Dairy-Free Saffron Scalloped Potatoes

It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving in my home without scalloped potatoes, a rich and salty casserole made with thinly sliced potatoes, cheese, and cream. Scalloped potatoes, or potatoes au gratin, have been around for centuries. The French word gratin was originally derived from another French word, the verb gratter meaning “to scrape.” In 16th century France, every bit was scraped (graté) from the pan so that no amount of food was wasted. The term “le gratin” has also been used in France to describe the “upper crust” of society. Today, the word gratin describes any number of casserole-like dishes with a broiled and browned top layer.

Cheese and breadcrumbs are often thought to be an essential component of gratin dishes. While they certainly are part of many gratin recipes, a traditional gratin dauphinois is made without cheese and breadcrumbs. The dish is made from thinly sliced potatoes and heavy cream, baked in a pan rubbed with butter and garlic– uncomplicated and divine in its simplicity. Gratin dauphinois is native to the former Dauphiné region of France; it relies on a perfect balance of a few quality ingredients to infuse the dish with flavor. I tasted this dish once on a trip to France, and it was a real treat. Today, many add cheese to the gratin dauphinois, but the original dish is all about the cream.

My Dairy-Free Saffron Scalloped Potatoes are inspired by the gratin dauphinois. I wanted to create a delicious gratin with a thick, rich sauce that could be enjoyed by people who don’t (or can’t) eat dairy. I relied on rich and creamy full-fat coconut milk for the sauce, thickened with a simple roux of flour and non-dairy butter substitute (I used Organic Earth Balance; any non-hydrogenated spread will do). If you can’t tolerate flour, I’ve offered a gluten free substitution for the roux below. Saffron helps to offset the natural sweetness of the coconut and adds a lovely golden color to the sauce. The whole thing is so creamy and reminiscent of melted cheese sauce, I’m tempted to serve it at Thanksgiving this year to see if anybody will guess it’s dairy free! Whether you’re vegan, lactose intolerant, keeping kosher or just watching your dairy intake, these potatoes will add a really special flavor to your holiday buffet.

For more on the history of the gratin, click here.

Recommended Products:

Mortar and Pestle

Sauce Pan

Ceramic Baking Dish

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Dairy-Free Saffron Scalloped Potatoes


  • 3.5 lbs potatoes - Russet or Yukon Gold
  • Generous pinch of saffron threads (make sure it's a good quality saffron-- it's much more expensive, but the cheap stuff has no flavor)
  • 2 tbsp hot water
  • 2 tbsp non-hydrogenated butter substitute (or use butter for dairy)
  • 2 1/2 tbsp flour (gluten free substitution below)
  • 1 can (15 oz) coconut milk
  • 1 cup almond milk (or use milk for dairy)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp finely minced garlic (or 1/4 tsp garlic powder)
  • Pinch of cayenne, or more to taste (adds heat)
  • Paprika for garnish (optional)

You will also need

  • mortar and pestle, 9x13 baking dish
Servings: 12
Kosher Key: Pareve or Dairy
  • Gluten Free Modification: Substitute 1 tbsp potato starch for flour.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Peel the potatoes, slice them thin, and cover with cold water till ready to use—this will keep them from turning brown.
  • Grind the saffron threads in a mortar and pestle to a powder.
  • Add 2 tbsp of hot water to the ground saffron and let it soak for 5 minutes.
  • Lightly grease a 9x13 baking dish. Drain the sliced potatoes and place half of them in a thin layer on the bottom of the dish, with each slice overlapping the next.
  • In a small saucepan, melt 2 tbsp non-hydrogenated dairy free butter substitute over medium heat. Whisk in 2 ½ tbsp of flour to form a thick paste. Continue whisking for a minute or two until the mixture turns a sandy brown color.
  • Slowly whisk in the coconut milk, a quarter cupful at a time, followed by the almond or soy milk.
  • Whisk in the salt, garlic, cayenne, and saffron water. Heat the sauce over medium, whisking frequently, till it boils and thickens slightly. Reduce heat to low and keep warm.
  • Pour half of the sauce over the layer of potatoes, using a ladle or large spoon to make sure the potatoes are evenly covered with sauce. Put the sauce back on the stovetop over low heat to keep warm.
  • Make another layer with the remaining potato slices.
  • Use a whisk to break up the top of the sauce. Pour the remaining sauce over the top layer of potatoes, again using a spoon or ladle to control the sauce. Make sure every potato is covered and no white areas remain.
  • Cover the dish with foil. Place in the oven and bake covered for 60 minutes, till the potatoes are tender.
  • Remove the foil and turn on your broiler. Place your baking dish 4-6 inches below the broiler. Broil the potatoes for a few minutes until the top is nicely browned.
  • Sprinkle the top of the casserole lightly with paprika. Serve potatoes warm as a side dish.

Other Great Recipe Ideas

Recipe Girl: Beer Baked Scalloped Potatoes

Domestic Fits: Potato, Artichoke and Goat Cheese Gratin

 Heather Christo: Au Gratin Potatoes

La Fuji Mama: Rainbow Potato Gratin

Sippity Sup: Potato, Apple and Onion Gratin

Comments (29)Post a Comment

  1. Tori, I’m still trying to get my hands on some real saffron to make your saffron rice recipe! Now I must add this to the list! Drooling!

