Two quick disclaimers-
- I am not, personally, a vegan
- No, technically this is not cheese
Okay, now that’s out of the way, let’s get going!
Even though, as I say, I’m not a vegan myself, I do have plenty of vegan friends and one of my little brothers is a vegan, plus I am always edging towards getting more ethical/sustainable in my diet, so in the past I have tried various commercially available vegan cheese-substitutes and have found them generally acceptable, but in no way a real replacement for those dairy-based delights I so adore.
The idea of making my own vegan cheese was not on my radar at all until a Pinterest-browsing-binge threw up several recipes. Vegan cooking is generally quite intimidating, it always seems to include so many strange and unexpected ingredients, plumbing the infinite bounty of vegetation to make up for lack of animal-extract, so I approached warily and was delighted to discover a recipe I thought I could make.
As I say making the stuff never occurred to me and it was not, in this instance, the idea of ethical eating which prompted me to do so, but rather the fascination of DIY – it is always such an appealing concept to know you have made something from start to finish. That’s why cooking from scratch is so much more satisfying (if not always as successful) as using pre-made stuff.
So I bought the primary ingredients – cashew nuts and garlic – and got down to it..
NB: You cannot start this recipe and finish it the same evening – it requires soaking the nuts overnight! It also requires a food processor, so go and invest in one RIGHT FREAKING NOW.
1. Soak Yo’ Nuts
This is nice and easy. Take your cashews and pop them in water so they are completely covered, then pop them in the fridge. I had mine in for about 22 hours, from evening to evening, and that worked fine.
2. Garlic Goodness
This recipe needs a WHOLE BULB of garlic, and it will need to be roasted for about 45 minutes wrapped in tin foil, with the top sliced off, until the flesh is soft and the cloves pop out easily. That means more delay in starting the recipe proper, of course, but on the plus side the roasted garlic smells delicious. At least I think so, and it was my kitchen, so there.
Remove the garlic from the oven and allow it to cool before unwrapping the foil.
3. You Put The Cashew with the Coconut and Grind It All Up
I used dried coconut for this, the other alternative being coconut butter – for that the coconut needed to be soaked for 15 minutes. It’s fairly simple from this point, you just put coconut, cashews and salt together and PROCESS THEM!
I got out my trusty Kenwood Multipro for this – at first I tried it in the blender but it just didn’t work, the bottom bits were minced but nothing else – cue using a spatula to get the half-ground mixture out and into the food processor instead! I think next time I’ll try processing it in small batches, see if that works better.
I also added a couple of tablespoons of water and a tablespoon of vegetable oil, to make up for the fact that I was using shredded coconut instead of coconut butter – it seemed to work out and give the mixture some much-needed moisture, without making it watery.
4. Final Ingredients
When it’s through you should end up with a rough paste – mine, I think, was rougher than normal, because of the aforesaid first attempt in the blender.
When you have your paste, add the garlic, lemon juice and garlic granules (if you want it to be even MORE garlic-y, which I did).
5. Setting It Up
Next it’s time to shape and set! Line two containers with a piece of cheesecloth or muslin (you could maybe get away without this, I didn’t risk it). The recipe said to use ramekins but I didn’t have any so made do with these little plastic IKEA bowls, which worked out fine. Put half the fresh herbs in the bottom of each.
On the subject of the herbs, I used coriander and parsley as I happened to have a lot of it left from another recipe, but I don’t think that’s the best match – the recipe suggests chives, rosemary and thyme so I’ll give those a go next time. In fact, I may go crazy and make the actual ‘cheese’ without the herbs – they shorten the shelf life (or fridge life) and you can always add them to serve.
Next, spoon in the cashew and garlic paste, pressing it down so it is tightly packed, and finish by adding the other half of the herbs, again pushing them. Cover the surface with the cheesecloth or muslin, then stack up the ramekins/bowls, ideally with a third on the top half full of water to add more weight and further dense-i-fy your creation. Pop in the fridge and leave to set overnight!
6. Releese The Cheese
When you’re ready, turn it out and admire your handiwork!
I have to admit, I did try a little during the making process (because I’m a terrible person) and was surprised even before it set what a pleasant, umami flavour it had. I spread it on some toast at once to enjoy (bread courtesy of the Spondon Bakery which I visited a week or two ago) and it was even better – a very fine substitute for Roule and other herby spreading cheeses!
And pop it in a sandwich with some olives and a baby leaf salad and BANG – you have a princely vegan sammich which tastes good to a hardened dairy-disciple!
|1 small head garlic
4 Tbsp. fresh chopped herbs (thyme, rosemary, chives)
150g cashew pieces, soaked in water 8-10 hours, rinsed and drained
30g coconut butter or unsweetened coconut flakes
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. garlic granules
3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
|1. Place cashews in water and soak overnight
2. Pre-heat your oven to 200℃
3. Cut off the top third of the head of garlic and wrap it in tin foil (save those tops of the cloves – they can be used for something else!
4. Place the garlic in the oven and roast for 30-45 minutes
5. Remove the garlic from the oven and allow to cool completely before unwrapping
6. If using coconut flakes, soak in water for about 15 minutes and drain
7. Line two containers (ideally ramekins) with cheesecloth. Sprinkle in one tablespoon each of the herbs.
8. In a food processor, process the cashew pieces, coconut butter or coconut flakes, and salt until it forms a near-smooth paste
9. Squeeze out the garlic cloves from the roasted garlic into the mixture, along with the garlic powder and the lemon juice and process until thoroughly combined.
10. Divide the mixture between your containers, pressing it down into the herbs and cheesecloth
11. Divide the remaining herbs – again gently press them down and cover the top with the ends of the cheesecloth. Put one on top of the other and fill a third container with water and place it on top, so you have a “tower” of three.
12. Place them in the refrigerator and let set overnight.
13. Turn out your cream cheese and either serve or save in an air-tight container in the fridge!
A quick note on the ‘yield’ of this recipe – it is darn good! I didn’t actually manage to get through the whole batch, despite having lots of sandwiches, toast and crackers with it, and sharing it too – it did eventually go bad and I had to throw the remainder. A bitter blow, but I will be making it and enjoying it again soon!
That’s all for now my dears, I hope the recipe inspires you as it did me – until next time!