vegan special sauce + a roasted broccoli bowl

vegan special sauce + a roasted broccoli bowl // thefirstmess.compin it!vegan special sauce + a roasted broccoli bowl // thefirstmess.compin it!vegan special sauce + a roasted broccoli bowl // thefirstmess.compin it!
I went down a list of hyperbolic adjectives and phrases when I was trying to name this sauce because I really wanted to convey my unhinged obsession with it. Miracle sauce! Genius sauce! Ponder the meaning of life sauce! The sauciest, sexiest sauce EVER etc etc! But you know that ain’t my style. The month of January can be its own crazy little season where pushes for wellness and better health go into a frightening and turbulent overdrive. Messages can be simultaneously detox-y/blazingly hopeful, and disparagingly negative on the long-term probability of turning your life around. It’s a confusing time that reads a touch too black and white for me. In the interest of chilling down the whole scene, I’m just carrying on as usual and simply referring to this recipe as special sauce. Yes. Sorta unique and familiar.

By the way: happy 2016! I always feel a soothing wash of (lavender-scented) calm when the calendar changes over. I like the holidays like anyone else, but the craziness aspect wears on me pretty fast. The best descriptor I can think of for the entire month of December is cluttered. The holiday decorations that feel necessary for merry-making, but actually just mess up the entire flow of your living space, become a little TOO symbolic as the days go by. I can get anxious when there’s a few extra balls in the air, so January 1 is relief city, population: me.

Deep winter is quiet, cold, and sort of dark (at least where I live). The natural conditions offer an easy outlet for contemplation and self care. I’ve never found winter depressing or draining–even though I do get just a little bit tired of all the root vegetables and tubers after a while. I see the season as one of restoration, an opportunity to realign yourself on life and how you really feel. You can wrap yourself up in the personal growth question and settle on what’s working and what isn’t. I thought that this article, addressing some of the negative self-talk and outright shaming involved with eating for personal wellness, was particularly great. Instead of shouting “DETOX,” we should be whispering “Stay true,” and administering a gentle pat on the back.

Anyway. I think this sauce could help you stay true no matter what your dietary proclivity is. It’s creamy, rich, and savoury, but also totally balanced. The base is sunflower seeds, water, and any oil with a neutral flavour profile. There’s lemon, garlic, nutritional yeast, turmeric, spices, and a few other good things in there. I include a dab of tomato paste in the mix, too–not because I want this to taste like tomatoes, but because the concentrated paste is so flavourful in that umami way. It gives the sauce that little extra something it needs. The ingredient list looks long on this one, but I think 98% of the items are pantry stock for most–even if you’re just slightly interested in plant-based cooking at home.

I used the sauce on a bowl with broccoli, but it would be just as good as a finishing cream for tacos, a caesar-ish salad dressing, a creamy garnish for a pureed soup, a drizzle over roasted vegetables, dabbed on a veggie burger, or just about any savoury application you could think of. If you make and use it in a funky way, let me know in the comments or tag me on Instagram!

Sending it off with all my warmth and gratitude for the new year :)

vegan special sauce + a roasted broccoli bowl // thefirstmess.compin it!vegan special sauce + a roasted broccoli bowl // thefirstmess.compin it!vegan special sauce + a roasted broccoli bowl // thefirstmess.compin it!
Vegan Special Sauce + Roasted Broccoli Bowl Recipe
Sauce recipe is lightly adapted from The Fauxmartha’s Bitchin’ Sauce
Print the recipe here!
Serves: The bowl serves 2, and you’ll have leftover sauce to the tune of 1 1/2-ish cups (yay!)
Notes: I don’t soak the sunflower seeds since I use a high-speed blender for this sauce. If you have a normal kitchen blender, I’d recommend soaking the sunflower seeds for at least 2 hours. For a food processor, a reader has told me that the sunflower seeds smooth out just fine if soaked for 8 or so hours.

special sauce ingredients:
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds (see headnote about soaking)
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 clove of garlic, peeled
1-inch piece of fresh turmeric (OR 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder)
1 teaspoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon raw apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon pure maple syrup or other liquid sweetener
3/4 cup filtered water
1/2 cup neutral-tasting oil (I like sunflower or grapeseed)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
fine sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste
hot sauce, to taste (I used about 7-8 dashes of Cholula)

for the roasted broccoli bowl:
2 heaped cups of broccoli florets (from roughly 2 broccoli stalks)
1-2 teaspoons olive oil
fine sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste
2 portions of cooked brown/black/red rice, kept warm
1 cup cooked chickpeas (or other legume/plant-y protein you like)
the sauce!
2 green onions, thinly sliced
extra sunflower seeds

