Béchamel is one of the French five mother sauces. It’s a great foundational recipe to know. You can use it here for lasagna, but also for croque moinsuer, and as a base for mac and cheese.
I prefer this vegan variation. I recently made this lasagna for a friend, with meat ragù and cashew béchamel, and she kept talking about how delicious the cheese was. I had to tell her there is no cheese.
In a 3-quart or larger pot, add the olive oil and heat until it is shimmering and fluid, but not smoking. Add in the flour and using a whisk mix it together. Cook for 2-3 minutes, whisking constantly, until it smells nutty.
Add the milk slowly
Add in the milk in batches. If you add all of the milk it will be lumpy and difficult to work with. Start with 2–3 tablespoons of milk. Instantly you’ll see it become a very thick paste. Keep adding a few tablespoons of milk at a time and whisking until incorporated before adding more milk. It will take adding at least 2 cups of milk this way to get a thin enough consistency, then you can add the rest all at once.
Increase heat to medium-high, whisking constantly. You may want to use a spatula to scrape the bottom/sides. Be careful that the milk doesn’t scald to the bottom of the pot, if it does do not scrape it. You must cook this until you see bubbles, that indicates the mixture has reached 212°F and the flour will be cooked. If you don’t get to bubbles it will taste starchy.
Remove from the heat, add the sugar, miso, nutmeg, and paprika. Taste, then add salt and pepper to taste.
Béchamel will thicken as it cools so you may want to gently warm it before assembling your lasagna.
Béchamel will keep for 3 days in the fridge, but you will need to gently re-warm it to assemble your lasagna (it will be thick like pudding when cold).
Freeze béchamel up to 3 months. I prefer to freeze in vacuum sealed bags, laid flat, which store easier and thaw faster. Thaw overnight in the fridge.
When choosing a non-dairy milk for béchamel, look for the following:
The nutritional content should be similar to milk, around 100-140 calories per cup. Look for 5–10g of protein and 5–10g of fat.
Avoid gums and other thickeners. These can behave strangely at high heat and create a gritty or gluey texture.
My go-to brand is Elmhurst unsweetened cashew milk. I prefer it over dairy milk in this recipe.
The small amount of sugar is required to promote browning, similar to lactose in dairy milk.
Use sweet paprika, not hot smoked paprika. Smoked paprika will overwhelm the dish. You can also use cayenne or any other type of chilli flake. You’re not looking for heat, just a tiny bit of flavour.