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Cheese Please

Folk agree that the toughest thing about being vegan is the “no cheese” story. And it’s true, no dairy cheese can be included in the strict vegan diet. But interestingly, cheese is a combination of textures and flavours that can be more or less replicated using plant products. There are commercial vegan cheeses available but it’s much more fun (and cheaper) to go into the lab-kitchen and cook up a few possibilities. But first… a word about ingredients you will need to stock. 

  • Nutritional Yeast Flakes: These give whatever you are making a really cheesy flavour. In fact, they are delicious sprinkled on anyything savoury for flavor, and give a nutritional boost. Buy in bulk - you’ll get hooked.
  • Agar Agar: This seaweed powder is also known as China Grass. This sets a cheese. Be aware - conditions apply.
  • Tapioca Flour: This gives a stretchy quality to your mix and thickens it up nicely. This versatile flour gives instant results.
  • Gram Flour (chickpea flour): This wonderful protein-packed flour binds, thickens, flavours and is key to successful vegan cheese making.
  • Aqua Faba: The stock in the chickpea can is the stuff you need for flavour when making cheeses based on flours. Freeze it, don’t ditch it. 
  • Garlic Powder: This flavour booster is invaluable for lifting bland gloops into heavenly cheese. Likewise, onion powder. Use them lavishly.
  • Turmeric: Most of the cheesy ingredients are pale, which is fine if you are making white cheese. A teaspoon of turmeric powder will give your cheese that distinctive yellow colour we associate with cheese. 
  • Raw Cashew Nuts: Pricey, so look for specials and keep in the deepfreeze. An overnight soak bulks them up and gives you super creamy results. 
  • Sunflower Seeds: This humble, reasonably priced seed is full of excellent nutrition and responds well to toasting, soaking, grinding and blending. 
  • Seasoning: Keep “pukka” seasoning in stock: Himalayan salt; black pepper; Korean Red Pepper Flakes (found in Chinese grocery stores); black salt (if you like a sulphurous tinge to your cheese); freeze-dried herbs (or at least non-irradiated.) 
  • Lemon Juice: Nothing beats real lemon juice! 
  • Coconut Oil: Get the odourless one that doesn’t taste like coconut. It works really well in your cheeses and helps them to set. 

Here are a couple of recipes that I have been experimenting with, that I can say taste delicious and cheesy – as long as you are not expecting the texture associated with dairy cheese.

This one is made with potatoes. Yes! Choose soft cookers, peel and cook until soft. You will need 2 cups of cooked potatoes, drained. Cook 1 carrot as well, to help with colour. Place the cooked veggies in your blender and add 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast; 1 teaspoon salt; 1 tablespoon lemon juice; 3/4 cup of mixed oils (I used sunflower, olive and coconut in equal quantities); ½ teaspoon turmeric powder; 1 teaspoon garlic powder; 1 teaspoon onion powder. I added 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika, which really worked. If you need a little liquid, add potato stock, but go easy. Blend on high. You will get a sticky, glossy, flavourful mix that tastes fabulous. Pour into glass jars, allow to cool, then refrigerate – it will keep for +/- 3 weeks. (Don’t tell the kids - they’ll think you made them cheese spread sarmies.) 

Soak chickpeas overnight. Discard the extra water. Place 2 cups of raw chickpeas in a high-speed blender. Add flavours and seasonings, pretty much like those you used for the Easy Cheese Spread but reduce the oil to ½ cup. Add 1 cup of water and blend - you will have a thick smooth liquid. Set ½ a cup of water to boil in a saucepan, and then add the chickpea mix, stirring all the time. It will thicken until you have a really dense porridge. This is your cheese. Pour into moulds and allow to cool, then pop the moulds into the fridge for an hour or so. Turn them out, slice, serve with bread and salad. No one will think it’s cheese, but they will have to admit that it’s yummy. (Best used immediately.) 

More cheese next month! 

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