A mound comforting, carb-y, deliciousness – this vegan carbonara is creamy, savoury, salty, only uses a few ingredients, and is incredibly quick and easy to make. Ideal for a speedy no-fuss dinner that tastes like you’ve made far more of an effort.
To look at the ingredients for this recipe I would not imagine it could create anything resembling carbonara. The inspiration came from a recipe by Alexa Weibel writing in the NYT for white miso pasta with nori sprinkles. I tried a mouthful without the nori and was transported back to pre-vegan days of sumptuous, buttery pasta dishes, and immediately wanted to adapt it for vegan carbonara purposes.
To be perfectly honest, I can’t even remember the last time I had proper carbonara (it would have been about 20 years ago), but if I ordered it in a restaurant, I would want it to taste like this. Comforting, savoury, buttery, creamy, and dangerously moreish, with satisfying salty spikes of vegan bacon.
There are an increasingly large number of options for making vegan bacon – everything from carrots, to rice paper, to coconut flakes have been subjected to bacon-y makeovers. If you have a vegan bacon recipe that you love, then by all means use that, otherwise I suggest a really quick way to transform smoked tofu into salty, bacon-y bits. You can also now get vegan bacon bits in the freezer section of larger supermarkets – Oumph! Smokey Bits are really good, and you can cook these the same way you would the smoked tofu.
How to make vegan miso carbonara
To begin, put a large pan of water on to boil for the pasta. I would normally recommend salting the water generously, but as the sauce and vegan bacon are both pretty salty, I’d suggest being more sparing. Maybe 1 tbsp salt for 3 or 4 litres of water.
While the water is coming to the boil you can prepare the smoked tofu. Remove from the packet and slice into small, thin pieces – the thinner you slice, the crispier your bacon bits will be. In a shallow bowl or dish, mix together 2 tbsp soya sauce (tamari or coconut aminos would also work well), and some maple syrup, coat the tofu bits thoroughly in the marinade and set aside. You could also use normal tofu and add a few drops of liquid smoke.
Once the water is boiling, add the spaghetti. You want to cook it until it’s just shy of al dente, so set a timer on the cautious side and test the pasta frequently. I like peas with carbonara (to be fair I like peas with most things – peas are great), and the easiest way to cook them is to add them to the pasta water a few minutes before it’s due to be ready. The water will cool (especially if the peas are frozen), so add an extra minute to the cooking time.
To make a quick vegan parmesan, measure some cashews and nutritional yeast into a high-speed blender or food processor, and whizz until they form a fine powder (don’t over-whizz as you’ll end up with cheesy cashew butter). This get added to the sauce later on. I would usually add salt to a vegan parmesan but in this recipe there’s enough in the sauce already.
Put a large sauté or frying pan over a medium heat and add the vegan butter. I would strongly recommend using a good vegan butter block such as Naturli Vegan Block for the best results. You could substitute this with another vegan block such as Flora or Pure, but I’d steer clear of using vegan spread as the margarine flavour is likely to come through. Peel two fat cloves of garlic and crush them with the flat of your knife so they split a little but remain in one piece. Add these along with the smoked tofu to the melted butter (you can discard and remaining marinade).
Fry the tofu bits for 4–5 minutes, stirring frequently, until they are starting to crisp and turn deep brown in places. Once they are cooked, turn off the heat and remove the garlic cloves, then stir in 3 tbsp white miso paste so it forms a paste with the melted butter. White miso is a slightly sweet and delicate miso paste with a beautifully mellow umami flavour, which works wonderfully with the buttery-ness of the sauce.
Before you drain the pasta, reserve a decent amount of cooking water – somewhere around 350ml or one and a half cups. Run the pasta briefly under cold water, and leave to drain while you finish the sauce. Slowly add half the reserved pasta water to the miso until you have a thin cloudy sauce, then tip in the cashew parmesan – as you stir the sauce will start to thicken. Tip in the pasta and given everything a really good toss until all of the pasta is coated in sauce, and add a little more water to loosen if necessary i.e. if the pasta and sauce is clumping together. You don’t want a runny sauce, rather one that clings to the pasta without being claggy.
Finally, grind a generous amount of black pepper over the top, sprinkle on a little chopped fresh parsley, and serve immediately.
Please let me know if you give this a try! I would love to hear what you think. You can comment below, or use the star rating at the top of the post, or find me on Instagram or Twitter @greedybearbakes.
Vegan Miso Carbonara
This vegan carbonara is creamy, savoury, buttery, only uses a few ingredients, and is incredibly quick and easy to make!
For the vegan bacon*:
- 225g (8oz) smoked tofu (I use Tofoo brand)
- 2 tbsp soya sauce (or tamari or coconut aminos for gluten-free)
- 2 tsp maple syrup
For the cashew parmesan**:
- 75g (½ cup) raw cashew nuts
- 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
For the pasta and sauce:
- 400g (14oz) spaghetti or linguine (gf if necessary)
- 75g (5 tbsp) Naturali Vegan Block (or alternative vegan butter block)
- 2 fat cloves garlic
- 3 tbsp white miso paste
- freshly ground black pepper
- 200g (1½ cups) frozen peas (optional)
- small bunch of fresh parsley, chopped (optional)
- Put a large pan of water onto boil with some salt (about 1 tsp per litre).
- Drain the tofu and cut into small, thin pieces. In a shallow bowl or dish, mix 2 tbsp soya sauce with 2 tsp maple syrup, then add the tofu and ensure it’s thoroughly coated. Set aside.
- For the cashew parmesan, measure 75g cashews and 2 tbsp nutritional yeast into a high-speed blender, food processor or spice grinder. Whizz to a powder, making sure not to over-do it as it might start to turn into a paste.
- Once the water is boiling, add 400g spaghetti. Boil for 8–9 minutes (or just less than packet instructions) until the pasta is just a whisker away from al dente. Add 200g frozen peas (if using) to the boiling water 3 minutes before the pasta is due to be ready.
- In a large frying or sauté pan, melt 75g vegan butter over a medium heat. Peel the garlic cloves and crush them with the flat of your knife, so they split a little but still remain in one piece. Once hot, add the garlic and the tofu to the melted butter (you can discard any left-over marinade). Fry the tofu for 4–5 minutes until crisp and brown, then turn off the heat and discard the garlic cloves. Stir in 3 tbsp white miso so it forms a paste with the butter.
- Reserve roughly 350ml (1½ cups) of pasta water, then drain the pasta and refresh with a little cold water. Add half of the reserved water, little by little, to the miso and tofu, until you have a thin, cloudy sauce. Turn the hob back on to a medium-low heat. Stir in all of the cashew parmesan (the sauce should start to thicken), then tip in the spaghetti. Toss together so the spaghetti is completely coated in sauce and hot through. If the pasta is looking a bit claggy and starting to clump together, add a little more pasta water. You don’t want a runny sauce, but one that just clings to the spaghetti.
- Serve immediately, with an (optional) sprinkling of chopped parsley.
*This is a really quick and easy way of making tasty, salty, smokey vegan bacon, but if you have a vegan bacon recipe you like you can always use that instead. If you only have plain tofu, you can add ¼ tsp liquid smoke to the marinade. Otherwise you can now buy vegan ‘smokey bits’ in larger supermarkets in the UK – Oumph! do a really good version (use 1 bag which is 180g), and you can cook them exactly as you would the tofu.
**You can use a shop-bought vegan parmesan if you like, but this will affect the texture of the sauce as the cashews help thicken everything. Start by adding less of the reserved pasta water and see how you go.