Combine all of the special sauce ingredients in an upright blender and blend on high for a full minute, or until completely smooth. Check the sauce for seasoning and adjust if necessary. If the sauce seems too thick, blend it with an extra splash or two of water until it’s at the consistency you like. Scrape the sauce into a glass jar, seal it tight, and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Toss the broccoli florets with the olive oil and some salt and pepper on a baking sheet. Once the florets are lightly coated, spread the vegetables out into a single layer. Slide the tray into the oven and roast until broccoli is lightly browned/crisped and the stalks are tender, about 15 minutes for medium-sized florets.

In two good-sized bowls, divide the warm rice and chickpeas. Top each bowl with the roasted broccoli florets. Finish the bowls with a healthy drizzle of the special sauce, sliced green onions, and sunflower seeds. Serve immediately.

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  • Nora07/01/2016 - 5:46 am

    Such gorgeous light! And the sauce looks divine.


  • Mary Ann07/01/2016 - 7:45 am

    Hi Laura and thanks for this recipe. What do you think about replacing the turmeric root with fresh ginger? Too much ‘ sassy’?ReplyCancel

    • Laura07/01/2016 - 9:49 am

      You could leave the turmeric out all together if you want! But I think the ginger would be tasty as well :)

  • katy07/01/2016 - 8:58 am

    just wondering why you always direct us to amazon when you’re mentioning specific products. these products (in this case vitamix, cholula) ARE available locally, at independently owned stores. i love your blog, but this irks me as the owner for 30 years of a natural foods market that now is up against the big boys. there are many ways to show the products you believe in.

    going to make this divine-sounding sauce tonight for a whole head of roasted cauliflower….in my kitchen which looks a lot like yours! thanks for listening and hope i don’t sound too bitchy.ReplyCancel

    • Claire07/01/2016 - 9:42 am

      Katy, she provides the links to Amazon because she gets a cut if you buy it from her link. Many, many bloggers do this – it’s one way to make some income from their blogs which often start off as a labor of love. If I kept a blog, I would do the same thing.ReplyCancel

    • Laura07/01/2016 - 9:47 am

      Hi Katy,
      Your comment doesn’t sound bitchy at all! I’m always happy to engage thought-provoking questions/topics, especially this one because I come from a small business family as well. When I first started thinking up ways to actually make a living maintaining this site, Amazon associates/affiliate sales was one of the easier and non-invasive ways to go about it. Since that time though, I’ve taken on ad space and well-fitting sponsorships and honestly (without getting into it too much), I HAVE been re-thinking the role Amazon has here in light of all the changes. Linking to them has become more of a bother than anything else and, as you say, there are better ways to showcase these products and ingredients that I love.

      Anyway, I’m grateful for your message. Sometimes I get into habits here without thinking about how my words/images/links read on the other side of the screen, and just the true nature of the actions in general. Blogging is weird that way. This exchange may inspire some action sooner rather than later ;)

      Thanks again (and I hope I can make it to one of your beautiful stores some day),

      • Christine07/01/2016 - 2:02 pm

        The power and kindness of this exchange made me feel incredibly grateful. Thank you, Katy and Laura, for investing and engaging in your respective missions. And thank you, further, for offering your respectful dialogue to thoughtfully remind us of the importance of conscious consumerism.ReplyCancel

  • danielle & rooting the sun07/01/2016 - 10:13 am

    laura, i really enjoy the option of ‘staying true’ and balance over the harshness of the word ‘detox’. it’s always seemed a rather alarming way to embrace the new year. – – also, this sauce is delicious! grinning at the idea of it with tacos. happy 2016 lovely lady. ♥ReplyCancel

  • Tyra07/01/2016 - 10:16 am

    I love this post. It gives one the much needed permission to not be pressures into this New Year, new you, new health craziness but advocates one to simply stay the course, which is so much more realistic. Looking forward to making the recipe this weekend. Keep up the great work!ReplyCancel

