Dough. Sauce. Toppings.

veggie-pizzaDough. Sauce. Toppings. These are the key components to making a pizza or pie. In fact there is no wrong way to build your plant based pizza. Move away from “conventional” pizza you can see at any box type restaurant and get creative. Over the last 10 days or so I have made 5 different pizzas, thanks in part to Mark Sutton’s book, Heart Healthy Pizza. I picked this book up in April and made a few pizzas, but after watching Mark on his first “TeeVee” appearance I was motivated to take pizza making to the next level, skipping the store bought pizza dough flours and jars of sauce. You can watch Mark in action below to be “inspired” when comes to your pizza.

After watching the video I pulled out his book and decided to make a veggie pizza for dinner last week. I had finally run across a great tasting, as well as oil free pasta sauce from Trader Joe’s (Trader Giotto’s Fat Free Pizza Sauce). Not typically a store I shop at because of their prices, but the pizza sauce was relatively thick, easy to spread and had a very mild (not overpowered by spices) flavor to it. One jar allows me to make two 13″ pizzas, all for $1.99! It would only be a few days later I would stumble upon a homemade recipes that is cheaper and just as good, if not better. More on that shortly.

I had not had much luck with pizza crust in the past, always deferring to a store bought bag, usually from Bob’s Red Mill. There is a gluten free pizza crust sold, which I thought made pizza making easier, but I could not have been further from the truth. Thankfully I have no intolerance, allergy or sensitivity to gluten, so I opened Mark’s book to a whole wheat pizza crust (find a basic recipe on his site). It was his video that got me thinking, “hey this is easy, I could do it.” I followed the recipe mixed some whole wheat flour with spelt flour, some water, a little agave nectar and a package of yeast and let it rise for 60 minutes. I was somewhat disappointed when it the dough had some resiliency to it. Little did I know this was normal and was the gluten in the dough, something I had not experienced previously with gluten free flour I had used.

Thinking I had done something wrong, I stretched the dough as best I could on a 13″ pizza pan. I popped open the jar of sauce and started to cover the pizza. Maybe I got lazy, but I just opened a bag of frozen veggies and started placing on top of my pie. I also (thanks to Mark) added fresh cut slices of onion and mushrooms. On top of the veggies I added one of Mark’s signature “cheese-like” sauces, as he refers to it. But these toppings only scratch the surface, there are no limitations as to how or what to top your pie with.

On the topic of toppings, I took a page from Vegan Dad, who’s website I seemed to come back to when looking for meat substitutes. I am not talking about that soy crap that grocers pass off a healthy or alternative meat substitutes, none of which are any better for your than meat because these products are highly processed. Vegan Dad had a niche for real meat substitutes, usually using vital wheat gluten as the basis for his meats.

Now for those who don’t favor a plant based diet or plant based pizza, I would not expect you to understand. For me, it’s not about missing meat, I don’t I missing nothing about the taste (or lack of flavor) or preparing animal flesh for cooking. Especially chicken, always hated that slimy feel of dead foul. Meat was actually easier to stop eating than cheese, regardless of how happy cows were. I had favored a few soy/bean based meatless products from MorningStar, but that was prior to learning more about health and nutrition that lead me away from this hideous products.

Vegan Dad’s website would usually be near the top of an interwebs search as it related to vegan meat or meatless meat. This day I decided it was to be pepperoni, but printed up the homemade sausage recipe without realizing it. It was a wonderful mistake in the end, as I will explain. I had all the ingredients except wheat gluten, which I found in bulk at Winco Foods. I knew this was the basis of saitan or wheat meat but I had never ate it or bought it. Little did I know, once the ingredients were mixed it would be similar to a dough recipe with the resiliency.

The recipe looked simple, so I started combining ingredients and heating water in a steamer that would cook the sausages. I wasn’t impressed with how my “meat” looked when it was mixed. I rolled it out on a cutting board and divided it 6 times, with each link being about 5″-6″ long. I rolled each link up in foiled and placed them in the steamer for 40 minutes.

Back to the pizza I was making last week. After swirling the cheese-like sauce on top, it was off to the oven for 15-20 minutes. I checked the the dough at 15 minutes and was shocked when I had a wonderful looking raised, light brown crust. The first thing that ran though my mind, “okay where did I make a mistake and why did this work?” Remember I had only used gluten free dough and until recently I didn’t know that the gluten was required to help the dough raise. Awesome! I was excited to show someone, since no one was home, so I shared the image on Facebook and Instagram.

Since then I have made 4 other pizza crusts, two of them with the whole wheat and spelt mix, but the other 2 with another Bob’s Red Mill product, Gluten Free All Purpose Baking Flour. The two pizzas made with this flour made a nice full crust, but nothing like the whole wheat/spelt combination I was using because of the lack of gluten in the flour. So now I had a foolproof dough recipe that would make a great crust, the basis of any pie you plan to create.

As for the sausage, when the timer went off I lifted each link out of the steamer to cool. I was anxious to unwrap and cut up the first sausage that I only waited 5 minutes. I sliced off the end and then sliced a narrow piece of sausage and took a bite. I was shocked at the flavor and texture of this meatless creation. If I didn’t know better I would have thought it was some sort of sausage. I had another bite and another. This stuff was good and would make an excellent pizza topping. The nutritional information was well within allowable tolerance: 177 calories, less than 1 gram of fat, 17 carbs and 24 grams of protein. The sodium was high at 577 milligrams, but that could be reduced.

The true test would be my son, wife and mother-in-law. My son was a bit hesitant when I asked if he wanted a bite. I broke the piece I was giving him in half and his first comment was, “it’s hot” (as in spicy). He then asked for a bowl of sausage. My wife is not a bit fan of spicy foods, doesn’t agree with stomach and leads to heartburn, but she did try a bit. My mother-in-law was highly impressed with the flavor as well. The next day I brought a link to work and shared it with 4 other co-workers, including a manager who is renown in the art of smoking meat and BBQ. He was impressed with the flavor of the sausage, which led me to believe I had a winning food here. Another co-worker took two home for dinner the following day. Now the final test, will they grill? I have a sneaky suspicion they will, but haven’t confirmed it. Next BBQ I attend I will give it a shot.

Since meat and dairy products are no longer a healthy option for my plant based pizza the options seemed limited at first, but that is not the case. Nearly any food can act as a pizza topping. Look past veggies, I made a Pad Thai Pizza a few weeks back, which featured peppers, rice noodles with a peanut sauce. The crust was made from brown rice and chickpea flour (another recipe from Mark Sutton). Cheese used to be a common denominator for all pizza I ate. Now, it’s not needed for a pizza to be successful. With that said, I have made a few different “cheese-like” sauces to drizzle on the toppings. Many of these sauces are based around nutritional yeast, but much like toppings, expand your horizons and get creative. Many grains can be the base for wonderful sauces for pizza, as highlighted in Heart Healthy Pizza.

You don’t have to be plant based to enjoy a “heart healthy” plant based pizza. Dump the hot box, forget the frozen and spend some time creating a great tasting pie. Look past dairy and meat as your only options for toppings and see what you can create. I’m off to treat myself to cold, leftover pizza.