23 November 2008

Milk That Cashew and Let's Make Cheese

Ok, I was wrong. The next blog isn't butternut-jicama enchiladas. But that WILL be next after this one. They are worth the wait, I promise...

You can't have Mexican food, especially enchiladas, without cheese. If you aren't vegan, this is not a problem, of course, but vegan cheese is an interesting challenge.

Early in 2008, my mostly-vegetarian daughter, Tae, and I, did 'Vegan Month' where we went for 4 weeks totally vegan. This was, amazingly to both of us, incredibly easy to do. A copy of 'Veganomicon', 'Vegan with a Vengeance', and 'Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World', and you can eat very well as a vegan for a month.

The biggest problem with being a vegan for a month was the cheese. We tried a number of vegan cheeses available in our market and were less than impressed. Most had strange textures and often stuck to your teeth. And you really had to convince yourself that this was cheese. We did find some that were edible, but they were few and far between. And VERY expensive.

As capitalism would have it, sometime during this period where we came up with this grand plan, the Dish Network decided to temporarily give me some free channels as a promotion. One of those channels was Veria TV (Veria.com) and one of the shows on there was called 'Naturally Delicious' with Ann Gentry, a vegan chef.

Well, the first episode I watched was on grains. And, Ms Gentry annoyed me right off the bat by referring to either couscous or quinoa as a grain - I forget which because people do it all the time. But a famous vegan chef clearly knows that quinoa is a seed and couscous is a pasta. They might be treated as a grain and cooked like a grain, but neither IS a grain. So there.

But, Ms Gentry also made some cheese and cheese sauce out of raw cashews. This caught my eye, so I downloaded the recipe and made it, after a difficult local search for agar agar. This recipe made a 'cheese' that let you use it as a solid (sort of) and as a liquid cheese sauce. Interesting...

However, Tae wouldn't eat it. She thought is tasted bad and I found it not cheesy enough (how often do you get to say THAT?) So, I made my own version. My version uses less oil, more miso, less onion powder, less lemon juice, and almond milk instead of soy milk. To me, this is a much tastier recipe, still easy to make, doesn't stick to your teeth like the commercial ones did, and keeps for a while.

So, here we go with my version of what Ms Gentry called 'Cashew Cheddar'. Calling this cheese or 'cheddar' is a stretch, but this is a very useful recipe and I keep it around all the time. We will use this in the enchiladas, even in the non-vegan version.

Richard's Fake Cheese

Makes about 4 cups, keeps at least a week - 10 days

1 1/4 c raw cashews
1/2 c nutritional yeast
1 tsp onion powder
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp garlic powder
3 1/2 c plain almond milk
3 Tbs agar agar powder
1/3 c canola oil
1/3 c yellow miso paste
1 Tbs bottled lemon juice

Finely grind the cashews in a food processor. This can take a while and you need to scrape the fine powder from around the edges back into the mix now and then. Add the next 4 ingredients and process to blend it together.

Put the almond milk, agar and oil in a 2 or 3 qt saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium high heat. NOTE- This WILL boil over if you don't stop at simmer instead of boiling, or if you turn your attention away for even a second. The pot KNOWS you aren't looking, and there will be bubbles all over your stove! Watch this!

Lower heat to low. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring every minute or two to help the agar dissolve. When it is all incorporated, run the food processor and slowly pour the almond-agar mixture into the cashew mixture. Let it run for a minute or two to make sure everything is creamy smooth. Then add the lemon juice and miso, process it again for 30 seconds or so.

Take your liquid 'cheese' and dump it into a container with a tightly fitting lid. I use Glad containers, 8 cup rectangular ones so I end up with a block of 'cheese'. If you wanted a sauce, obviously, you would just use the cheese in its current liquid state.

The cheese will set up in the fridge into a solid but slightly soft block. You can use this as slices, grate it on a box grater (large holes), or you can melt it again by using a saucepan with a little almond milk and reheating a minute.

If you need firmer cheese, you can add more agar, but increase it a little each time. Too much can become noticeable.

Let me know what you think of it.

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