This past Friday, a couple came in for a private cooking class led by Chef Sadhana. Though I haven’t chronicled every class on the blog, there’s a monthly group cooking class held at the inn, and usually a few private classes with guests each week. I’ve been lucky enough to assist many of these classes throughout my internship at the inn! I love it, because not only to I get to help out (running back to the kitchen to grab additional ingredients, taking pictures, etc.), but I also get to learn alongside the guests.
For this particular class, the couple was interested in learning how to make vegan cashew cheese. Different variations of cashew cheese and cashew creams are used frequently in the kitchen here, and I was really excited to listen in on a step-by-step breakdown of the basic recipe.
We started out by combining soy milk (though any non-dairy milk will work) and agar flakes in a pan and letting it simmer for about ten minutes while we worked on other components of the cheese. Agar flakes are used in many recipes here as a thickener, and though they may not already be in your pantry, they’re totally natural and come from a type of sea vegetation.
Next up, we added raw cashews to the food processor, and started adding seasonings to achieve that iconic cheesy flavor without any dairy (you might think this is impossible, but I promise it’s not! And this is coming from a cheese-lover). In went sea salt, onion powder, garlic powder, and, one of the most essential ingredients to this recipe, nutritional yeast.
Nutritional yeast, which I’ve taken to calling “nooch” in my head after seeing the term used online, is also a less mainstream ingredient, but a great one nonetheless. Nutritional yeast is a form of inactive yeast, and is an awesome source of vitamins in addition to being a complete protein! Plus it tastes awesome. You won’t catch me eating it by the spoonful, but when added to other foods it provides a creamy, cheesy, nutty flavor that’s not otherwise easy to achieve while eating plant-based. I like to sprinkle it on pretty much anything, from veggies to salads to soup and even popcorn!
Anyways. Back to the cheese. Once the agar had dissolved into the soy milk on the stove, we added the mixture to the food processor while it was running (pro tip: if the agar sits too long before doing this after being taken off the heat, it will set! Not what we’re going for just yet).
Then olive oil made it into the mix, still going in the food processor. Here comes a great opportunity to customize the cheese for your tastes: if you’d prefer more of a spread or soft cheese, add less oil. If you’re going for a cheddar-type hard cheese, add more oil and it will better solidify when it sets.
Finally, we added chickpea miso paste (though you could use other types of miso), lemon juice, and Ume plum vinegar to the processor. Chickpea miso is essentially fermented chickpeas instead of the fermented soybeans used in the more common soy miso. Ume plum vinegar, another less common ingredient, is native to Japan, and is the pickling brine left from making umeboshi plums (pickled ume fruits). I’ve tasted straight Ume plum vinegar on a spoon and man does that stuff pack a punch. It’s far more tart than other types of vinegars, and pretty much makes all of the guests’ lips pucker if they decide to try it straight! These two ingredients may sound foreign, but are easy enough to get your hands on (Amazon, most health food stores, and even some supermarkets) and can be used to add a unique flavor to many different types of recipes.
And with that the basic cashew cheese recipe is done! We poured out a bit from the food processor into a ramekin to let set as is, and went on to get creative with some add-ins. First up: sundried tomatoes! After blending the sundried tomatoes into the mixture in the food processor, we poured a bit into a different ramekin and let set. And finally, we added a chopped jalapeno to the sundried tomato cheese for some kick in our final ramekin.
Finishing off the cheese is easy: just let sit (ours sat out for about ten minutes before hitting the fridge until we were ready to eat).
The cheeses turned out SO well. The sundried tomato was my favorite. I could literally eat it all day. I don’t do spicy so well, so I didn’t enjoy the jalapeno-sundried tomato as much, but the plain cashew cheese was also awesome in its own right! The plain variety kind of reminded me of Laughing Cow cheeses, maybe a swiss or mild cheddar. The guests chose to add less oil, so the cheeses held shape but were more spreadable than a hard cheese would be.
With the right ingredients (which are actually quite versatile), this cashew cheese is a breeze to make, and easily customizable! Some other flavoring ideas: roasted garlic, honey, dried fruit, herbs (rosemary, sage and nutmeg, dill, parsley), red pepper, or chili flakes. The options are endless, and the fun is in the experimentation! While you couldn’t pass cashew cheese for the real stuff, it’s awesome in its own right, and definitely has the power to satisfy those cheesy cravings.
This article was written by monica