Swiss Chard Gratin with Vegan Bechamel Recipe

A favorite from the archives, this post was originally published in April 2009.

I generally steer clear of ready-made preparations and other “helpers” sold at the grocery store: not out of snobism, but I love to cook, I devote time and thought to selecting good ingredients, and I welcome the opportunity to practice and experiment, so I am reluctant to give up the driver’s seat and let some industrial product take over.

But my friend Estérelle recently told me that she keeps ready-made béchamel sauce in her pantry for impromptu gratins, and more specifically, she mentioned an organic vegan béchamel called Soja Gratin (soja = soy), manufactured by the French brand Bjorg.

This successful attempt made me curious about a homemade vegan béchamel: the classic béchamel sauce is made with butter, flour, and milk, so why not just make it with oil, flour, and some sort of non-dairy milk?

I don’t think I would ever have thought to buy anything of the sort, but Estérelle is one of the handful of people I would trust with my life in the kitchen, so I purchased some of this sauce, sold in tiny cartons in the organic aisle of the supermarket.

I gave it a try a couple of weeks ago in a gratin of Swiss chard — my produce seller at the greenmarket has flamboyant bunches of it these days — and was favorably impressed: despite the not-so-appetizing, cement gray color of the sauce when I poured it in, it baked to a creamy consistency, and its pronounced nutmeg flavor played along with the chard quite well.

But what this successful attempt really did was make me curious about a homemade vegan béchamel: the classic béchamel sauce is made with butter, flour, and milk, so why not just make it with oil, flour, and some sort of non-dairy milk?

The next weekend, armed with a fresh bunch of Swiss chard, I set out to make my first batch, using sunflower oil, wheat flour, and oat milk, with which I’ve been experimenting of late*. It worked flawlessly and took all of twelve minutes to make. I may buy more of that ready-made soy béchamel for convenience, to use when I don’t have milk on hand, but when I can, I’ll just as quickly make my own.

Note that, because I am not a vegan (my interest in non-dairy milks is just for the sake of variety), I add an egg to the gratin to make it richer, but you can hold the egg if you prefer — the béchamel alone is enough to produce a lovely texture — or you can substitute silken tofu. I also top my gratins with oat bran and a little Comté cheese because I like the flavor, but you can use nutritional yeast if you wish to (or must) avoid dairy ingredients altogether.

I’ve already adapted this recipe to make an excellent leek gratin using young, pencil-thin leeks, and I am confident that my mother’s cauliflower gratin will take just as well to this oat milk béchamel.

* As tweeted, I used oat milk to replace the milk and water in my basic crêpe recipe, to delicious results.

Swiss Chard Gratin with Vegan Bechamel Recipe

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 40 minutes

Serve 4 as a side.

Swiss Chard Gratin with Vegan Bechamel Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 kilo (2.2 pounds) Swiss chard (blettes in French)
  • olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 240 ml (1 cup) non-dairy béchamel (store-bought or from recipe below)
  • 1 egg (optional)
  • 30 grams (1 ounce) freshly grated comté (substitute the gratable cheese of your choice or some nutritional yeast)
  • 2 tablespoons oat bran (substitute bran from another grain, or dried breadcrumbs)
  • salt, pepper

Instructions

  1. Separate the leaves from the stalks of the chard (I use kitchen shears to cut along the stalks). Trim and slice the stalks, then chop the leaves, keeping stalks and leaves separate.
  2. Heat a gurgle of oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently, until translucent. Add the Swiss chard stalks and cook for 5 minutes, until softened, stirring from time to time. Add the leaves and cook for 2 minutes, until just wilted.
  3. Drain the vegetables (this is important, otherwise the excess water will pool at the bottom of the gratin dish; keep the cooking juices to use as a light broth). Season with salt and pepper (ready-made béchamel may be strongly seasoned, so season the chard accordingly).
  4. Preheat the oven to 200° C (400° F) and grease a medium baking dish with a little oil.
  5. In a bowl, whisk together the béchamel and the egg, if using. Fold in the cooked chard, pour into the prepared baking dish, and level the surface. Sprinkle with cheese and oat bran, and bake for 15 minutes, until set and golden. Switch to broiler setting for a couple more minutes if you'd like the top to brown a little further, but watch it closely. Let set for 5 minutes before serving.
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Vegan Bechamel Recipe

