Vegan cheese is really an oxymoron, as it doesn’t contain a trace of dairy! The creators of a variety of cheese-like substances are appealing to the palates of cheese-deprived vegans. There is something about the convenience of cheese - the way it melts, grates and slices and goes with everything, and it is cited as the most missed item on the vegan diet.
As mentioned last month, nutritional yeast flakes (known as ‘nutch’ by the vegan community) are essential for cheesy flavour; tapioca for stretchiness; agar agar or carrageenan for setting. White ‘cheeses’ have delicate flavours, softer textures and are often combined with fresh herbs. To achieve firmer, more robust cheeses such as a ‘cheddar’, requires spices and condiments as well as a bit more work. Lemon juice gives tartness and real mustard powder adds tang. Here are some more recipes, all of them stove-top creations, that yield good results.
NUT MILK BASE: Add a cup of water to a cup of raw cashews or almonds and soak for an hour. Discard the water. Place the soaked nuts in a fast blender along with 500mls of water. Blend until you have a smooth liquid. Push the liquid through a cheesecloth bag - this is cashew or almond nut milk and you can use it just as you would dairy milk. Scrape the grounds off the nut bag and place in a bowl - add 1 teaspoon of lemon juice, some finely chopped chives, a little salt - this is like a cream cheese and is yummy on toast or with baked potatoes.
EASY CREAMY WHITE CHEESE
Place 2 cups of nut milk in a saucepan with a handle (this helps when you are stirring) and bring to the simmer very gently. Have ready 2 tablespoons of rice or corn flour diluted in 1/4 cup of cold water. When it looks as though the milk is starting to bubble, add the flour mix and be ready to stir continuously until you have a good thick ‘white sauce’ consistency. Keeping the heat low, add 2 tablespoons of de-odourised coconut oil; 2 heaped tablespoons of nutritional yeast; 1 teaspoon of lemon juice; salt and a little white pepper to season. Keep whisking until all the ingredients are well-mixed and you have a thick glossy ‘sauce’. Pour this into ramekins, cover with a little cling wrap, cool to room temperature and allow to firm up in the fridge overnight. This soft ‘cheese’ (similar to ricotta) can be added to pasta dishes; combined with spinach or mushroom in savoury pancakes; or spread on crackers.
FIRM YELLOW CHEESE
Start this one the night before by putting 2 cups of gram (chick pea) flour and 2 tablespoons of chia seeds in a bowl with enough water to make a pourable batter. Add a pinch of salt, cover and leave overnight. The next day, arrange your arsenal of cheese-making tools – a good whisk; cup and 1/2 cup measures; lemon juice; coconut oil; agar agar powder; tapioca powder; turmeric powder to colour; smoked paprika for flavour; mustard powder for tang; salt and pepper. Silicon moulds work beautifully.
Stir your batter and adjust the texture to that of a pourable pancake batter. Add 1 teaspoon of lemon juice, your turmeric, paprika, mustard, salt and pepper. Dissolve 1 tablespoon of agar agar in 1/4 cup of cold water, and 1 tablespoon of tapioca flour in 1/4 cup of water. Keep them nearby, with teaspoons in the containers so that you can give them a last second whisk before adding. Put the batter in a pot with a handle and place on a medium heat on the stove. Keep a small jug of hot water (or veg stock) to add liquid as needed in case it gets too thick too soon. Once the mixture has started to warm through, it will start to thicken. Add 1 generous tablespoon of coconut oil, and the dissolved tapioca flour and increase the heat slightly, stirring all the while. Now add the dissolved agar agar and bring back to bubbling heat. This process needs a full five minutes stirring with a whisk at a good simmer to activate the setting. Set your timer and be accurate. When the mix has been cooking for the correct time, quickly transfer the mixture to your moulds. Your cheese will start firming up as soon as it begins to cool then you can pop it in the fridge overnight to set further. When removed from the mould, this ‘cheese’ can be sliced and even grated. Great for sarmies, crackers and snacks!