Vegan carbonara is here and as close as to the glossy, creamy, salty original as possible - trust me, I've had a lot in my time. Made without nuts, mushrooms and plant based cream, this vegan carbonara relies on silken tofu for it's egg-y qualities and tempeh for its abilities to absorb flavour and crisp up, whilst still absorbing sauce and lending texture to every bite.
When setting out to create a vegan carbonara, I had some broad ideas of what I was after. I wanted it to be reminiscent of all the carbonara I grew up eating: hearty, salty, glossy, crisp in some places, creamy throughout. I also knew I wanted it to be cashew free, mushroom free and cream-free.
Typical Carbonara relies on egg and cheese to create an emulsified and creamy cream-less sauce. With cashews (too sweet) and plant based cream off the table, I turned to silken tofu which can have an egg-y feel to it. Combined with milk, olive oil, and Kala namak - a rock salt used in South Asia which has an egg-y taste and smell due to its sulphur content - the sauce comes as close to the original as any version I have tasted before. After marinating and being pan fried to crisp up, the tempeh bacon soaks up the sauce and creates texture, bite and a burst of flavour amongst the creamy sauce.
Feel free to leave the Kala namak out if you're not after an egg-y flavour, the sauce tastes delicious on its own as well. If you do want to use it, I tend to get mine at health food shops, Asian supermarkets or online.
15 mins (+ marinating)
120g tempeh, sliced thinly and into 2cm pieces
2 tbsp tamari
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp maple syrup
½ tsp paprika
300g silken tofu
110ml plant based milk
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
½ tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp white miso
1 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp salt
⅛ tsp kala namak (optional, gives egg-y flavour)
350g spaghetti or rigatoni
50g vegan parmesan, optional
In a small bowl, combine tempeh, tamari, apple cider vinegar, olive oil, maple syrup and paprika. Stir to combine, and let sit for 30 minutes to marinate.
In the meantime, make your sauce. Combine silken tofu and plant based milk in a blender, and mix on high speed for 1 minute. Add nutritional yeast, miso, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and kala namak (if using), and blend for 2-3 minutes until completely smooth and creamy. Set aside.
Heat a large non stick pan over medium high heat, and add the tempeh pieces along with 3 tbsp marinade. Cook the tempeh, untouched, for 4-5 minutes - until golden and crisp on the heat facing side. Flip and the tempeh, and cook for another 4-5 minutes, until crisp on both sides. Remove from heat and set aside.
Set a large pot of salted water to boil. Add 350g pasta and cook according to the package instruction. While the pasta cooks, add the sauce to a large saucepan and heat over medium heat until it reaches a gentle simmer.
When the pasta is cooked, reserve 100-150ml of cooking water, then drain the pasta. Add the drained pasta to the large saucepan, along with 100ml reserved cooking water. Stir vigorously over medium heat to emulsify the pasta into the sauce, for 2-3 minutes. Add the tempeh bacon and continue stirring. Taste for seasoning and adjust to taste.
If the pasta starts to feel too thick, add the remaining 50ml of water, and continue stirring over medium heat.
Serve the pasta topped with grated vegan parmesan (if using).
By Valentina Concordia
Valentina is our Food Editor, who dreams up our tasty dishes and recipes for our social channels. She has loads of experience cooking up a storm in Italian kitchens, so it’s no surprise she can’t live without good-quality olive oil (don’t come between her and her olive oil) and fresh pasta.