Prep Time: 2 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 12 minutes

Vegan Bechamel Recipe

Ingredients

  • 4 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 240 ml (1 cup) plain oat milk, or other non-dairy milk, cold or at room temperature
  • salt, pepper, nutmeg

Instructions

  1. Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour, stir it in quickly with a wooden spoon, and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring continuously, without coloring (that's a roux blanc).
  2. Remove from the heat, add a little of the milk, whisk it in to form a smooth mixture, then add the rest of the milk over medium heat, a little at a time, whisking well between each addition. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring continuously, until thickened to a velvety consistency. Remove from the heat, season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and use while still warm.
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  • http://beyondthewindow.wordpress.com beyond

    thank you for the vegan bechamel recipe! my husband is lactose intolerant. i have experimented with recipes and have been pleased but never thrilled with the results. i will try this soon.

  • http://koken.karintempelaar.com Karin

    This vegan bechamel is slightly different from my recipe, although I also use oatmilk. I use 2 tbsp mild olive oil, 3 tbsp flour and 250 ml oatmilk. I have never used soymilk or speltmilk, but that should work too.

    I find vegan bechamel easier to make, because it gets its soft texture faster and easier. I use more salt and spices though because oatmilk tastes somewhat sweeter.

  • http://www.kitchencaravan.com/blog Hartley from Kitchen Caravan

    This looks really yummy. I love Swiss Chard (and its healthful benefits)! Another one of my favorite recipes with Swiss Chard is this Healthy Heart Tart with Gruyere. It’s delicious – enjoy!

  • http://sade.sadevil.org/blog Sade

    I’ve always made bechamel with olive oil, never with butter. Same amounts of oil and flour, pinch of salt, pinch of nutmeg, perhaps some garlic powder, and add milk (whichever, generally cow’s, but often soy) until the desired thickness. I prefer the flavour to that made with butter!

  • http://madcapcupcake.wordpress.com Marika

    This recipe looks wonderful – I can’t wait to try it!

  • Mrs Redboots

    If I want a vegan bechamel, or just to ring the changes (and because it tastes good!) I use a tin of tomatoes, which I whisk with a hand blender with 1 level tbs flour; I don’t always bother with oil, unless I am adding this to, say, some leeks or onions which I have cooked in said oil. Pour the sauce into a pan (possibly one containing the said onions/leeks) and stir all the time until it comes to the boil. Then use as required. Gorgeous in a fish pie (okay, so not vegan, but still!).

  • http://www.cleacuisine.fr Clea

    Pour ma part, je fais souvent une béchamel huile d’olive + farine T80 + lait de soja. Mais c’est parfois sympa aussi d’utiliser des purées d’oléagineux au lieu de l’huile : le cajou fait notamment des merveilles avec certains légumes.

  • http://lastbite.blogspot.com allison

    Another fabulous recipe idea.

    I have just completed your C&Z cookbook and, at the risk of sounding like a stalker, think that we are soulmates. Your recipes are fabulous; your writing is fun and spunky, but best of all your cooking philosophy SO resonates with me and how I cook.

    Thank you.

  • http://daysontheclaise.blogspot.com/ Susan W

    I’ve become a fan of those little boxes of béchamel this year too. Our kitchen is a temporary affair, with little more than camping equipment at the moment, so a few ready prepped items like this are really valuable, and we’ve found the quality of the milk based ones generally quite good. It did not occur to me to try a soy based sauce.

  • http://smallkitchenbigideas.wordpress.com Sara

    This sounds like an interesting recipe. I am not vegan or vegetarian but I do like to try the recipes just to change things up.

  • Hannah

    Oat milk? I’ve used soy milk for non-dairy dishes and I’m currently experimenting with almond milk. The only non-dairy milk that I actually drink are the fresh soy milk sold in Chinatown communities across the world. There’s no comparison with with the kind sold in shelf-stable cartons.

  • Kara

    I’ve been making a vegan bechamel similar to this for years. It’s so great to know that I’m not spitting in the face of French tradition!

