This is the third dish in my week-long series of WFPB recipes. Instead of being a ”perfect” representation of my “A Grain, a Bean, a Veggie, a Green, and a Seed” concept like my “Perfect” Bowl, or my “Perfect” Stew, this recipe for Quick Easy Cauliflower Alfredo with Pickled Lentils and Black Bean Fettuccine requires a bit of shoe-horning since some of the ingredients like the bean-based pasta and the sprouting broccoli pull double duty. But it’s still delicious, simple to make, and a super hearty WFPB meal.
As you know, I’ve been on a weight loss journey, and instead of telling myself what I can’t eat, I’ve made a list of items that I want to make sure that I get in every meal: whole grains, legumes, vegetables, greens, and whole-plant fats. I’ve “abbreviated” or short-handed this paradigm or checklist to “A Grain, A Bean, A Veggie, A Green, and A Seed”. It’s not perfect, but It’s helping me crowd out the foods I don’t want to eat with the foods that I do want to eat.
“A Grain, A Bean, A Veggie, A Green, and A Seed”
I came up with a paradigm, or a checklist to help me plan my WFPB meals. The not-so-catchy name of which is “A Grain, A Bean, A Veggie, A Green, and A Seed”. Admittedly, the name needs work, but the practice of using it has been working great.
My goal is to plan meals that have each of these components:
- A “Grain” can be any type of whole grain or starchy vegetable that adds fiber and substance to your meals. For my purposes, a “grain” can be anything from whole wheat used to make bread, to brown rice, to even quinoa, and sweet potato.
- A “Bean” can be any type of bean, legume, or pulse. Although most plant-based foods do contain some amount of protein, a “bean” represents an overt source that is both fiber and protein dense. Ideally the “bean” is in its whole form, but tofu and bean pastas check this box as well.
- A “Veggie” can be any non-starchy vegetable that adds bulk, flavor, and nutrition to the dish. Think broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, radishes, and peppers. Although starchy veggies are great, in terms of their function in the meal, they tend to fit better into the “grain” box. Mushrooms are also a great addition to meals, and for what I’m trying to accomplish, mushrooms fit into the “veggie” box as well.
- A “Green” can be any type of leafy green, added to the dish either during or after cooking, or left raw. Not only are greens great for adding nutrition to the dish, they are also great for flavor and texture. Greens can be the bulk of a meal like in the case of kale salads, or an accent to the dish in the case of spinach or arugula added to soups and curries just before serving.
- A “Seed” represents a whole-food source of overt fat. Avocados, smashed, sliced, or guac’d are great. As are various types of nuts, seeds, and their derived butters. Coconut products like milk, flakes, and butter also add a ton of flavor and body to various dishes
Now that you know the system, let’s look at what foods in this dish check which boxes:
- The “Grain” – As I mentioned in the intro, this recipe requires a bit of imagination to make it fit, but I’m sticking to my water guns. Hear me out: Since I’m using a bean-based pasta, I have no real need for a whole grain. Therefore, when I use pastas like those from Banza or Explore Cuisine, I use two servings, counting one for the “grain” and one for the “bean”. If you’re not a fan of bean-based pastas, just use a whole wheat variety, and just double up on the pickled lentils or toss in some chickpeas with the sauce.
- The “Bean” – But I thought you said that the bean-based pasta counted as the “bean” and the “grain”? I did. But, this dish also has pickled lentils which also technically count as a “bean”, too. I used a smaller amount of lentils than I normally would of a “bean”, so it’s more there for flavor instead of nutritional density, but it still plays an important role in this dish.
- The “Veggie” – The Easy Cauliflower Alfredo is pretty much all cauliflower, so a generous serving of that sauce counts as the “veggie” in this dish. I’ve also added sprouting broccoli, which would normally function as the “veggie”, but since the cauliflower holds its own as the veggie, I decided to let the broccoli play the “green” in this dish
- The “Green” – Any type of green would be amazing in this dish; wilted into the sauce. However, I’ve made an executive decision to use sprouting broccoli as my “green”. In terms of nutrient density, and the function of the “green” in the dish, the sprouting broccoli does the job.
- The “Seed” – The original iteration of this dish called for ½ cup of raw cashews to help thicken the sauce. However, in a moment of self-reflection, I thought that since I use cashews in so many dishes, it would be a great time to diversify my “seed” portfolio and use an actual seed instead. Sunflower seeds are a great nut-free way to get rich, non dairy creaminess in a dish.
- “No Chicken” flavored Better Than Bouillon – By far my favorite bouillon and my favorite way to add depth of flavor to comfort foods. You could just use veggie broth in place of the water and bouillon, or use your favorite flavor of vegan bouillon instead.
