With the products available now, a traditional gratin is very easy to turn into a vegan meal. Having good quality alternatives to butter, milk, cream and cheese are essential to giving the gratin its uniquely rich flavour. Thankfully, all of these are now easily obtainable in most supermarkets, giving us the option of having a vegan gratin that is as good and creamy as the original.
The best tool for making a gratin? The mandoline: the most sinister and torturous kitchen device known to humankind.
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As I write this, my thumb sits heavily bandaged, bleeding at every opportunity even two full days after I removed a good solid chunk from it while slicing the potatoes for this very recipe. Do I have regrets? No. The mandoline is an extremely useful tool for getting thin and even slices from your vegetables at a fraction of the time it would take you with a knife. I would still pick it every time for this dish (I went straight back to using it after I was cleaned and bandaged up – the show must go on). What I would say to those who haven’t used one before is treat it with respect. Use the guard provided and go slowly. Do not try to cut the last sliver of potato with your fingers because the guard doesn’t hold it anymore, sometimes you’ve just got to let those vegetable ends go to the compost bin.
You can also, on Amazon, get cut-resistant gloves. I’ve just bought myself a pair for the next time I use the mandoline.
If I’ve not convinced you (or perhaps even talked you out of it), you can still make this dish by cutting the potatoes and courgettes into thin slices with a sharp knife. Note that they will probably not be as thin as you can get them from the mandoline, so you will have to boil them for longer before putting them into the gratin dish. I’ve also left my potatoes unpeeled, so if you’ve got good potato skins you can do the same.
The cooking of the potatoes prior to putting them in the oven is a crucial step and will determine how tender they are in the final dish. Lots of recipes for gratin, in my opinion, don’t stress this point enough. Some will say cook them in your cream sauce for about 5 minutes, but I have often found this to be insufficient. You want the potato slices to be tender, with perhaps just a little bite to them, but no so soft that they break up in the pan. This will allow them to then finish cooking properly while baking in the oven. If you achieve this in 5 minutes, then great, but it can also take 15. The best way to check them once they have become quite pliable is with a small, sharp knife. If the knife goes in easily, you should have no problem.
The vegan cheese I am using for my gratin is the Cathedral City plant-based brand, as it has both the richness and creaminess needed to make as traditional a version of the gratin as is possible. Feel free to experiment with other cheese to see what you can come up with.
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Potato, Courgette and Leek Gratin
- 50 g vegan butter
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large leek sliced thinly and washed to remove any dirt
- 2 large cloves of garlic chopped
- The leaves from a large sprig of fresh thyme roughly chopped
- 450 ml vegan milk
- 350 ml vegan cream
- 200 ml vegan crème fraiche
- 2 bay leaves
- ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
- 3 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 1 veg stock cube make sure it’s gluten-free, if required
- 1.2 kg potatoes washed and skins left on if they are in good condition
- 2 large courgettes
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 200 g vegan cheese grated
- 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves roughly chopped
- Melt the vegan butter in a large saucepan with the tablespoon of olive oil, then gently cook the leek slices for 5-7 minutes, until they have softened. Add the chopped garlic and the thyme and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring throughout.
- Build up you sauce by pouring in the vegan milk, cream and crème fraiche. Stir to fully combine and then add the bay leaves, nutmeg, nutritional yeast and the stock cube. Mix in and bring to a gentle simmer, then cook for about 5 minutes on a low heat.
- While the sauce is simmering, you can slice your potatoes. The best way to do this is with a mandoline (see notes above). If you don’t have one or don’t want to use one, then use a sharp knife to slice your potatoes as thinly and as evenly as possible. Add the sliced potatoes to the pan and cook for anywhere between 5 and 15 minutes, until the potatoes are soft but not breaking up (see notes).
- While the potatoes are cooking, slice the courgettes thinly (I also did mine with the mandoline). Heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan and cook the courgettes for about 8-10 minutes, until they are soft and just starting to brown. Season with the salt and pepper, then set aside until needed.
- Preheat the oven to gas 6/200C/400F.
- Once the potatoes are cooked, remove the bay leaves from the sauce then take out a large gratin or oven dish and place it on a baking tray to catch any overspill. Spread half of the potato mix over the bottom of the dish, then layer half of the courgettes on top of the potatoes. Now spread half of the grated cheese evenly over the courgettes. Repeat the process again in the same order, so that the grated cheese is on top of the final later. Finally sprinkle over the fresh thyme leaves.
- Place the dish in the lower part of the oven and cook for about 45 minutes, until the gratin is browned and bubbling. If you want to, you can lift the gratin up to the top of the oven to brown even further. Allow to rest for about 15 minutes before serving.
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