Whether you're preparing a Thanksgiving feast or an everyday comfort-food dinner, serving a good gravy can be a key to success. For vegetarians, there are delicious ways to mimic meat-based gravies - without using any animal products.
When making vegetarian gravy, there are three primary considerations: Depth of flavor, consistency, and color.
Focus on Flavor
The meat flavor you're looking to imitate is umami, the mouthwatering taste linked with anchovies and beef jerky. But umami also exists outside of the animal kingdom. Many vegetable gravy recipes begin by sautéeing garlic and onions (in butter if you're aiming to please a vegetarian crowd; in olive oil for your vegan pals). Adding sliced mushrooms at this point also ups the umami quotient.
Curate the Consistency and Color
Once the first round of vegetables has cooked down, it's time to make a roux. This is the step which determines if the gravy will turn out thick and smooth or thin and lumpy. Most people prefer the former, so make sure to keep whisking as you add flour, cornstarch, or nutritional yeast to the pan. Nutritional yeast is a great choice because it further enhances umami.
What's in the pan isn't pourable, so you'll want to stretch it with vegetable broth. If you have homemade vegetable stock, that's the quickest route to richness; red wine is useful here too. Plus, red wine helps darken the gravy. But the best trick for browning is soy sauce (which just happens to have umami to spare.) For ultimate seasoning control, consider using a low-sodium soy sauce so you can adjust the salt to your liking. You may also want to add pepper or sage.
Let it Rest
Like pan gravy, vegetarian gravy can be served immediately, but it also benefits from resting for a day or two in the refrigerator, which allows the flavor to deepen.
Watch this short video to see the technique in action.
Related: How to Make Your Gravy Great