Cooking: Simple Magic with Sauces, para La Princesa

Sharing this piece that I prepared for a friend. Learning these simple techniques will REVOLUTIONIZE your cooking, and they are really, really simple to learn.

The biggest difference between the table of a common person and that of royalty such as your divine self, Princesa, is sauces. Lots of sauces. These are rich and wonderful and can transform a plain ingredient—even something as lackluster as frozen vegetables—into something fit for the royal table. The wonderful thing about this magic is that it can be used to turn ANY liquid into a sauce—any kind of milk (coconut, almond, cashew); beer or stout or porter; red or white wine; plum wine; sake; fruit juices such as orange or pineapple or tamarind or mango or guava; vegetable juices such as tomato or V-8: or any combination of these. YUM!

NB: Avoid making sauces with soy milk, the flavor of which is so strong that it can easily overpower other ingredients in a sauce. Use almond or cashew or coconut milk instead for those sauces that have a milk base.

I like to make my sauces with equal parts of a savory stock (such as vegetable stock or No-Chik’n Broth) and fruit juice (orange, blood orange, plum, pineapple, mango, or whatever). I might start a sauce by sautéing a little crushed garlic and some cumin seeds and sliced onion in oil (just until they become aromatic and the onion becomes translucent), and then adding water, a teaspoonful of No-Chik’n Bullion, and a tablespoonful of a fruit jelly or jam, such as plum or orange marmalade). Next, I stir vigorously to incorporate the ingredients as this heats up, and add spices such as cayenne and salt. Then, I set the liquid thus produced aside while I make a roux OR I add corn starch, as detailed below, to thicken.

Plum sauces, btw, are a favorite among Princesas.


When to Use. A roux has a floury flavor and is good for savory sauces as opposed to dessert ones. The flavor of the roux is not good in most desserts but great for biscuits and gravy.

Ingredients. Vegan butter, oil, or both. Flour. Liquid. Spices.

Measurements. To make a roux, use one unit (by weight) of oil or butter to 1 unit (by weight) of flour. If you plan to thicken one cup of liquid, you can use 14 grams of oil or butter and 14 grams of flour. Weight measurements differ from volume measurements. If you prefer volume measurements, a roux made with 1 tablespoon of butter and 2 tablespoons of flour will thicken 1 cup of liquid to a nice pouring sauce.

Preparation. Heat the oil or butter (or half and half—a bit of each) over medium heat. Stir in the flour with a plastic or wooden spoon for a minute or so. When it turns blonde, it is at the stage for a béchamel sauce (for potatoes or other vegetables) or for biscuits and gravy. Stir and cook until darker (even quite dark) for a heavy sauce such as a mushroom sauce, red wine sauce, or gumbo sauce. Pour in liquid. Stir over medium heat until the sauce thickens. Take off heat. Spices may be added while stirring or after sauce has thickened.


When to use. Great for both savory and dessert sauces. Corn starch also has a distinct flavor. It just happens that the cornstarch flavor works well for dessert sauces.

Ingredients. Cold water (drop an ice cube into some water from your tank). Corn starch. Liquid. Spices.

Measurements. Use approximately 1 tablespoon of cornstarch for approximately 1 ½ cups of liquid.

Preparation. Heat your liquid, unthickened, over med-high heat, to simmering (little bubbles). Lower temp to medium low. In a glass or cup, mix cornstarch with enough VERY COLD water to dissolve the starch into the water. Mix very well to avoid lumps in your sauce. Pour the cornstarch SLOWLY into your heated liquid white stirring over medium heat until the sauce is thickened. Remove from heat. If the sauce is not thick enough, add more dissolved cornstarch. NB: Wash out the glass or cup in which you mixed the cornstarch right away. If the stuff dries on there, it’s a pain to get off.

