Mattie at Veganbaking.net (straight out of Brooklyn, yo) did this awesome comparison of some vegan cheeses and it got me thinking, could I make a decent scalloped potatoes with vegan cheese? Scalloped (or escalloped!) potatoes are an essential comfort food — basically a gratin, or thinly layered, potato casserole topped with scalded milk and grated cheese.
If you have ever tried to make a “cheese toast” with vegan cheese, or if you peruse Mattie’s piece, you will see why the first thing I altered about the traditional recipe was the grated cheese topping. Vegan cheese just doesn’t melt well at normal oven temperatures. Even if it says, “Melts great!” right on the package, it will end up looking like you accidentally melted strips of orange plastic on your toast — and taste just about as nice. Therefore, I decided to melt my vegan cheeses gradually in a white sauce before layering with thinly sliced potato pieces, because even the most recalcitrant vegan cheese will melt in a sauce if you stir it at a high heat for a bit.
In the spirit of experimentation — and because my mother bought me three different kinds of fake cheese on one of her runs to the grocery store for me instead of the one brand I use (not that I’m ungrateful!) — I decided to make three mini scalloped potato dishes and do a taste comparison amongst the faux fromages.
- Vegan Rella cheddar which is made with brown rice and looks super gross coming out of the package — an unappetizing brown color with an oozy consistency.
- Veggie slices (my favorite for grilled cheese) which — oops! — doesn’t turn out to be vegan at all because it contains some lactose-free milk proteins as well as the soy it’s based on.
- Soy Kaas mild cheddar, which looks and melts exactly like Velveeta.
The Veggie slices was American flavor, instead of cheddar, but I have had all of their “flavors” and they all taste exactly alike anyway to my palate. The other thing that I did that ruined the “scientific” cred of my experiment was that I added onions to the Vegan Rella dish and not to the other two.
The following recipe is for a full-sized vegan scalloped potatoes in a 9 inch pie dish or other flat casserole. As you will see, I made three minis for the test.
Vegan Scalloped Potatoes
1 can coconut milk (unsweetened, cooking kind) or about 16 oz.
Several small to medium-sized Yukon gold potatoes, thinly sliced
Sliced onion (optional)
3 tablespoons of flour
4 tablespoons of Earth Balance plus 1 tablespoon to wet crumbs
Salt and pepper to taste
10 oz of two different kinds of vegan chedddar*
Panko or bread crumbs
Preheat oven to 350.
Melt 4 tablespoons of shortening and add flour. Mix together well. Add coconut milk, salt and pepper and blend well. Add vegan cheese — grated or cut in pieces if you are in a hurry — and melt completely.
Layer potato slices (and onion, if you are using) along the bottom of your casserole, completely covering with one thin layer. Spoon over half of your sauce and add another thin layer of potatoes. Add remainder of sauce and top with Panko crumbs that you have saturated with melted Earth Balance.
Bake for 30 – 50 minutes until brown on top and bubbling.
Serves 4 or 5 unless your friends are piggy about potatoes!
*I always recommend using more than one kind of vegan cheese. It just helps. See below for the taste test I did on two kinds of vegan cheese and one soy cheese that is lactose-free.
Results of Our Taste Test
I enlisted a very pregnant, formerly vegan, friend to assist with the taste test and our rankings were directly opposed! Her favorite was the potatoes cooked with the Vegan Rella, the one I liked the least — but might have been prejudiced against because of its nasty appearance raw (it looks fine cooked, as you can see). She liked the Veggie slices dish the least and while it wasn’t my favorite, I didn’t mind the fake American cheese food flavor that put her off. My favorite was the Soy Kaas but she admitted she might have picked the Vegan Rella dish over it because it had onions — which neither of the other two did –and she pointed out that I might have liked the Soy Kaas best because it made such a pretty orange, Velveeta-like brick.
I am also ashamed to admit I made a full-sized scalloped potatoes with a 3-year old Wisconsin cheddar I found in my Mom’s fridge (which is aged enough for the lactose to be gone), following the same recipe as above, but using lactose-free whole milk in place of coconut milk.
That one was insanely delicious, especially compared to the faux dishes. Real cheese does all kinds of tasty things when baked — including sort of caramelizing itself and making crunchy “cheese chips” in places.
Sorry people. Vegan cheese still has a very long way to go towards giving real cheese any real competition on flavor. It also doesn’t stack up on nutrition, if you take into account all of the unwholesome-sounding additives they put in vegan “cheese” in order to get it to behave in a remotely cheese-like manner.