Recipes from a variety of cuisines call for canned tomatoes or tomato sauce. While originating in South America and Central America, tomatoes have become integrated into the food landscape around the world. After having been brought to Europe, likely by Spanish explorers in the 1500s, tomatoes were then introduced to China, India, North Africa, and of course, North America.
Because of the tomato’s presence on the world wide stage, tomatoes and tomato products are a staple in American pantries. We reach for a can of the red stuff when making pizza sauce and pasta sauce. Comfort food like casseroles, chili and soups. Shakshouka, curries, tacos, jambalaya, Greek braised lamb, enchiladas and more. And this doesn’t even begin to address all the applications for fresh tomatoes. In fact, the tomato has become so ubiquitous on the American dinner plate, it is consistently one of the most common vegetables eaten.
While this is wonderful in some regards, it’s not optimal for everyone. Tomatoes are affordable, accessible, nutritious, and as already discussed, versatile. However, it is partly because of these positive attributes that sometimes we get in a vegetable rut so-to-speak. And that isn’t a rut the vast majority of us can afford to be in. According to the CDC, only about 1 in 10 adults eat the recommended 2-3 cups of vegetables daily. For optimal health, we would at least meet, if not exceed, this recommendation by eating a variety of vegetables. Vegetables of different colors, starchy and non-starchy, raw and cooked. By eating the same short list of vegetables routinely, we miss out on the opportunity to take advantage of the benefits other vegetables have to offer. Benefits such as different vitamins and minerals, fiber, phytochemicals, and of course, taste.
In addition to eating tomatoes to the exclusion of other vegetables, there can be some other issues. For the 18-28% of Americans who experience heartburn or acid reflux, avoiding tomatoes may help relieve or improve their symptoms. Also, people with autoimmune conditions may experience an improvement in their symptoms through the avoidance of tomatoes and other nightshade vegetables.
So move over tomatoes! I’d like to introduce my Versatile Red Veggie Sauce. Use it as you would tomato sauce or diced tomatoes in recipes. I’ve used it as a base in a range of dishes from chicken tikka masala, pizza, chili, spaghetti bolognese, chana masala, sloppy joe’s, minestrone soup, tacos, casseroles and so on. I intend to share some of these recipes in the future as well.
While eating different vegetables can sometimes be a challenge, it doesn’t have to be. One way to add more variety to your veggie intake is by swapping tomato sauce for this red veggie sauce made with a blend of onion, carrot, pumpkin, beets and mushrooms plus a few “extras” for flavor and acidity.
Since the Versatile Red Veggie Sauce is intended to be used as a part of another recipe, it’s important for this recipe to be as streamlined as possible. I keep the prep to a minimum by using pre-peeled and washed baby carrots, canned pumpkin puree, pre-steamed and peeled beets, and canned mushrooms. An additional time saver would be using pre-prepared diced onion. By doing this, with very minimal prep of my own, I can cook all the veggies on the cooktop until very tender.
Then, add some cooking liquid for the last few minutes before removing from the heat. Next, the veggies go for a spin in the food processor until it reaches a nice, even, smooth consistency. Now, the Versatile Red Veggie Sauce is ready for use.
It’s a bit of a blank slate at this point. Much in the same way that tomato sauce is. To clarify, this sauce has some similar characteristics to tomato sauce, but you won’t mistake it for tomato sauce if eaten by itself. However, when used in a recipe, you may not notice any difference between the two. It’s hearty and flavorful. The vegetable flavors blend together nicely so none of them stand out individually. The mushrooms add umami, while the vinegars give some brightness and acidity – characteristic flavor features of tomatoes.
I like to have several jars in the freezer to use as a shortcut to making a meal. The Versatile Red Veggie Sauce can be used right away or frozen for use in the future. So many possibilities. Often I make a double or triple batch so I have plenty of sauce on hand. The steps to make multiple batches at the same time remain the same, but the cooking time needs to be extended in order to get the vegetables nice and tender. This is important for vegetables to achieve the right texture with the help of the food processor.
This recipe can be a highly effective way of incorporating veggies into your meals which might otherwise be a little unfamiliar or tricky with some tastebuds, such as mushrooms and beets. By using them “in” the recipe instead of “as” the recipe, these vegetables take a supporting role. Also helpful is the pureed texture of the sauce. No identifiable bits for a picky someone to identify in their dish, planting ideas about whether they like the meal or not before even trying it. Everyone wins! Of course, if you enjoy these veggies, you already know how yummy they can be!
Versatile Red Veggie Sauce
- Food processor
- 3 Tbsp olive oil extra virgin
- 2 cups baby carrots
- 1 large yellow onion peeled and chopped
- 8 ounces beets peeled and steamed, cut in half
- 4 ounces canned mushrooms
- 15 ounces canned pumpkin
- 1 Tbsp minced garlic
- 1 tsp salt
Liquids and Seasonings
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar high quality
- 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1 tsp honey
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- Add all ingredients under Veggie Mix heading into medium sized covered pot over medium to medium high heat. Stir every few minutes. If vegetables start to brown, reduce heat and/or add a little water to the pot to prevent browning.
- Cook about 30 minutes or until vegetables are quite tender. Add all ingredients under Liquids and Seasonings header to pot. Stir to combine. Reduce heat to low. Cook for 5 minutes before removing from heat.
- Transfer food from the pot into a food processor. Blend until smooth, a couple of minutes while continuously processing. Makes about 5.5 cups of sauce or about three 15 ounce cans.