  • Katrina07/01/2016 - 10:17 am

    Well, landing on the name special sauce sounds good to me! This whole bowl looks magical! And sooooo tasty :)ReplyCancel

  • Vittoria07/01/2016 - 10:20 am

    I haven’t made this sauce yet (and I will), but I just made your kale and brussels sprouts caesar slaw this week, which has a similar dressing. I started soaking the sunflower seeds before work, then used my food processor when I get home and it worked out great.ReplyCancel

  • Mariela07/01/2016 - 10:32 am

    Oh my! If this is half as good as the Goji Berry sauce, I am making it tonight. YUM!ReplyCancel

    • Laura07/01/2016 - 10:35 am

      It’s a definitely a different vibe than the goji sauce–but I think I like this one better ;)

  • Lyndsay07/01/2016 - 11:41 am

    I’m always looking for ways to sauce it up for our veg/tofu bowls! Yum to dousing it on roasted broccoli ! Looks so delicious and the photos are lovely (despite the darker light these days!?) I bet this would be so good over roasted potatoes too … XoReplyCancel

    • Laura07/01/2016 - 7:37 pm

      We totally had it over roasted regular and sweet potatoes last night! :D
      xo LReplyCancel

  • genevieve @ gratitude & greens07/01/2016 - 12:20 pm

    I love that line about staying true instead of detoxing. There’s no detoxing on my end, haha! I can’t wait to make this special sauce and pour it on everything!ReplyCancel

  • Libby07/01/2016 - 12:36 pm

    This sounds magnificent! Thank you for sharing these treats.
    And reading through the comments, I love the graceful way that you engage with your readers. It’s inspiring.
    I hope your day is beautiful.ReplyCancel

  • Erica07/01/2016 - 12:39 pm

    I really appreciate your take on the new year – sometimes trying to completely re-do yourself is exhaustive and anxiety inducing. I like the idea of staying true and giving yourself a pat on the back, I don’t do that enough in my life! So thanks for the gentle reminder :)ReplyCancel

  • Sarah | Well and Full07/01/2016 - 12:58 pm

    Ahh Laura this looks so good! I’m about to soak some sunflower seeds right now, I bet this sauce is going to be amazing with home fries ;)ReplyCancel

  • Elizabeth07/01/2016 - 1:33 pm

    Hi Laura. This looks fantastic… like all of your recipes!
    I was wondering if I could replace the sunflower seeds with tahini, in case I want to make a version of this sauce but forgot to soak the sunflower seeds.
    Do you think 1/3 cup would do the trick? Thanks for your feedback!ReplyCancel

    • Laura07/01/2016 - 7:27 pm

      Hi Elizabeth!
      I think you COULD sub in that amount of tahini, but you may have to add a little more sweetener since tahini can be slightly bitter in large quantity. Also, you might be able to get away with less oil. Maybe start with a 1/4 cup and keep checking and tasting it. Curious to hear how it turns out if you try it! :)

  • Hnade sh07/01/2016 - 1:43 pm

    This looks soooo amazing… Id love to make it today but I don’t have any sunflower seeds is there a replacement I can use?!ReplyCancel

    • Laura07/01/2016 - 6:20 pm

      You could use cashews or almonds as well! (Hope I’m not too late on the feedback)

      • krystal08/01/2016 - 8:52 am

        I made this last night as a dip for sweet potato fries and it was AH-MAZING. I used cashews since I didn’t have sunflower seeds and it turned out great.ReplyCancel

  • Anneli07/01/2016 - 2:44 pm

    I’m so excited to try this sauce!

    We have so many food restrictions in our household that it’s sometimes disheartening to see a recipe and then find out it’s not going to work. One kid is allergic to cashews, both to peanuts and legumes plus a multitude of other things. This sauce looks amazing and has none of the ingredients that they can’t have! I’m heading out to buy me some sunflower seeds :) My daughter wants to be vegan (we are all just about there anyway) but, with all the nut, soy and other allergies it makes it more of a challenge.