- Nutritional yeast – Normally used to give a “cheesy” flavor to vegan dishes, this seasoning gives a subtle flavor that slightly nods at the parmesan flavor that’s normally present in Alfredo sauces. I personally think it’s an important ingredient, but if you don’t have it, or you’re not a fan of it, skipping it won’t be the end of the world.
- Italian seasoning – Oregano, thyme, basil… Italian seasoning just has that specific flavor and fragrance that reminds me of a pizza shop or an Italian restaurant. The recipe calls for a relatively small amount, but that small amount really does add a ton of “Italian” flavor. You could just add a pinch of the individual spices, or use your favorite seasoning blend.
- Rice vinegar or white vinegar – The pickled lentils are just cooked lentils and vinegar. In the past I’ve used seasoned rice vinegar, unseasoned rice vinegar, and white vinegar. They all work pretty much the same. Use what you’ve got. I would only really caution one from using balsamic vinegar or something with too strong of a flavor.
- Instant Pot – In order to make this dish “Quick and Easy”, an IP or a multi-cooker is pretty necessary. However, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be made on the stovetop. The printable recipe has instructions for both methods.
- High-speed blender – From the feedback I received after posting the original version of this recipe a long long time ago, thoroughly blending this dish makes all the difference. If you have a less powerful blender, or if you don’t let it blend long enough, you’ll be left with a baby food texture and not a glossy, creamy, Alfredo texture. Any blender will work, really, you just need to make sure that the sauce gets thoroughly blended past the point of puree. Also, since we’re blending hot stuff, it’s very helpful to have a blender that allows steam to escape from the top to prevent pressure from building as you blend.
- Air-fryer – There are infinite ways to cook broccoli or sprouting broccoli. My favorite just happens to be air-frying. If you don’t have one, it’s not a big deal. Just roast your broccoli on a baking sheet in a 400 degree F. oven instead.
Quick Easy Cauliflower Alfredo with Pickled Lentils and Black Bean Fettuccine
A comforting, rich and creamy WFPB Alfredo sauce that's packed full of veggies and flavor.
- 8 ounces raw or frozen cauliflower
- 1 cup (8 ounces) water
- 2 teaspoons “No Chicken” flavored Better Than Bouillon or vegan bouillon of choice (enough to make 2 cups of broth)
- ¼ cup (1 ounce) raw sunflower seeds or raw cashews
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- pinch red pepper flake
- 8 ounces black bean fettuccine or bean-based pasta of choice
- ½ cup pickled black lentils (recipe below)
- 8 ounces broccoli or sprouting broccoli
- Add all of the Easy Cauliflower Alfredo Ingredients to your Instant Pot. Secure the lid, and make sure that the release valve is set to pressurize. Set the cook time for 4 minutes. When the time is up, carefully quick-release the pressure. Proceed to blending directions.
To a medium-sized saucepan, add the Quick and Easy Cauliflower Alfredo ingredients. Bring the water or a broth to a simmer. Turn the stove to low, cover the pot with a lid, and allow the mixture to simmer for about 10 minutes. Check the cauliflower for doneness, and continue to cook until it is starting to fall apart. Proceed to blending directions.
- CAUTION! Carefully add the contents of the Instant Pot to a high-speed blender. (Note: If you are using a Bullet-style blender, it’s best to wait until the mixture is cooled down before blending.) Make sure that the top of your blender can vent excess steam, and use a towel to cover up the hole so that the HOT mixture doesn’t splash you. Start the blender on low, and gradually increase the speed until it is on high. Blend for 1 minute until the sauce is rich and creamy. If it feels more like baby food than Alfredo sauce, keep blending. Taste for seasoning.
- Prepare 8 ounces of dry pasta according to package directions.
- Preheat the oven or air-fryer to 400 degrees F. Cut broccoli into bite-sized pieces. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until tender, and slightly browned.
Toss cooked pasta and a few tablespoons of pickled lentils with the Quick and Easy Cauliflower Alfredo sauce. Top each serving with a bit more pickled lentils, and serve with charred broccoli on the side.
Easy Pickled Lentils
Humble black lentils are turned into a bright pop of flavor that can be added to your favorite dishes
- 1 cup small black "beluga" lentils
- 1 ½ to 2 cups rice vinegar or white vinegar
- salt to taste
Rinse your black lentils, and place them in a medium saucepan. Cover the lentils with at least an inch of water, and bring to a boil. Cook for about 20 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Test for doneness. The lentils should be completely soft, but not falling apart.
- Drain the lentils and rinse them with cool water. Transfer the drained lentils to a jar and cover with vinegar. Add salt to taste. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours before serving, though they are best after 48 hours.