Now to apply the magic

Peanut sauce. Use roux or cornstarch method. Start by sautéing minced garlic in a pan with a little oil, just until your kitchen fills with the wonderful aroma of the garlic. To 2 cups plain water or veggie stock, add a bit of Braggs or soy sauce (Braggs is VERY salty, so I use soy sauce unless I am making a very savory dish) pour into your sautéed garlic and heat to simmer. Add a heaping tablespoon of peanut butter—I prefer crunchy because it leaves bits of peanut in the sauce, which is delightful. Also add grated lime zest and/or lemon grass paste (the latter is available in many groceries now) and a teaspoon of some sweetener—honey, turbinado sugar, palm sugar, etc. Put in a bit of red pepper, flake or powder. Options: Add a tiny bit of tamarind sauce, which you can get from an Indian grocery or at Whole Foods. Add a teaspoon of Chinese Sweet Pepper sauce (the red stuff). Add a little coconut milk or coconut cream. Add a little shredded coconut. Add a bit of some fruit juice. You can use either the roux or cornstarch method to thicken this sauce.

Note: PLAY WITH THE INGREDIENTS, varying proportions and additives to your taste. Great sauce for vegetables or seitan or tofu Satay. This will transform them into something wonderful.

Gravy for biscuits. Make a roux. Pour in almond milk or coconut milk. Stir until thickened. Add salt and lots of black pepper to taste. (I like to add a little No Chik’n Bullion to enhance the flavor of this.)

Bechemel sauce for veggies or not-meat. Put 2 cups almond milk or coconut milk into pan. Add a whole peeled onion with one clove stuck into it. Throw in a bay leaf. Bring to simmer, so that milk is suffused with flavors of the onion, clove, and bay leaf. Remove onion/clove and bay leaf. Set liquid aside. Make a roux (2 tablespoons of butter and 4 tablespoons of flour). Add the liquid. Stir until thickened. Season thickened sauce with salt and pepper.

Cheese sauce. Begin as for gravy, above, but when the gravy is very slightly thickened add a LOT of grated vegan cheese (1 cup grated vegan cheese for each cup of milk). Over low heat, stir until vegan cheese is melted and incorporated. You can do this with vegan cream instead of vegan milk, and if you use vegan Parmesan for your cheese, you will end up with a nice Alfredo sauce. If I’m making Alfredo, I begin by sautéing some minced garlic in oil. Then I add a little more oil and/or butter and some flour to make a roux. Then I add the milk. Finally, when the sauce is thickened, I add oregano. Do all this over med-low heat.

Chocolate sauce. Begin as for gravy, above, but when the gravy is slightly thickened, add a LOT of chocolate morsels or previously grated chocolate (1 cup for each cup of milk). Do over med-low heat. You can use the same approach to make caramel sauce. NB: Vegan versions of chocolate and caramel morsels can be bought online or at health food stores and Whole Foods.

Wine sauce. Use 1/4 red or white wine (most any will do if it is not sweet wine) to 3/4 veggie or no-chicken broth. Set aside. Make a roux, pour in your liquid, and then add spices (salt, pepper, minced garlic or garlic powder, and savory spices like rosemary or thyme). Variation: sauté sliced mushrooms and white onion first, and add these to the wine and broth mixture. Then thicken with roux.

Plum sauce a la Princesa. Begin by simmering fruit juice (whatever you have on hand) or mixture of fruit juice, veggie broth, and white wine. Add plum jam and heat until incorporated—enough jam to make the mixture really plum-y tasting. Add spices (whatever you like). Thicken with cornstarch. Great over sliced pears with slightly crushed walnuts. Yum! And very classy, like the Princesa.

Sauce a l’orange. Classic sauce used for chicken by carnivores (ewwwww!) but can be used for any non-meat substitute, such as breaded and fried tofu, seitan, tempeh, etc. Use half and half No Chik’n Broth (from bullion) and orange juice as your liquid. Thicken with roux OR corn starch.

NB: Left-over bread can also be used to thicken sauces, as can white or yellow corn meal.

Play with this stuff. Have fun. Experiment. You will come up with some wonderful creations.

About Bob Shepherd

interests: curriculum design, educational technology, learning, linguistics, hermeneutics, rhetoric, philosophy (Continental philosophy, Existentialism, metaphysics, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, epistemology, ethics), classical and jazz guitar, poetry, the short story, archaeology and cultural anthropology, history of religion, prehistory, veganism, sustainability, Anglo-Saxon literature and language, systems for emergent quality control, heuristics for innovation
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