I think everyone in class has heard me say this, but I grew up in a household that ate the same dishes over and over again – and they were delicious. We always had a protein, vegetable and starch, usually chicken or steak, any vegetable, and rice or pasta. There was a variety in these meals, but they were always lightly seasoned, and never made with anything heavy. Although my mom is German, she never made “traditional” German foods, and leaned toward serving foods more similar to my father’s Turkish background – using olive oils and lean meats for fat. There wasn’t a fear of fat in our household, we just didn’t like how it tasted.
When my mom made lasagna, it was more similar to Turkish subergi, with vegetables and feta cheese, and plain tomato sauce (to fit our American palate) in between noodle layers.
The first time I tried béchamel sauce was when I had begun cooking for myself in college. As a vegetarian, I was experimenting with cookbooks to fill my nutritional needs outside of my parent’s cooking. But I didn’t like the flavor – to me, as with any butter, milk, or cream-based dish, it is too heavy. I like dishes that do not weigh down my stomach. Bechamel sauce is typically made out of a roux, milk, and seasonings. Escoffier noted that after the milk and roux have been combined, lean veal can be added and after boiling slowly for over an hour, the sauce can be passed through a tamis.
Especially for vegetarians, adding any meat to the sauce makes it unusable. And these days as people try to develop healthier versions of their favorite recipes, it is important to have alternatives of these “mother sauces.”
A modern, healthier take on béchamel sauce includes replacing the butter in the roux with olive oil, scalding skim milk to whisk with the roux, and stirring in dry nonfat powdered milk to add body to the sauce. And, definitely, definitely, eliminate the veal. Especially if you are vegetarian. This is how I learned to make the more traditional béchamel sauce as I expanded my cooking repertoire.
For vegans, which I became a year later (although obviously am no longer either – I love my red meat), there are recipes for replacing the butter and milk with vegan margarine and soymilk, but I’m not sure how “healthy” that really is.
In the end, I’m excited to learn more about traditional sauces, but I still crave the type of cooking I grew up with – light, healthy and tasty. Unless of course it’s fried, then I’ll love it.