I'm not a vegan. I've never strictly been one. The shredded soy cheese I've used on lots of stuff over the years (pizza, mostly) has cassien in it. I do--however--still eat and prepare lots of vegan food, and I most likely always will. Why? Well, frankly, it's better for the planet as a whole, and me specifically. If one half the population of the nation ate a truly vegan meal every day, think of the impact that would make on the nation, and the nation's health! Anyway, I'll speak more about veganism in a future blog. But let's talk about pizza, shall we?

Pizza is without question the perfect food. There are few things more gratifying and satiating to me than a well-made pie. And don't get me wrong; vegan pizza can be awesome. I'm lucky that I live in Portland, where vegans can go to any number of really good pizzarias and get a slice. Note that: a slice. No special ordered whole pie that you need to pay extra for in order to have the spotty-faced kid leave off a bunch of stuff. Vegan pizza by the slice at any number of pie holes.


Pizza, for me at least, is 45% about the pizza, and 55% about comfort, and frankly, that comfort comes from (ahem) cheezy goodness. There. I said it.

The cheese/comfort thing partly stems from being raised in Wisconsin, admittedly. But the real issue is more mechanical. It's structural. You can make the best damn tasting pie on earth, with fab roasted veggies, great meat substitutes and all the rest. But if everything comes falling off in transit to your favorite pizza consuming orifice, the comfort winds up all over your plate, or worse, down your front and in your lap. No comfort. No joy. Bah!

There's a little pizza joint up in Seattle in the campus side of the world called Pizza Pi. Great fresh-made vegan pizzas and calzones. Awesome. When I was last there, it looked like the place was about to go the way of many vegan food ventures (read: "out of business"). Vegan Pizza Brother #1 there said he just couldn't make bank. Damn sad since he was across the street from a major head-shop. Good lord, you couldn't even count on the munchies to keep a pizza place going? I was pretty sure I was going to get some cardboard disc thingy with squidgy underdone tempeh and limp spinach adhesion layer.

Um. No.

Aside from the fact that everything topping-wise was great, the sauce this guy came up with was stunningly good; a white bechamel-type garlicy white-sauce that actually set up and held things in place! Oh, and it didn't feel like hot wall-paper paste in my mouth! In asking the guy about his business, and hearing of his woes, I tried to talk him out of his garlic sauce recipe. No dice. Fair enough, I thought: secret sauces are the foundation of financial fame and success, as we all know, and I'd never ask someone for their first-born. I just went away from the place, happily full, and with a mission.

Fast forward seven years...

Finally, I have a working sauce/topping/binding agent, and it took Wondra and the better part of a half decade of cooking practice to manage it.

Wondra is that gravy/sauce maker in the blue can that your mom had up on the backslpash of the stove that you got in touble as a kid for using to cover your Valley Forge diorama in "snow" because it looked so real. Well, sparky, it's what you need to make your pizza a fab disc of happy. It's what's refered to as an "instant" or "instantized" flour; that is, it is a "low-protein, pregelatinized wheat flour to which some malted barley flour has been added. It has been formulated to dissolve quickly in either hot or cold liquids, and is most often called for to thicken gravies and sauces. Because of its low-protein content, it is also sometimes used in making pie crusts and other recipes that call for cake flour, which is also lower in protein than all-purpose flour"1. In short: it's a super-fine low protien flour that disolves very quickly, and when heated, thickens its liquid base into a gravy or, if used in larger quantity, a thick cheesy-like sauce. One night, while making pizza for me and my ex (the typical melty soy-cheese one for me, and one barren and cheese-less one for her), I spotted my can of Wondra while grabbing for some spice in the cabinet. Right there, on the can, is their recipe for "One Step White Sauce". Just having it there in front of me, I had that forehead-slap moment. "Just toss some granulated garlic in there, and I bet that'd be a start" I thought. Well, not only was it a start, it was the Alpha-Omega. The first bite told me Pizza Pi had lost its magic spell, and I now held the Dark Crystal!!

Wondra One-Step White Sauce
  • 1 cup cold milk
  • 2 tablespoons Gold Medal Wondra flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
Heat all ingredients to boiling over medium heat, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil and stir one minute. Makes 1 cup sauce.

So, that's right off the can. The riff is as follows:
  • 2 TBSP + 1tsp Wondra(R) gravy and sauce maker
  • 2 TBSP Earth Balance
  • 1 TBSP nutritional yeast
  • 1 TSP granulated garlic
  • 1 cup almond milk
Heat Earth Balance in a saucepot on med low until melted. Add in Wondra and yeast make a light roux. Start whisking in almond milk. Add in granulated garlic to taste. Just before pouring over pizza, whisk in an additional tsp of Wondra and pour over prepared pizza. This last bit of Wondra will "set up" in the heat of the oven, not in the sauce pan, thereby allowing you to pour it on, which is handy.

The almond milk, because it is a nut milk, has a nice glossy mouth-feel (due to its fat content) and nutty flavor, which helps the cheesy-ness, as does the nutritional yeast. Also, by using the yeast, you can omit the salt, as the yeast adds a salty/savory note to things.

The proof was in the eating. Not so much my ex, who would enjoy it without the "cheese", but was very gratifying to ME, the "cheesehead". Great mouth-feel, taste, and acted so well as a "bind the universe together" agent that Obi-wan would proudly serve this to Yoda. The most recent riff on this is the Nacho Cheese pizza topping for "Mexi-pizza".
  • 2 TBSP + 1tsp Wondra(R) gravy and sauce maker
  • 2 TBSP Earth Balance
  • 3 TBSP nutritional yeast
  • 1 TSP granulated garlic
  • 1/2 TSP smoked paprika
  • 1/2 TSP cumin
  • 1 TSP taco powder
  • 1 CUP almond milk
So anyway, pizza that actually tastes and behaves like pizza is still within your grasp, grasshopper. Just take the Wondra from my hand, and it will be time for you to make perfect pizza "pi"...