Meatless Monday: Vegan cashew cheese

Try a vegan substitute for cheese by blending cashews, water, and yeast, and adding different flavors such as fruit or herbs. Spread it on crackers for snack, or serve as a condiment with dinner. 

Beyond the Peel
Drizzle a portobello mushroom with olive oil and bake for a few minutes. Then serve it on toast topped with your cashew cheese.

Editor's note: Stir It Up! blogger France Morissette is currently living in a remote cabin while she works as a fire lookout in Canada. She's also experimenting with a vegan diet. You can read more about her unusual experience on her blog, BeyondthePeel.net.

So… I’ve arrived. Day 3 of being at the tower. Good thing they brought in a snow plow to clear the paths to the outhouse, storage sheds, and cabin. It would have been days of shoveling. Day 1 of the fire season and I’m starting with a base of 36 cm of snow!

And guess what? It’s still snowing. I’ve been in a snow cloud now for a solid 24 hours and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. That’s not a bad thing necessarily. It’s giving me lots of time to “settle” in. Unpack boxes and suitcases. Trying to find things, like where do they keep batteries, the broom, and mop? This place has been shut up since last October so there’s a bit of cleaning to do. And I have nothing but time.

Lots and lots of time. Especially since the Internet (using an Aircard), isn’t nearly as good as I had hoped for. It doesn’t look like I’ll get as much use out of it as I had planned, except for the necessities (incredibly long loading times), like blog posts. That makes me a little sad. But I am in the middle of nowhere and should be grateful, after all, to have it in the first place. So, no more complaining from me.

I returned to the same tower I was at 4 and 5 years ago. What are the chances?

There are some good memories here and I keep finding evidence of my story, here and there. Antique salt and pepper shakers I brought with me the first year that I’d forgotten about. Small delicate glass shakers. So out of place in this rugged isolated place. A beautiful scented candle my best friend gave me years ago for my birthday (mostly used up, but with a little life left in it yet). The scent is Mediterranean Fig. An old apple basket I used to keep my onions and garlic in. Oh! And best of all, the tackiest clock you ever did see. Dusty blue in color, with a floral brocade background. Hideous, yet still hanging in the exact same spot. There’s a fondness for that hideous thing, for some reason or another.

This is an old cabin with plenty of character. Probably built in the 1970s, judging by the cupboards, wood paneling and the state of the floor. I better get my nostalgia in while I can. This ol’ cabin is being ripped out next year and being replaced with a newer, “better” version. I say “better” since the new cabins are supposed to have very little storage in the kitchen and the bedroom closet has been replaced with an indoor shower. The shower sounds promising doesn’t it? Don’t get too excited, there’s still no running water, but it does provide a good place for a shower bag and protection from the bugs (priceless!). However, for a girl who loves food, cooking, and clothes, cupboard space and a closet are just as essential. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

As for the whole vegan thing, after three days, I feel a little hungry. I won’t lie.

If you’re wondering about a meat lover going vegan, I go into detail about it in this post. But essentially I’m still a meat eater so if anyone wants to come by with some hunted meat or farm fresh eggs, I’m in. But finding sustainably raised meat around here would be next to impossible unless you were in tight with the locals. So I’m putting my values to the test. Can I do it? Probably, if I can figure the hunger part out.

On Day 1, I just unpacked. On Day 2, I made some soft vegan “cheese” made of soaked cashews. Something I’ve been meaning to try. Wish I had done it earlier. Boy was I missing out. I actually have to refrain myself from eating it by the spoonful. I’ve also made some sprouted spelt and sesame bread and a couple extremely delicious meals.

Hunger aside, I invite you to follow my journey over the next 6 months. If you’ve been feeling like you wanted to experiment with eating less meat and more veg, or simply giving up dairy, there might be a nugget of helpful information for you. Maybe learn from my mistakes and triumphs? I know I’ll be doing a lot of learning! Who knows, maybe you are vegan and looking for some tasty ideas or maybe you can even offer some suggestions.

Even if you still eat meat or have a partner that simply won’t go without, don’t fret. Most of the meals and dishes I’ll be sharing can easily be served with a meat of your choice. I’ll be make pairing suggestions along the way, when they apply.

I used nutritional yeast in this recipe for cashew cheese, but it can be omitted. Don’t feel like you need to buy it just to try this out. However, it does add a cheesy goodness to it. If you do decide to buy some, it makes a fabulous popcorn topping. You can source it online, if you live in a small community with no local organic specialty store. In larger cities you may even be able to purchase it at a regular grocery store if it has a specialty isle, but most specialty organic stores will carry it, too.

First experiment, Vegan Cashew Cheese. I chose to make a herbed version. I used it in a Portobello Steak Sandwich recipe that you see in the photos. The assembly is simple enough. Bake or broil a portobello mushroom drizzled with olive oil for 5-10 minutes. I chose a herb olive oil a friend gave me (thank you Tina, it was delicious) and seasoned it with smoked salt (this gives it a meaty flavor). Serve it on toast, rubbed with fresh garlic, then topped with Herbed Cashew Cheese, sauteed onions, and spinach. (Meat lovers can do this with grilled chicken instead of a mushroom.)

Vegan Cashew Cheese

1 cup raw cashews 

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 tablespoon nutritional yeast

Water

Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Soak the cashews in 1 cup of water for an hour. Drain the cashews. In a blender, add the cashews, lemon juice and nutritional yeast. Blend until smooth adding only enough water to make the cashews creamy but not runny, adding it in 1 tablespoon at a time. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a bowl. If using herbs, mix any freshly chopped herbs into the cheese using a spoon. Refrigerate until cool. It will stiffen a bit more once its chilled.

Variations

Herbed cashew cheese:

1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

1 green onion, finely chopped

Fold in the herbs, after the first steps are completed.

Truffled cashew cheese:

1 tablespoon truffle oil

1 small garlic clove

Add the truffle oil and the garlic clove to the blender with the other ingredients. Blend until smooth, adding only enough water necessary to blend.

Creamy dill dip:

1/4 finely chopped fresh dill

1–2 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon lemon Juice

Add the extra lemon juice and just enough water to get desired consistency and blend until smooth. Fold in the chopped dill.

Maple fruit dip:

Omit nutritional yeast and salt and pepper. Add 3 tablespoons of maple syrup and a small dash of salt to the blender and blend until smooth. Serve with your favorite sliced fruit.

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