Plant-Based Pizza: Forget the Cheese, You Won't Even Miss It

Homemade vegan pizza


Plant-Based Pizza With Cashew Alfredo

There are few things that have caused more hesitation in the journey to a fully plant-based diet for me and my husband than our desire to eat a real pizza with real mozzarella cheese. I'm not talking about the shredded stuff they layer on in centimeter-thick piles, I'm talking about the good stuff: the melty circles of real homemade mozz, the kind that makes you reminisce about your study abroad in Italy back in the day. Yeah, I said it -- it's not easy being vegan. As much as I believe in it with all my heart -- for the animals we need to stop exploiting, for the environment we need to stop polluting, and for our health -- there are times when we just really want that cheese. Cheese on pizza, it's basically one of the fundamental bastions of my childhood (and probably for most of you reading this) and there's so much joy and nostalgia and feel-good cheese chemicals that just can't be replaced with anything else. So yeah, sometimes we cheat. But I'm not hear to tempt you into running out and ordering up a good Margherita, I just want to acknowledge that this vegan thing is a journey, and every meal is another opportunity to take a step in your chosen direction. 

So now that I've got you craving pizza, let me tell you about this awesome plant-based pizza we made the other night on a homemade sourdough crust. It was a thing of beauty. This pie didn't even need cheese, it rewrote the book entirely.  The key to a good cheeseless pizza is to make sure you've got all the components, and then max out the flavor on everything. Here's what you need:

  • A crust you love. Light, crispy, but soft. All the flavor you can get.
  • Something saucy. Nobody needs a dry pizza. This can be tomato-based, creamy, pesto-y, hummus-y, etc. This is your flavor base.
  • Something green. Maybe it's the visual contrast with red sauce, or maybe it's just the freshness, but I love a good green pepper, kale, arugula, or basil topping -- anything green will do.
  • Something substantial. You're looking for something to bite into here, something that's going to make you feel full. It could be mushrooms, tofu, tempeh, squash, etc. You don't want to feel like something's missing.
  • Something sweet. A touch of sweetness creates an awesome flavor complement to the sauce and the crust. I like to use sweet potato, winter squash, or raw corn off the cob here, but any sweet vegetable will do.

For this pizza, I used my sourdough starter to make the crust and fed it about four hours before I wanted to make the pizza (but you could easily feed it in the morning before going to work). For this recipe, you only have to let the dough rest for 30 minutes once you mix it, so as long as you've got your starter ready it's a super quick recipe. If you don't have sourdough starter, you can just use your favorite dough recipe here. I've experimented with baking deep dish in a cast iron skillet as well as baking straight on a pizza stone, both with excellent results. I've even made rectangular pizzas in roasting pans, so just use whatever tools you've got. 

Plant based pizza with cashew alfredo

For the toppings, we went for a white pizza and started with a cashew alfredo sauce from the Minimalist Baker that we had made for a pasta dinner earlier in the week. Super creamy, super delicious, definitely saucy, and it even browned a little on the edges in the oven. 

For something green, I softened some dinosaur kale using a technique known as "massaging," which really just means that you are breaking down the tough fibers and releasing the juices. It has a similar wilting effect to giving it a quick saute, but without the cooking and extra dishes. Again, the Minimalist Baker has a method for this on one of her fabulous kale salad recipes. To simplify, you can just mix up 1 Tbsp olive oil and the juice of half a lemon and use that to massage the kale. The oil and acid will do the trick. 

We knew we wanted to use up some portabellos we had from the week before, and these were really the star of the show. Before slicing them for the pizza, we marinated them for about half an hour while we prepped everything else and then seared them in the cast iron skillet. I will once again refer you to the Minimalist Baker for the most flavorful portabellos you ever tasted, but I'm sure there are other good ones out there (what can I say, her recipes are amazing.

And finally -- something sweet. It's late summer in Philly, so we decided to use up the last of our summer corn and topped it all off with raw kernels straight off the cob. They were the perfect complement of mildly sweet and a touch crunchy, and they went wonderfully with the kale and portabellos. 

Ten minutes in the oven and we were enjoying our very own handiwork of a homemade, plant-based, Friday night pizza. Shoutout to Ploughman Cider, the Bluebird Day Apple Peach Wine was incredible and exactly what this pizza needed. 

What's your favorite homemade pizza crust recipe? What vegan sauces and toppings do you use? What are your hardest challenges with sticking to a plant-based diet? Let me know in the comments!

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