    I love all these ingredients and frequently cook with coconut milk, but this never would’ve occurred to me! Thank you!

  2. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    These are in the oven right now, and the sauce tastes amazing (I need to stop tasting it, right now!). I couldn’t find my saffron so I skipped that part, but I think it’ll still be great.

  3. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    ​Saffron can easily be found in local deli’s and I am always trying to incorporate it into my food so this dish will definitely be making it onto my list. Looks like a great winter warmer with some chicken or even steak!

  4. OMG! I make scalloped potatoes all the time, with either béchamel sauce or a blend of cheeses and mushrooms…. And I had never thought to add saffron, my favorite spice. THANK YOU, thank you, thank you. this post was a true epiphany!

  5. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    My mom makes the most amazing scalloped potatoes. They’re dangerous! When she makes them for holidays I have to stay far away from leftovers or I’ll eat all of it! Her recipe is all about the cream, too – the only cheese is fresh grated parmesan on the top of the dish. The cream sauce is addictive. She has been looking for a healthier version that is just as good, so I’ll have to show her this. Thanks!

  6. I’ve been looking for a vegan Passover potato dish that I can freeze a few weeks ahead of time. This recipe looks fabulous. Can it be made ahead of time, frozen and then reheated?

    1. Hi Harriet, I’m not sure if this can be frozen or not. I don’t know what freezing will do to the sauce texture. Sorry I can’t give you more guidance on this one.

  7. Can anyone tell me how much coconut flavor this has? I am trying to be dairy free and using coconut milk substitutes but don’t really want everything I cook to taste like coconut.

    1. Hi Jill– no, you really need the thickness and richness of coconut milk for a good result here. However, I will say that the end result is not overly coconut flavored… just a hint of the taste, but it mostly just tastes like a creamy, flavorful sauce.

  8. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    This was terrific…not only because it could be served with a meat meal, but because those of us who are lactose intolerant could thoroughly enjoy a bit of creamy luxury!
    When I made the recipe, I cut it in half and used an 8×8 pan (a little more surface area than a 9×13); 2.5 lbs of potatoes seemed way too much — I couldn’t possibly fit all those potatoes into just 2 layers of overlapping slices – and had plenty of extra potatoes left for another use. No problem in terms sufficient number of servings, but do you have any thoughts on this?

    1. Hi Deborah, glad you enjoyed it! I made this twice over the holidays and have actually decided to reduce the amount of potatoes from 5 pounds to 3.5 pounds. I slice them thinly and overlap them quite a bit. While 5 pounds works fine in terms of the amount of space in a 9×13 pan, I felt it needed a better sauce-to-potato ratio. So yes, I agree with you that less is more here. :)

    2. Thanks Tori; good to know. BTW: I mistyped something in my original comment…I meant to say that I used the 8×8 pan for half the recipe because it gave me just about half the surface of a 9×13 — probably obvious to all who are reading. : ) Shana Tova to you.

  9. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    This was soooo good! I have to admit that I did alter the seasonings a bit, as I had no saffron, and needed a vegan dish to take to a Thanksgivivg potluck. I used coconut milk and almond milk and a GF flour blend. I added a crushed garlic clove to the sauce, and removed it before assembly, so that the sauce remained smooth. I also added a bit of turmeric, smoked paprika and nutmeg to the sauce. I topped each layer of potatoes with a little salt and pepper, as well. The sauce is smooth, creamy, rich and divine! I am already dreaming up numerous ways to use this sauce! Thanks so much for a great recipe!

  10. I used bacon grease instead of coconut oil. I used potato starch as my flour. Do not add coconut milk slowly if you use potato starch, you risk it seizing up. Add all the coconut milk at once. When it starts to thickn, add the almond milk.

    I topped this with smoked paprika before covering. Oops? Nah. Yummy. The saffron added a wonderful cheese like color that was desperately needed as otherwise the sauce was not pretty.
    Creamy? Yes. Savory? Um… the coconut milk was rather strong. I am very glad I used a little fresh mince onion and a minced clove of garlic. It definetly helped the savory part.

    Will I make it again? Yes

  11. You are a genius! Thanks so much for making this modified recipe. My family is sure to sing your praises on Sunday. Because really, what would Easter be without Ham and Scalloped potatoes?

  12. Hi Tori. I am making your Dairy-Free Saffron Scalloped Potatoes for Christmas. I would like to make it a day ahead. Would you suggest I assemble the dish and then bake it on Christmas. Or should I assemble and bake the dish and then just reheat on Christmas? Thanks. I love reading your posts and this is just the dish I’ve been searching out.

    1. Hi Dorothy, I’m very sorry it has taken so long to respond. I got very backed up with comments over the holidays. I have tried making and assembling this dish ahead, and unfortunately it’s never worked very well for me. What you can do ahead is peel and slice the potatoes, then keep them submerged in cold water until you’re ready to make the dish. Drain and pat dry before placing the slices into the baking dish. All other steps work best if done right before you’re ready to bake.

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