  • http://duodishes.wordpress.com The Duo Dishes

    Swiss chard is a new vegetable on our yum list. This is something to keep in mind.

  • http://www.herestheveg.blogspot.com Cindy

    Lovely! My husband made a similar vegan bechamel last week for a lasagne, though it was thickened with some ground cashews. It was one of the best lasagnes we’ve ever eaten. I’ll look forward to using it in a gratin.

  • http://www.unconfidentialcook.com unconfidentialcook

    I’m not above any shortcuts…and this one looks great!

  • http://the-confectionist.blogspot.com/ Rachael

    sounds delicious! i can’t wait to try it out!

  • http://food-cook.com Recipe man

    this looks great, i made a few of these but this had a good twist to it

    thanks

  • http://www.beurreetpain.blogspot.com Honeybee

    Very interesting! I like to make a swiss chard gratin where I blend the cooked leaves with 1 cup (roughly) of fromage frais and one egg, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg, add some ham and gruyère and pour that over the stems before baking. Lovely.

  • http://www.gourmet-chick.com Gourmet Chick

    Anything with bechamel sauce is destined for greatness in my view!

  • food fads

    why vegan?
    vegatable oils, except for olive and sesame, are unhealthy -same with milk made with unfermented, unsoaked whole grains. Weston Price and Sally Fallon have written extensively about this subjects. Why change a perfectly healthy recipy?

    • katy

      I know this is a long time coming, but I’ve only just come across this page. The “studies” done by Weston Price and his organisation are completely flawed. Their ideas completely contradict the rest of the information we have. They have continually failed to update their stances, despite mounting medical evidence against them. If you follow their advice you are submitting not to sound nutrition but to quackery.

      And for the record, I’m not vegan either. I’m just interested in reason and truth rather than cultish approaches to nutrition.

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    All – Thanks for the variation suggestions! I’ll have to try some of them.

    “Food fads” – As I explained in the post, I am interested in exploring non-dairy alternatives for variety’s sake. I didn’t write (nor do I think) that butter, milk, and the classic béchamel can’t be part of a health-promoting diet; I’m simply curious about experimenting in the kitchen and trying new things.

    As for what Weston Price and Sally Fallon have written about these subjects, I would welcome a reference or link to the relevant articles so we could all benefit from reading about the specifics.

  • http://serveitforth.com Barbra

    I’ve also seen gratin recipes that call for good vegetable stock, such as a rich mushroom or garlic broth, in place of the milk in the béchamel. You’d lose the creamy-ness, of course, but I think it could be quite flavorful…

  • Liz – aka Nutty Gnome

    I’ve got some vegan friends and have felt a bit restricted in what I feed them, so I’ll be giving this a go!

    I’ve had HUGE success with your rhubarb jam recipe this week – it’s SO scrummy that I’m about to make my third batch, so thank you from the bottom of my jam kettle for that one!

  • http://nuttygnome.blogspot Liz – aka Nutty Gnome

    I’ve got some vegan friends and have felt a bit restricted in what I feed them, so I’ll be giving this a go!

    I’ve had HUGE success with your rhubarb jam recipe this week – it’s SO scrummy that I’m about to make my third batch, so thank you from the bottom of my jam kettle for that one!

  • http://cookincanuck.blogspot.com Cookin’ Canuck

    This looks so interesting. I love Swiss chard and am really excited to try this recipe for my dad’s sake (he’s on a lactose-free diet).

  • http://www.theitaliandish.blogspot.com The Italian Dish

    Well dang! I have never thought to make a dairy free bechamel. I have to try that, just to see what it’s like. I personally can’t wait for swiss chard season here.

  • http://www.mixingbowlkids.typepad.com Mixing Bowl Mama

    This is really interesting. I’m very curious about vegan cuisine and if it actually tastes as good as I’m told it does…I’ll have to give this a try.

  • http://www.hgh.ro Mery Hill

    Almost every one are intolerant to the lactose i consider this recipe is a good option for those people. I will try it for sure!.

  • Dawn in CA

    Oh, yum. I love gratins and this looks delicious. I am so curious about oat milk, as I have been almost entirely non-dairy (lactose intolerant) for almost 20 years but have never tried oat milk!

