Vegan risotto can be tough to make since traditional risotto recipes call for a lot of dairy. However, it’s not impossible to make vegan risotto that is rich, creamy, and comforting.
I clearly remember the first time I had real vegan risotto. It was a couple of years ago when our friend Lindsay came to visit my husband and I. I was pregnant with my first baby at that time and sick as ever. (I don’t handle pregnancies well.) Poor Lindsay assessed the situation and realized that unless he cooks, there’ll be no supper. So he went through my almost-empty pantry, wrote a list of ingredients he needed to make supper, and sent my husband to a grocery store while he headed to a liquor store for some white wine.
The next thing I remember is waking up on the couch to a smell of aromatic Italian risotto. Although I was so sick and swore that I wouldn’t even look at food for the rest of my life, I couldn’t resist when Lindsay handed me a bowl of the creamy goodness. I mean, he even made the risotto vegan for us! The only thing I wished was that the bowl was bigger. Both Tanner and I devoured the vegan risotto within a few minutes and couldn’t believe Lindsay didn’t make more! What about leftovers for the next day?!
So how exactly do you make creamy vegan risotto?
Tips for Making the Best Vegan Risotto
Rice – risotto, in its simplest way, is rice cooked in broth. So, the type of rice you choose is very important. The rice needs to have high starch content and the ability to absorb liquid.
- Arborio rice is probably the best-known risotto rice and also readily available in pretty much any grocery store. However, it’s also the trickiest type of rice to work with because it easily overcooks and the grains are more likely to break.
- Carnaroli rice has short, plump grains like those of arborio rice. Also, like arborio rice, carnaroli grains are high in starch, producing creamy, sauce-like consistency. Because of its rather firm grain, carnaroli is very forgiving to cook with – it doesn’t matter too much if you stir it constantly or leave it unstirred for an extended period of time. However, it’s also much harder to find in grocery stores.
- Vialone nano rice has a medium grain, and is shorter and thicker than arborio. It absorbs more than twice its weight in liquid, is nearly impossible to overcook, and is perfect for creating a very hearty risotto.
Mushrooms – I would argue that the best type of mushrooms for risotto are chanterelles. They are not easy to come by in most groceries and even specialty stores won’t carry them year ’round. However, they have a wonderful meaty flavor and even a little bit goes a long way. Actually, any wild mushrooms are pretty awesome. However, since wild mushrooms aren’t always available though, I use brown crimini mushrooms most of the time. They are much more flavorful than white mushrooms, have an earthy taste, and just like chanterelles – meaty flavor.
Shallots have a sweet and mild flavor with a hint of garlic, and lack the bite you get with yellow or white onions. Shallots work particularly well in recipes where you don’t want an overpowering onion flavor – like risotto. If you don’t have shallots, you could use sweet onions instead. I just find that shallots always turn savory recipes into something really special.
Wine – you need so little wine for risotto that it doesn’t really matter which one you use. For those of you who don’t have any use for the white other than the risotto (my husband and I don’t drink, for instance), dry vermouth is a great choice because it keeps will in the fridge and hardly ever spoils. If you consume wine regularly, you can use whatever you’re drinking at that moment. And if you prefer to omit the wine altogether, use more broth with a splash of lemon juice in its place. The wine isn’t an essential ingredient, but it definitely does add a depth of flavor to the final dish.
Stock – most of the store-bought versions of vegetable stock aren’t of a very high quality. Rather than relying on fresh vegetables and herbs for their flavor, they often depend on flavor enhancers, like MSG, natural flavors, salt, disodium inosinate, and more. What’s even more important is that even if the ingredient labels lists only of vegetables, the likelihood of the manufacturer using fresh whole vegetables is pretty low. That’s why I usually make vegetable stock myself, using whatever extra vegetables I find in the fridge or the freezer. And, because you can store homemade stock in your freezer, you can make a big batch when it’s convenient, freeze it, and you’ll always have some on hand when you need it.
Caramelize the shallots – although shallots caramelize like onions, they overcook easily. So it’s important to sauté them slowly over low heat or else you risk the chance that you overcook them, resulting in a bitter taste instead of sweet. Another thing to keep in mind is that if you brown the shallots too much, they will color the dish. So keep an eye on them.
Toast the rice – some chefs suggest removing the shallots from the pan before adding the rice (to prevent further browning), some say it’s ok to keep the onions in the pan. Whichever route you decide to go with, toast the rice over low heat. Don’t allow the rice to brown because it would lock the starch in, preventing the rice from getting creamy. The grains should be heated through so the wine sizzles when you add it into the pan.
Add the wine before any other liquid – wine, other than adding a depth of flavor, helps to tenderize the rice. Don’t forget to warm up the wine before adding it to the rice. As a chef Gabriele Ferron (who travels the world giving risotto demonstrations in top restaurants) says, “if you add cold wine, you shock the rice, which will flake on the outside and stay hard at the core”. Let the wine evaporate completely and then begin to add the hot stock.
Add a ladleful of hot stock at a time – stirring the rice while adding hot stock is called the risotto method. You’ll need two hands – one for stirring and one for ladling. The constant stirring while slowly adding the stock is what releases the rice’s starches, producing a creamy, velvety dish. If you pour all the stock into the pan at once, you’re just boiling rice. Keep the stock at a rolling boil and always wait until the rice absorbs all the stock. Then add some more. Don’t let all the stock evaporate though. If the grains get too dry, they’ll flake. The finished rice should be al-dente with just a little bit of bite to it.
Just as a side note, a food writer Richard Erlich makes a case for a more hands-off approach to risotto. “You can cook perfect risotto with just occasional stirring, and you can also do it in the oven, the microwave, or a pressure cooker”, he says. However, I have never been able to do it that way myself. Without stirring, my final dish always looks more like a pilaf rather than a risotto. If you’re adventurous, you can give a try though.
Use a two-pan technique – if you’re making risotto with vegetables, cook the veggies in a separate pot and add them to the rice at the end of cooking. This is especially important for tender vegetables, such as leafy greens, mushrooms, or asparagus. You don’t want anything mushy in your risotto.
Brown the mushrooms – hear me out on this one, please! Get the pan pretty hot, add a splash of olive oil, then add the mushrooms, and back away. Don’t stir the mushrooms! The secret to really flavorful mushrooms is a caramelized crust and that only happens with high heat and no stirring. After about 3 minutes, check the bottom of one mushroom and if it’s not golden yet, flip it back until you see some color going on. Obviously, you’ll need a big enough pan so all the mushrooms fit in one layer.
The consistency of this vegan risotto should be very much like a classic risotto: more solid than a soup, but thinner than a stew. The rice should be al-dente and intensely savoury.
I like to serve the risotto in a deep plate, topped with the fried mushrooms with all their pan juices, garnished with some chopped chives (or chopped Italian parsley), and a generous sprinkle of black pepper. It makes for a perfect entrée or a delicious side on Italian night.
And if you’re craving more Italian food, try this Basil Pesto Pasta with Charred Tomatoes.
Tools You’ll Need
1. Cookware Set (Calphalon, Stainless Steel) | 2. Measuring Cup (4 Cups, Pyrex, Glass) | 3. Measuring Cups (Set of 6, Bellemain, Stainless Steel) | 4. Measuring Spoons (Set of 6, 1Easylife, Stainless Steel)
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