Monday, January 19, 2009

Pizza with Tahini Sauces

I'm bored with vegan pizza that's nothing more than regular pizza without the cheese. Mostly I'm tired of tomato sauce, but I also think cheeseless pizza, which looks a little naked, reinforces the perception that vegan food is always missing something.

"No meat? No eggs? No dairy? What do you eat?" People imagine familiar foods and then subtract the animal products until all that's left is dry bread and a parsley garnish.

I'm definitely not suggesting I want a pizza made with some kind of vegan imitation cheeze. These bouncy orange concoctions barely resemble food, let alone cheese. They're made in a mad scientist's laboratory, and the color, texture, and taste are always off.

At the risk of annoying any readers I may have in The Old Country, why not make a pizza that ignores the sauce and cheese model all together? Let's call it a flatbread.

I was looking for a sauce that would be rich like cheese, tangy like tomatoes, and free of bizarre ingredients. Tahini fit the bill: nothing but ground roasted sesame seeds, a creamy base for tart flavors. A google search told me that some people use a tahini-miso mixture on pizza, but I'm tired of miso, too, so I decided to experiment. My first try was mostly unadulterated tahini, with only a touch of lemon and garlic, slathered on a wheat crust. It tasted good but the tahini dried out and looked curdled.

I did a little more research and experimental mixing, and came up with two good options. The first reminds me of the creamy lemon sauce I used to eat on Bertucci's pizza when we lived in Massachusetts and I ate dairy. The second tastes more like traditional pizza and was a big hit with my husband. Neither sauce requires anything more complicated than measuring and mixing.

Lemon Pepper Tahini Sauce

1/4 cup tahini
2 tsp chopped garlic
1 lemon, juiced (about 3 TBSP)
2 TBSP warm water
freshly ground black pepper

Put everything in a bowl and whisk until sauce is a uniform consistency.

Tomato Tahini Sauce

1/3 cup tahini
1/3 cup diced tomatoes (I used canned, but fresh would work)
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp basil
1/2 tsp thyme

Put all ingredients in a blender or food processor and puree.

You can use any crust or toppings you like. I spread each sauce on a small wheat crust (see below), and topped them with rosemary, red onions, kalamata olives, marinated artichoke hearts, and sun-dried tomatoes. I baked them at 425F for 15 minutes.

wheat crust: I followed these directions, but used 1/2 white, 1/2 wheat flour, and I kneaded it a second time for about 5 minutes. It made enough for one large and two small thin crust pizzas. The edges were pretty crispy, but the interior was nice and chewy.

I'm feeling triumphant, because these flatbreads really hit the spot. Take that, cheeze!


  1. Hi, nice recipes! John and I cannot wait to try some of your recipes!:) My mom is a vegetarian - I'll share these recipes with her. J & E from Tiger Teeth Pepper!

    PS- you have way with words! An eloquent way!

  2. Thanks Elaine. We got the chutney, and it's great, too! We mixed some of it into hummus.

  3. just wanted to say Hi- i got the link to your blog from my stepmom Maxine who works at phillips-exeter. your blog is fabulous and inspiring. i am currently a stay at home mom- raising 3 little girls vegan in Hampton NH. it's so nice to know of others out there who share some same views- i totally agree with the soy cheese thing- we are kindof real food vegans none of that fake baloney and pretend meats. My blog is part food part kids- i've kinda lost some of my motivation on keeping it up but you can check it out.
    i just made the fluffy white cupcakes from vegan lunch box for my daughter's 5th birthday at preschool. how's the vegan scene in bangor? we just went to a newish place in portland ME Green Elephant- vegetarian bistro. it was nice. Your pizza's look great- are you using a pizza stone?? i make homemade pizza about once a week. i'm going to have to try the tahini sauce. Have you been to Life Alive in Lowell MA. we are going tomorrow hopefully- i love it. they do really good smoothies with homemade almond milk and steam all their veggies and grains and have incredible sauces- it's so healthy and yummy. sorry if i just rambled on- keep up the good work with creating beautiful meals

  4. Wow Mary, that looks extremely yummy, pleeeeease bring lots of those pizzas to the next potluck !

    Meghan of Hampton, do you guys ever get the "vegan valhalla" wrap from the Friendly Toast restaurant in Portsmouth, those are fantastic. It's great that you've been to the Green Elephant, we love that place and always make a point of stopping in when near Portland.
    We have a 9 month old son who has been vegan since conception, and know tons of other kids in this area who are being raised vegan and/or vegetarian, the future is looking up !

  5. Meghan: Thanks so much! It's nice to know my Phillips-Exeter operative has been spreading the word. I don't have a pizza stone, I just use a baking sheet. Does a pizza stone make a big difference? And yes, Green Elephant is FANTASTIC. I don't have any kids, but I think a blog about the nitty-gritty of raising vegan kids would be really interesting. I wonder about food at school, especially. And when the kids hit middle school, is there a rebellion where they experiment with mcnuggets?

    Tom: Maybe we could talk Green Elephant into a Bangor franchise? I'm not even kidding.

  6. Mary, every single time we go there we urge them to open one in Bangor, and they had a table at the Portland vegetarian festival last year where we, along with several other attendees, really tried to do some convincing :-) I truly believe they would do fantastic up here, as every chinese restaurant in this area basically offers the exact same boring, unhealthy, uncompassionate fare.

  7. hello everyone- Mary I'm loving your blog, very creative. i too am trying to like nutritional yeast. i think i overdosed on it a couple times and it made me sick- but i'm trying to ease back into it. Yes raising the kiddies vegan can be hard at times. It's easy when they're little and you have control over what you feed them. The oldest is in preschool now and it's getting more complicated. She has her own stash of cupcakes in the freezer at school and they pop one out at birthdays. When she goes over to friends house for playdates i try to give a vegan crash course to the mom about what she can have and what she can't. The other day she asked me if we were the only vegans in the world and it made me really sad because i think she's starting to feel different. i wish Bangor wasn't so far away. the vegan potluck sounds great. i love my pizza stone. you get a really crispy crust and don't have to use any oil. i use it to make breadsticks and focaccia. i just saw martha stewart said you can turn a cast-iron pan upside down and use the bottom kinda like a stone.
    Yea tomofmaine- i love hearing of other vegan kids. no i haven't had the vegan valhalla. I'll always get the tofu scrambler but i'll have to try it sometime.- peace

  8. try the cashew ricotta from Veganomicon!! it makes pizza perfection.

  9. "At the risk of annoying any readers I may have in The Old Country, why not make a pizza that ignores the sauce and cheese model all together?"

    When I was in Italy, I had at several restaurants pizza that was topped with only garlic, salt, herbs, and olive oil (and still called "pizza" on the menu). I make it quite often at home, sometimes adding chopped olives, caramelized onions, or sliced mushrooms.

    That lemon pepper sauce sounds intriguing. I'll have to give it a try.


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