofu, sauerkraut brine, nutritional yeast, miso, cayenne or chili flakes, smoked paprika, black pepper, and vinegar or lemon juice. Blend at high speed, stopping to scrape down sides if necessary, until a very smooth, silky sauce forms. Season with salt. Add 1/4 cup (60ml) olive oil and blend in at low speed just until emulsified.
In a large sauté pan, heat remaining 1/4 cup (60ml) olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring, until browned, about 6 minutes.
In a pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta until just al dente. Transfer pasta to pan with mushrooms, reserving pasta-cooking water. Pour on just enough creamy sauce to coat all the pasta, then add about 1/4 cup (60ml) pasta-cooking water. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until sauce forms a silky glaze that coats pasta. Serve.
Blender, large sauté pan
Use the brine from good-quality fermented sauerkraut—it should be nice and sour. You can also make your own kraut at home and use some of the brine from that. The sauerkraut brine adds the lactic acid that the cheese would normally contribute to the dish, but in a pinch, you could substitute 1/4 cup (60ml) each of water and dry white wine.