Hosting a holiday party can be stressful. There’s the top-to-bottom cleaning, the decorating, the cooking, and then of course you have to think about who to invite. Will Bob and Jane be going through another period of “mutual separation”? Will your boss get blasted and hit on your neighbor again? Oh, and then there’s your cousin and her boyfriend who have recently declared she’s gone vegan AND gluten-free.
While there are some hassles of planning a party that just can’t be avoided, dietary restrictions shouldn’t be one of them. That’s why I always like to prepare a few vegan-friendly dishes that meat eaters can enjoy as well. That way everyone leaves happy and full, without creating a bunch of additional work for you.
This Vegan Cheese Spread is always a crowd pleaser along with my Vegan Spinach Dip. They both taste sinfully decadent and most people would never guess they were vegan. So how does one go about creating a vegan cheese?
Well, before we make a vegan cheese spread we have to think about the characteristics that make cheese cheesy. For me, the first thing is that fermented flavor that’s created as the proteins and fats break down in aging cheese. The second characteristic is the smile inducing umami produced by the large amount of free glutamates in cheese. Then there’s the rich creamy texture of most cheeses. Lastly cheeses like cheddar have a sharp kick that’s somewhere between sour and astringent.
To reproduce these characteristics in a dairy-free cheese, I turned to my pantry for inspiration. First for the aged cheese flavor, I used some nutritional yeast and miso. These ingredients are also loaded with glutamic acids that pack a wallop of umami. The rich creaminess comes from the cashews, soy milk and tahini. For the sharp cheddary flavor, I enlisted the help of some mustard and apple cider vinegar.
The resulting spread is rich, creamy, and ultra-flavorful with just a hint of fermented funk. It takes on a marvelous reddish-orange hue from the sun dried tomatoes and turmeric, and a dusting of finely chopped pistachio nuts gives it a festive green color that practically glows.
Best of all, this is a make-ahead dish that can be prepared a day or two in advance. Just hold off on the pistachio garnish until you’re ready to serve it. This also happens to be gluten free, but if you do have guests that are avoiding gluten, be sure to get breads and crackers that are gluten-free as well.
Vegan “Cheese” Spread
- 5 ounces raw cashews (about 1 cup)
- 0.5 ounces sun-dried tomatoes (about 4 pieces)
- 1 cup soy milk
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
- 1/4 cup coconut oil
- 2 tablespoons miso
- 1 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 2 teaspoons tahini
- 1 teaspoon yellow mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon salt (to taste)
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 packet (0.15 ounces) agar powder (a.k.a. kanten)
- 1 tablespoon pistachio nuts, finely minced
- Put the raw cashews, sun-dried tomatoes and soy milk in a sealable bag, squeeze out the air and refrigerate for at least 1 day (you can skip this step if you are using a Vitamix).
- In the bowl of a food processor or blender, add the soaked cashews, tomatoes and remaining soy milk into a food processor along with the nutritional yeast, coconut oil, miso, apple cider vinegar, tahini, mustard, paprika, onion powder, turmeric and salt. Process or blend until smooth and creamy, scraping down the sides a few times. You can add a bit more soy milk if the mixture is too thick and won't blend, but you want it to be as thick as possible.
- Meanwhile put 1/2 cup water and agar powder into a small sauce pan and bring the water to a full boil.
- Once the cheese spread is smooth and the agar mixture has boiled, pour the agar mixture into cheese mixture and process to combine.
- Put the spread in a ramekin, cover and refrigerate until you are ready to serve it.
- When you're ready to serve, uncover and sprinkle the minced pistachios on top to garnish.
Marc Matsumoto is a culinary consultant and recipe repairman who shares his passion for good food through his website norecipes.com. For Marc, food is a life long journey of exploration, discovery and experimentation and he shares his escapades through his blog in the hopes that he inspires others to find their own culinary adventures. Marc’s been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and has made multiple appearances on NPR and the Food Network.