    Funny, though. I recently read that many people who have a hard time digesting dairy can eat raw milk products and/or sheep and goat’s milk. You know what? I drank raw cow’s milk, ate raw sheep’s milk cheeses, and goat’s milk butter all last week and did not get sick once! Wow, what a revelation to eat real cheese and milk for the first time in two decades. So happy!

  • http://dinnerbella.blogspot.com/ Jobeth

    I find soy milk adds a really great nuttiness. Sometimes I go the extra yard and warm the milk beforehand with a bay leaf, a few peppercorns and even some garlic and use it strained. If it curdles that’s OK because when you mix it with the roux it comes back together. Yum. I have it going golden right now on a roast pumpkin lasagne. I am by no means vegetarian, but the cold has just arrived today (in Australia) and this is one of my fave comfort foods.

  • JustaRabbit

    My husband is lactose intolerant, but he loves lasagna. So I’ve been using unsweetened soymilk to make bechamel for his lasagna. Since he can eat goats cheese without a problem, I do toss a bit of goats cheese into the lasagna. He absolutely adores it.

    Oh, and I’ve been making English-style custards (from powder, without eggs) with soymilk to great success as well.

  • barbie

    Thanks for this recipe! I was raised eating a limited (very American, meat-and-potatoes) diet that did not include leeks or Swiss chard at all. I’ve been trying and learning how to cook a handful of “new” foods, so I’m very excited to try a recipe that plays up one of my new favorites. Merci!

  • Elysse

    This was great. I put a bunch of kale in along with the chard, and used chives with their flower buds from my garden instead of onions, because we were out. The bechamel sauce I made with butter, almond milk, and whole wheat flour, and it had a really delicious nutty flavour. Next time I think I’ll put it on a bed of rice before baking it in the oven. Thanks for posting this recipe!

  • sheiler

    Can anyone tell me what oat milk is? Can I got to a special foods store and buy it off of the shelf, or is it something that has to be made from scratch?

    I love raw milk. My life has changed for the better because of it (goodbye migraines) but it’s hard to come by sometimes, and requires loads of planning and effort. And so I am always open to a new recipe that substitutes in an interesting and tasty way … like this one. Except I don’t do soy either unless fermented.

    As for a reference you might check out Dr Mercola’s site where he talks extensively about soy.

    He talks really fast and in a way I can’t bear. But I like his information so I stick to just reading his stuff and avoiding the the videos on his site. He’s a bit of a nutter on some things (who isn’t I guess), but he’s right on on some important things.

    All this to say, thanks for the swiss chard recipe! merçi and je suis une gross gourmande. Aussi je suis un peu flyée. Et désolée pour le française mal.

  • http://vegatthetable.blogspot.com tammy

    This looks really tasty. I might try this one myself. I love to cook, and I am anxious to try many kinds of vegetable recipes.

  • drea

    i just made this and it was such a hit! i’m gluten free, so made the bechamel with brown rice flour and regular milk — and used flaxseed meal instead of oat bran. no one knew the better & everyone loved it! thanks for the inspiration.

  • http://www.crispytarts.blogspot.com The French

    I would also love to know what oat milk is and where to find it. And btw, love that you experiment with alternatives…I also am not a vegetarian but really love trying limiting what meat/dairy I do consume. I just tried hemp milk in my coffee:)

  • http://mollycorinne.wordpress.com molly

    This looks so delicious. I love healthy-ish gratins, and making the bechamel vegan certainly eliminates some fat.

    Aside from boring nutrition talk, it looks simply lovely. Can’t wait to make it!

  • http://operagirlcooks.com Coco @ Opera Girl Cooks

    This looks like a heavenly way to eat your greens. I will definitely try something like it soon!

  • Shana

    I google-d “oat milk” (not being familiar with it either) and found a recipe.

    I also agree that it is more fun to cook than buy pre-made items. I’ll be trying this very soon!

  • http://www.pantrybites.com Janet (Pantry Bites)

    vegan bechamel sounds great. I want to try it with coconut milk.

  • http://foodiesemporium.com Indigonat

    Thank you for this Swiss chard recipe. I have lots of Swiss chard growing in my garden and it will give me a new recipe to try.