    Thank you for all of your wonderful recipes… I’ve tried out several.ReplyCancel

    • Laura07/01/2016 - 7:35 pm

      Thanks for making my day, Anneli! I hope your family likes the recipe :)

      • Anneli09/01/2016 - 5:50 pm

        I made the sauce yesterday. It is so good!! So, far I’ve poured it over left over steamed broccoli, on a bun with a vegan burger, and over my leftover pasta. I’m so happy wth it! I’m going to try making a vegan caesar salad with it… my son will be thrilled because that is one thing he misses!ReplyCancel

  • Chelsea | Whole Bite Blog07/01/2016 - 3:50 pm

    Laura, I love your outlook on the start of a new year. So refreshing! I tend to get a little bummed out, come January and the end of the holidays. But viewing these winter months as a special, calming time is such a better approach. Thank you for your encouraging words.
    And this sauce looks so good! I love a good go-to sauce that you can use on everything. It adds so much!ReplyCancel

  • hahaah it must be a good sauce then :D Happy New Year!ReplyCancel

  • Jessie Snyder | Faring Well07/01/2016 - 5:37 pm

    I love this sauce Laura! One of my favorite sauces I make is a sunflower seed based one, aren’t they just the best? Cannot wait to give your version here a try, it sounds so stellar. And I love how you described winter, as someone who struggles with the winter time now that I live in a place that experiences it – it was nice to read about your positive emotions connected to it. Lots of hugs, and happy new year!

    Ps. I feel the SAME way about December. Yay for it being January! xoReplyCancel

    • Laura07/01/2016 - 7:29 pm

      January high five! Sunflower seeds always blow me away with their diversity. Just wild.

  • isabel07/01/2016 - 5:52 pm

    feeling like we’re on the same wave length – i just roasted some broccoli last night and was in the process of cooking chickpeas and making rice when i read this post. definitely just made the sauce, and am happily eating a big bowl of love and yum right now :).

    happy new year, and happy relaxing in january. sending lots of good vibes your way :)ReplyCancel

    • Laura07/01/2016 - 7:30 pm

      I love big bowls of yum and love! ;) Happy new year to you as well, Isabel!

  • Jacqui07/01/2016 - 7:52 pm

    Oh man, special sauce on everything!! I’ve made something similar, but using tahini and I love it so much, especially on roasted veggies. Love the idea of a sunflower seed version though!ReplyCancel

  • atiya08/01/2016 - 5:28 am

    This sauce sounds amazing. I’ll give it a try and let you know my feedback.ReplyCancel

  • Tori08/01/2016 - 7:18 am

    You have such a way with making nutrition look to-die-for, and this bowl does! A delicious meal that packs a really healthy punch, so yum!ReplyCancel

  • I was literally just telling my husband this morning I wanted to do something with roasted broccoli for dinner. This is PERFECT! Pinning!ReplyCancel

  • Helen09/01/2016 - 2:26 am

    Just love reading/seeing your recipes and looking forward to trying this one here. One question about chili powder: Is this chili as in cayenne or chili as in a mix of spices from the southwest US? I consider myself a pretty well-read cook, but I am always thrown off by “chili powder”, especially, say when it appears in recipes for Indian or southeast Asian cooking. Any insights? Can chlli powder also be neither of the above? Thanks!ReplyCancel

    • Laura09/01/2016 - 7:56 am

      Hi Helen!
      If I specify just plain chili powder, I just mean the ground up milder chilies–THIS is the one I use. Although I also keep chipotle chili powder and ancho chili powder around as well. In this case, I’m just talking about ground chilies :)

      • Karen09/01/2016 - 10:54 am

        Hi Laura

        I used hot chilli powder and the result was too hot, so I made double, leaving out the chilli powder in the second lot. The sauce is AMAZING! Well done! However, my question is, since I have so much of it now, do you know if it freezes?ReplyCancel

        • Laura09/01/2016 - 10:49 pm

          Hmmmm, I haven’t froze this sauce or anything like it in the past. If I was attempting to freeze this, I’d probably do it in a ziploc bag, trying to squeeze as much air out as possible before sealing it up. After thawing, I’d re-blend it for sure. If there’s a little ice build-up, it shouldn’t hurt too much. Let me know how the whole thing goes if you try it ;)

      • Helen09/01/2016 - 6:50 pm

        Thanks for the clarification!ReplyCancel

  • Debi ford09/01/2016 - 3:24 pm

    This sounds great! I don’t use oils-would there be something else I can use?ReplyCancel

    • Laura09/01/2016 - 10:45 pm

      Hi Debi,
      If you want to try this without oil, I would try to replace the oil with a 1/4 cup of water (in addition to the 3/4 cup). See what the texture is like from there–you can always add more water if you want the sauce to be thinner. I can’t vouch for this though because I haven’t personally tried it. The sauce’s texture will definitely be different.

