My friends and I recently had another potluck. We always have about 532 themes on the back burner, so it can be difficult to choose just one when we actually pick a party date, but this time we had little choice. One of our own had become a fully committed vegan… for a month. Naturally we were not going to force her to watch us have a mac and cheese fest while she nibbled on celery, but if this thing had been a lifetime commitment, I cannot promise we would have been as compassionate. After all, things taste good wrapped in bacon and stuffed with cheddar. Nevertheless, vegan cooking was the decided cuisine.
Now this is clearly not a vegan or vegetarian blog and I am out of my comfort zone within this category, but veganism does not scare or upset me. I embrace all the foods, encourage a challenge and try to cut down on my flesh and dairy intake whenever possible. I decided to consult the chef I work with for inspiration. He is quite possibly the most passionate human being I have ever met when it comes to food. He is always good for an idea or seventy, but I was sold on proposition number one: Butternut Squash R’bs. That stupid apostrophe is there because vegans do not eat meat, but they really enjoy using words that are meat related to describe their food. I guess throwing an apostrophe where a vowel belongs makes everything animal friendly.
OK, so what is synonymous with ribs? Barbeque sauce. A tomato or mustard based BBQ seemed too heavy and overpowering for the sweet, delicate squash, but then I remembered my chef comrade has a white BBQ sauce on his menu. I knew this would work. White BBQ is a mayo and vinegar based sauce that hails from Alabama. It is delicious as a sauce, marinade or even salad dressing and it can easily be prepared as vegan. I figured the acidity of the vinegar and a bit of added cayenne would help balance the sweetness of the squash. I kinda think I nailed it.
Baked beans are also a staple of BBQ style meals. I had a can of cannellini beans in my pantry and I thought they would look lovely with the white sauce. I reckoned I could convince anyone that vegan cooking ain’t so bad with the addition of ingredients like caramelized onions, ginger, sage and maple syrup. Once again, I was pretty correct. I originally thought these baked beans could be a side, but the day of the potluck everyone poured them right on top of the r’bs and just destroyed. That works too!
Here’s what you need:
For the Squash
– (1) Large Butternut Squash
– Splash Vegetable Oil
– Salt & Pepper to Taste
White BBQ Sauce
– (2) Cups Vegan Mayo (Nayonaise, Vegenaise)
– (1) Cup Seasoned Rice Wine Vinegar
– Sliced Fresh Ginger & Sage Leaves (to steep in vinegar)
– (1) Lemon (juice)
– (1/2) Tbsp. Cayenne Pepper
– (1) Tbsp. Agave
– Couple Splashes Worcestershire Sauce
– Black Pepper to Taste
For the Baked Beans
– (1) Can Cannellini Beans
– Splash Olive Oil
– (1) Large Sweet Onion (halved & sliced)
– (1) Inch or So, Fresh Ginger (grated)
– (2) tsps. Garlic
– Decent Amount Fresh Sage (finely chopped, see picture below)
– Salt & Pepper to Taste
– (1/4) Cup Maple Syrup (maybe a few splashes more)
– Sprinkle of Brown Sugar
Preheat your oven to 450 and grab that squash. Cut off the very top and bottom so you can slice it in half with relative ease. Scoop out the guts (veganism can still be graphic) and rub the flesh side with some kind oil, like vegetable. Season with s & p and place the flesh sides down on a baking sheet. Cook time will depend on the squash size. Even the small ones take at least 20 minutes. You want the flesh to get a bit softer, but you still want it somewhat firm because you will be grilling it later. I did not peal the squash. You can if you want, but I left it on as a nod towards a bone. Plus, we all know how much it sucks to peal those things. It also turns out the skin doesn’t taste that horrible. Several people happily ingested the “bone” (including myself) and we’re all still alive to talk about it.
Let the squash cool a bit so you don’t blister up from trying to cut the damn thing. Slice it into pieces that are 3″-4″ in length. At this size they look somewhat reminiscent of spare ribs and are easy to devour. Place them all in a baking dish or large plate, top them with the white BBQ and a few extra shakes of cayenne. Let them marinate for a couple hours in the fridge. Finally grill them on each side to get a sublime charred finish.
The white BBQ is quick and easy. Put the vegan mayo in a food processor. Now, I steeped sage and ginger in the rice wine vinegar for about 15 minutes. This is totally optional, but it adds subtle flavor that ties into the bean preparation. Make sure you strain all ginger and sage leaves and cool the vinegar before adding it and all other ingredients to the food processor. Adjust all seasonings to taste and maybe only add a little vinegar and lemon juice at a time. I like the sauce a little thinner and more acidic, but that may not be your jam.
As for the baked beans, start with a sauté pan that’s been lightly coated with olive oil. Add the sliced onion, garlic and grated ginger. Let them caramelize on low heat for a while. Once the onions start to brown, add the beans, sage and maple syrup. Cook for a few more minutes than transfer everything to a baking dish. I like to sprinkle a little brown sugar and extra maple syrup over the top and then bake covered with foil at 350 for 25 minutes. Halfway through, pull them out and give everything a good turn.
For the fancy plating I did r’bs, topped with sauce, topped with beans, topped with MORE sauce and finished with some sage I quickly fried, chopped and sprinkled over the plate. There is also a quick slaw made of red savoy cabbage, kale and apples, all tossed in the white BBQ. There is nothing to be mad at here. This congruous fusion of flavors might just cause you to purchase a gourd over baby backs next time you hit Stop n Shop. While meat ribs are still delectable, you should definitely consider trying the alternative at least once.