  • http://www.dessertfortwo.com Christina

    This looks delicious! Thanks for sharing vegan recipes for the sake of variety! :)

  • http://www.wearenotmartha.com Sues

    Oooh! Vegan bechamel definitely sounds interesting. And whle I’m a huge cheese lover, I find I often like vegan dishes. Plus, I love swiss chard!

  • http://overconcerned.wordpress.com Wei-Wei

    Mmm, that gratin sounds delicious! I’m not a big fan of potato gratin though (too rich and carb-heavy) but this swiss chard gratin looks wonderful!

    I’ve never had bechamel before – I don’t even know what it is! :S

    Wei-Wei

  • Marcia

    I am allergic to the protein in dairy, so I use soy–8th Continent Light or a powdered soy for soup or baking if I am out of soy milk.

    I see all kinds of “milk” on the baking aisle of stores–with powdered and canned milk. Hemp, oat, rice, and soy in aseptic boxes; no special store required.

    I plan to try this recipe because I love Swiss chard–kale too.

  • http://www.edenkitchen.com Joe @ Eden Kitchen

    That looks so good. I’m starving right now it it’s making my mouth water!

  • http://www.elisabetfigueras.com/ Elisabet Figueras

    Vegan bechamel, great idea!!!
    Thank you very much for sharing.

  • http://www.phamfatale.com/ Jackie at PhamFatale.com

    Je suis ravie. Je viens de parcourir ton livre “Edible adventures in Paris”. Paris me manque et je reviens assez souvent (je vis dans la Silicone Valley maintenant). I’ll keep in mind tes bonnes addresses. Drop me a message if you have time ;)

  • http://www.onthebrightside-angela.blogspot.com Angela G.

    Yum! What a great recipe, and I love the title of your blog. Keep up the good work!
    ~Angela

  • http://windowontheprairie.com/ Window On The Prairie

    I’ll give that a try. Might be hard to find swiss chard in the rural area in KS where I live. Are there substitutes?
    Suzanne

  • http://www.eyepreferparis.com richard

    this looks wonderful. are you on vacation? it seems the last few posts are from your archives.

  • http://www.gonchaya.com/ Andrew

    I found here many interesting recipes! I have never tried French cuisine before but this time I will! It sounds very tasty!

  • Maryanne

    I love your work and underlying philosophy…

    My health was practically ruined by soy…what I thought and read everywhere was a health food…
    I understand that you are just trying out new things..which I applaud..but would not want this to represent or taint your fabulous work. Unfermented soy has phytic acid which block the absorbtion of vital nutrients..Typically it is also highly processed and one of the most highly sprayed produce items. Unless fermented it is actually very UNhealthy but my guess is, easy and cheap to produce with a long shelf life :-(

  • Judy Bazso

    Thank you for the vegan besamel.I love milk but cannot drink it so i had to became absolutely vegan for health reasons.I had to leave so many thing of my diet that I was so happy when I saw the recipe . THANK YOU.In my country it is hard to find seed or vegan milk so I tried to make it from scrach. On YouTube I found the way to make the mixture of brown rice/oatmeal/almond milk. It turned out very good and inexpensive. 1 cup of brown rice , 1/4 c of oatmeal, 1/2 cup of soaked almond ( chopped and pureed)Cook the rice and oatmeal for an hour , process it with the almonds , strain it. (I cooked the processed almond with them). It is creamy and tastes much better than home made soy milk I have been making. It was good for cream soups and had it with cereal , too.

  • Ness

    Has anyone tried using gluten free flour, such as gluten free oat flour?

  • http://www.nutritionallyspeaking.org Michaela Ballmann

    Thank you so much for this vegan recipe! I’ve made it twice–once with a homemade soymilk from sprouted soybeans (that was so rich and delicious) and another time where I didn’t have enough swiss chard so I added two types of kale. Both were a success! So tasty, creamy, and yummy :)

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      Happy to hear it, thanks for reporting back Michaela!

  • http://www.rebeccaarielle.wordpress.com Rebecca

    I just made this using olive oil and almond milk and it is delicious! My picky toddler was eating it by the spoonful, and it’s perfect for me since I’m lactose intolerant. Thank you for the great idea!

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      That’s wonderful to hear, Rebecca, thanks!

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