  • […] for a healthy recipe to kick start your new year? Check out this super simple broccoli bowl. (The First […]ReplyCancel

  • […] I wanted to share a sauce recipe that I adapted from this recipe via The First Mess. Laura’s version is vegan and whilst I have nothing again vegan food, I didn’t have the […]ReplyCancel

  • Christy10/01/2016 - 3:53 am

    Hello, I’m really interested in the beautiful glass canisters with wooden tops that you have on your wooden shelf in your next to last picture. I have been looking for something similar. Would you mind sharing the brand? Thanks!ReplyCancel

    • Laura10/01/2016 - 8:22 am

      Hi Christy!
      I got half of them from Home Sense/Home Goods and they weren’t marked with a brand or anything. But then I found some that were really similar in Food 52’s online shop. They can be found HERE :)

  • Jodi10/01/2016 - 9:48 am

    “Instead of shouting “DETOX,” we should be whispering “Stay true,” and administering a gentle pat on the back.”

    mega high fives for the words + the special sauce, lady. all the love for 2016 xReplyCancel

  • Sofie Bollen11/01/2016 - 4:07 am

    Looks really great and beautiful pictures :) xx SofieReplyCancel

  • Carolyn11/01/2016 - 7:22 pm

    This sauce is amazingly delicious and the recipe is so simple, low maintenance, but totally satisfying! Thank you Laura!ReplyCancel

  • lynn @ the actor's diet12/01/2016 - 2:05 am

    Hey, I have nutritional yeast! I can make this!ReplyCancel

  • Natasha12/01/2016 - 7:51 am

    Looks amazing! Brocolli is one of my favourites! xx

  • Denise13/01/2016 - 10:09 am

    This recipe is fantastic… A keeper! I would eat this sauce on nearly everything. Thank you, Laura!ReplyCancel

    • Laura13/01/2016 - 10:10 am

      That’s great to hear! Thanks so much, Denise :)

  • […] a store bought. Lastly, we made a Vegan White Bean & Sunflower Sauce that was inspired by Laura’s Special Sauce. Her sauce has a whole array of spices to boost flavour but since we made this for the kid we went […]ReplyCancel

  • […] am very interested in this special sauce recipe on The First […]ReplyCancel

  • Natalie15/01/2016 - 10:54 am

    I soaked the sunflower seeds overnight and used an immersion blender – worked super well!ReplyCancel

  • atiya25/01/2016 - 8:27 am

    Vow…this is such a simple, healthy, fresh and delicious sauce! I made it a few days ago and loved it. I might try it with pumpkin seeds next time. It is a good way of getting those healthy seeds into your diet.

    Thank you for this recipe.ReplyCancel

  • Brenna27/01/2016 - 3:19 pm

    MMmmmm I made this last night and it was delish! The sauce is definitely special, no doubt about it. I must say you are the Queen of dinner bowls! Thanks for all the great recipes!ReplyCancel

  • Jeremiah02/03/2016 - 9:30 pm

    I made the recipe this evening and loved it. However, I was halfway through the sauce and had the broccoli in the oven before realizing I didn’t have nutritional yeast (only active) so I omitted it. What does the yeast do to the sauce? I don’t typically keep nutritional yeast in my kitchen and want to know if I should start.ReplyCancel

    • Laura08/03/2016 - 6:41 am

      Hi Jeremiah,
      Nutritional yeast just gives foods a very savoury, almost cheese-like flavour. I sprinkle it on roasted veggies, popcorn, and include it in a lot of my savoury vegan sauces. It’s a decent source of Vitamin B12 too.

  • Melissa Sobey21/03/2016 - 5:35 pm

    Made the sauce only- just as written, for a rice bowl with veg & black bean patty. It was lovely! ThanksReplyCancel

  • Nada06/08/2016 - 4:46 pm

    This sounds really tasty. I must try this sauce!ReplyCancel

  • […] it takes to get my attention are the words “vegan special sauce.” Laura’s savory, spicy blend is perfect for all of your grain bowls, salads, tacos, […]ReplyCancel

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