A vegan version of the gratin dish with no butter or cream, this butternut squash gratin is yet wonderfully creamy and delicious. Kamut berries deliver delightful chewiness laced in between the tender slices of butternut squash. Smoked tofu ups the protein and adds a bold layer of flavour; spinach boosts the nutrient profile.
This delectable squash gratin is a complete meal in itself, although you may serve it as a side dish as well. It’s also easy to make ahead — great for special occasions and gatherings. This vegan gratin is nut-free and can be made gluten-free too.
Although we’re in March and in some places this means Spring is around the corner, over here it’s still rather cold with temperatures grinning with single digits and sometimes below zero. For days like these, we love hearty baked dishes that make a complete filling meal all by themselves.
The butternut squash lends itself well to this hearty vegan gratin dish — tender creamy flesh bursting with flavour — that is sure to win the heart of picky veggie eaters. Their vibrant orange colour adds much brightness to sultry winter days and vigour to the body while tantalising the taste buds.
Coconut milk really makes this gratin extra creamy while keeping it nut-free too.
Kamut khorasan wheat berries, which I’ve talked about more explicitly in the previous post, add toothsome chewiness and a good nutrient profile. Kamut is generally easier to digest by many non-celiac people with wheat sensitivities who cannot eat modern wheat.
Also, the magnesium from kamut actually helps in the absorption of iron from the spinach greens. So, altogether this dish is packed full of nutrients.
Variations to the Recipe
If you can’t find Kamut, you may substitute with spelt berries, farro, Einkorn, oat grains or wheat berries.
For gluten-free or grain-free options:
To make this vegan gratin gluten-free, substitute the Kamut with brown rice. It will work in this particular dish as the grains need to be precooked.
If you are using brown rice, I suggest to slightly undercook them so they continue cooking in the dish. Kamut is tougher that brown rice and it’s actually quite unlikely to risk overcooking kamut unless you deliberately leave it cooking for hours.
For grain-free, you may substitute the Kamut with another layer of tofu or some coarsely mashed cooked chickpeas. Or simply omit the Kamut altogether and this gratin will still be utterly delicious!
For soy-free option:
I love the bold layer of flavour that the smoked tofu adds but if you want this dish to be soy-free, you may leave out the tofu. The Kamut alone adds a good amount of protein to this squash gratin dish.
If you can’t find smoked tofu, use regular firm tofu that is marinated in a little soy sauce, then pan-fry before adding it to the dish.
You may substitute the spinach with other leafy greens like chard or even kale.
To make Vegan Butternut Squash Gratin with Kamut Berries:
Start the day before and let the kamut grains soak overnight in plenty of water. The next day, drain the water, add fresh water and cook the grains either on the stove top or in the pressure cooker until they are tender. Pressure cooker instructions are given below.
When you are ready to make the gratin dish, toss the butternut squash in some olive oil in a baking dish and roast them for about 30 minutes until they are almost done.
While the squash is baking, make the creamy bechamel or white sauce and set aside.
Once the squash are ready, remove a layer of butternut squash from the dish.
Then top with some sauce and sprinkle with fresh thyme. We are going to need 5 layers of sauce (2 of which are just a few spoonfuls), so gauge the amount so that you’ll have enough for the final topmost layer.
Scatter half of the kamut berries on the sauce and spread evenly.
Drizzle a little of the sauce and optionally top with some vegan cheese.
Add the spinach followed by a few spoonfuls of sauce and the smoked tofu.
Top with the rest of the kamut berries and some more sauce.
Then add the rest of the butternut squash and cover with a final layer of sauce. Sprinkle some more thyme. I’ve skipped breadcrumbs toppings in this dish but you may add some if you wish.
Then the dish goes in the oven at 180C / 350F for 30 minutes uncovered. I like to broil it for the last 3 – 5 minutes for an alluring golden top.
Vegan Butternut Squash Gratin with Kamut Berries
- 200 g dried whole kamut grains, [1 cup], use brown rice for gluten-free
- 2 – 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 550 – 600 g butternut [about one large], peeled and sliced into thin discs
- 400 ml coconut milk, [1 can]
- ½ teaspoon vegetable bouillon powder
- 180 ml water, [3/4 cup] or use vegetable stock and omit the bouillon powder
- 2½ tablespoons tapioca starch, or potato starch
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast, if not using vegan cheese, add an extra ½ tablespoon
- ½ teaspoon salt, adjust to taste
- 100 g smoked tofu , [about ½ block], or just regular firm tofu, sliced thinly – see notes
- 50 g spinach , [1 cup]
- 4 – 5 sprigs thyme
- Vegan grated cheese, optional
- Salt and pepper to taste
Prepare and cook the kamut grains:
- Soak the kamut grains in plenty of water for at least 12 hours or overnight.
- The next day, drain and rinse the grains. Place in a deep pot and add 2½ cups of fresh water. Bring to a boil then lower the heat to medium and cook for about 1 hour or until the grains are gorged and tender.
- Alternatively, you can cook the kamut in a pressure cooker (at maximum pressure) for 22 minutes. Then let the steam go down naturally before opening the cooker.
- Drain the remaining liquid and set the kamut grains aside.
- You may do this in advance and freeze the grains. Then defrost and use whenever needed.
Prepare the butternut squash:
- Preheat the oven to 200 C / 400 F.
- Meanwhile peel and slice the butternut squash into discs.
- Drizzle some olive oil onto the butternut squash. Toss to coat them evenly then place them in a baking dish and bake for about 30 minutes until almost done.
- While the butternut squash is roasting, make the creamy white sauce.
Make the creamy white sauce:
- Place all the ingredients for the white sauce in a saucepan and heat on medium temperature.
- Stir regularly and more constantly when the mixture start to thicken.
- Once thick and creamy (about 10 – 12 minutes), remove from the heat and set aside. Do not allow this mixture to boil.
Make the casserole:
- Slice the tofu thinly or cut into chunks.
- Remove the butternut squash from the oven and remove one layer of squash from the dish, set aside.
- Drizzle ¼ of the white sauce onto the first layer of squash then top with the thyme leaves.
- Layer with half of the boiled kamut grains then top with a few spoonfuls of the sauce and vegan cheese (if using).
- Add the spinach leaves, a few spoonfuls of sauce followed by a layer of tofu and some more kamut grains. Drizzle some more sauce.
- Add a final layer of the butternut squash and top with the remaining sauce.
- Sprinkle with some more thyme and some cracked black pepper.
- Bake (uncovered) for about 30 – 35 minutes until golden.
- Remove from the oven and let stand for about 8 – 10 minutes before serving.
- Enjoy as a main dish or side dish.
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