Cashews have changed the game for vegan cheeses. They add a creamy, decadent flavor that cookbook authors and chefs have adopted in almost every new recipe I come across.
Vegan brands like Miyoko’s Kitchen offer up artisanal flavors like Mt. Vesuvius Black Ash and Aged English Smoked Farmhouse as cashew-based options.
Unfortunately, if you have a sensitive gut – or suffer from irritable bowel syndrome – you may have a hard time digesting these nuts. Those who can’t tolerate cashews are often sensitive to FODMAPs – sugars and fibers that aren’t digested by the small intestines. (If you find you also have a problem with onions and garlic, low-FODMAP options might be worth a try.)
My other irritation with cashews is they have to be soaked – sometimes up to two hours – before they can blend into a cheese sauce.
Extensive prep time is fine on a Saturday afternoon but not on nights when both my husband and I work late. Or, let’s be honest, when I’ve decided we’re having nachos for dinner and I forgot to soak the nuts in the first place.
Thankfully, there are nut-free recipes out there that are simple, healthy and delicious. “America’s Test Kitchen” – the Emmy-award winning cooking show – includes a nacho cheese recipe in its new book, “Vegan for Everybody” (America’s Test Kitchen, $29.95).
I was dubious when I looked at the ingredients alongside the picture in the book. I thought there was no way a mixture that blended boiled potatoes and carrots along with vinegar and nutritional yeast would come out anything like nacho cheese. Plus, the vinegar sounded gross.
I was completely wrong. The sauce came out smooth, tangy and with an unmistakable nacho cheese flavor and texture. Processing the potatoes released starch that gave it a gluey, stretchy consistency. Sauteed adobo peppers and onions added a Tex-Mex kick.
Use it as a chip dip or a topping on your taco salad. Reheat on the stovetop, or microwave in 30-second spurts, adding water when needed.
If you’re in the mood for a mac-and-cheese style topping, check out the velvety cheez sauce in “Vegan Vittles,” by Jo Stepaniak (Book Publishing Co., $19.95).
I got the original version of this cookbook in 2000 – my first year as a vegan. I remember flipping through the pages on multiple trips to the college bookstore, trying to justify the $13 purchase on my 19-year-old budget.
This is still my go-to topping for macaroni almost 20 years later. Like the nacho recipe, it has a potato and carrot base that you blend after boiling. But this one adds firm silken tofu and lemon sauce to give it a creamier texture.
Be cautious when blending the potato, carrot and water mixture in both recipes. If the liquid is still hot, it can force the lid on the blender – or food processor – to pop open. I know this from experience. If you want to blend while the ingredients are still hot, only fill up the container halfway.
For a tangy salad topper or sandwich filling, try the Greek tofu feta recipe in Stepaniak’s latest book, “Low-FODMAP and Vegan” (Book Publishing Co., $17.95).
The brine – which mixes apple cider vinegar, water, miso and oregano – takes about 3 minutes to make. Cut some extra-firm tofu into cubes and let it soak overnight. I ate the cubes solo, but crumble and toss on top of pasta to get a more realistic feta feel.
Prep: 25 minutes
Cook: 5 minutes
Makes: 2 cups
From “Vegan for Everybody,” by America’s Test Kitchen, which suggests serving with corn chips or crudites. To rewarm cooled nacho dip, microwave, covered, in 30-second bursts, whisking at each interval and thinning with water as needed, or rewarm on the stovetop, whisking occasionally and thinning with water as needed.
12 ounces russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 small carrot, peeled, cut into 1 / 2-inch pieces (1/3 cup)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1 / 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 1 / 2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
1/3 cup minced poblano chile
1 garlic clove, minced
1 / 2 teaspoon minced canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce
1 / 8 teaspoon ground cumin
1 / 8 teaspoon mustard powder
Bring 2 quarts water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add potatoes and carrot, and cook until tender, about 12 minutes; drain in a colander.
Combine cooked vegetables, 1/3 cup water, 2 tablespoons oil, nutritional yeast, vinegar and salt in a blender. Pulse until chopped and combined, about 10 pulses, stopping to scrape down sides of blender jar as needed. Process mixture on high speed until very smooth, about 2 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in now-empty saucepan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion and poblano, and cook until softened and lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, chipotle, cumin and mustard; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds; remove from heat.
Stir potato mixture into onion-poblano mixture in saucepan and bring to brief simmer over medium heat to heat through. Transfer to bowl and serve immediately.
Nutrition information per tablespoon: 25 calories, 1 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 3 g carbohydrates, 0 g sugar, 0 g protein, 208 mg sodium, 0 g fiber
Greek Tofu Feta
Prep: 20 minutes
Brine: 24 hours
Makes: 4 servings
From Jo Stepaniak’s latest book, “Low-FODMAP and Vegan: What to Eat When You Can’t Eat Anything.”
1 / 2 cup water
1 / 2 cup cider vinegar
1 / 4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons light miso
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon garlic-infused olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
12 ounces superfirm or extra-firm tofu pressed and cubed
For the brine, put the water, vinegar, lemon juice, miso, oregano, oil and salt in a large bowl, and whisk until well combined and the miso is fully incorporated. Add the tofu and gently toss, using your hands, until each piece is well coated with the brine. Take care not to break the cubes.
Transfer the tofu and brine to a glass storage container, cover and refrigerate for 24-48 hours before using. If all the cubes aren’t submerged in the brine, gently tilt the container every few hours to ensure all pieces stay well coated. Store the tofu feta in the brine in a sealed container in the refrigerator.
Nutrition information per serving: 76 calories, 5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 2 g carbohydrates, 1 g sugar, 9 g protein, 184 mg sodium, 1 g fiber
Velvety Cheez Sauce
Prep: 25 minutes
Cook: 12-15 minutes
Makes: 2 1 / 2 cups
From “Vegan Vittles,” by Jo Stepaniak. Pour this velvety, cheddar-style sauce over vegetables, pasta, rice or toast points.
1 medium potato, peeled, coarsely chopped
3 / 4 cup water
1 / 2 cup chopped carrot
1 / 2 cup chopped onion
3 / 4 cup mashed silken tofu
1 / 2 cup nutritional yeast flakes
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1 / 4 teaspoon garlic powder
Put the potato, water, carrot and onion in a medium saucepan, and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to medium, cover and cook, stirring once or twice, until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.
Transfer the vegetables and the cooking liquid to a blender. Add the remaining ingredients, and process until completely smooth. Depending on the size of your blender, this may need to be done in several batches.
Rinse out the saucepan, and pour the blended mixture into it. Warm over low heat, stirring frequently, until the sauce is hot. Stored in a covered container in the refrigerator; leftover sauce will keep for about 3 days.
Nutrition information per tablespoon: 14 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 2 g carbohydrates, 0 g sugar, 1 g protein, 61 mg sodium, 1 g fiber