Although more and more people are being raised with a wholly vegan diet from day one, there are also many who choose to pursue a plant-based diet after having been omnivorous for several years. If you ask the average vegan if there are any foods they miss from “before”, there’s a pretty good chance that cheese will be somewhere on their list. Spread on toast or stirred into pastas to make them creamy and savory, cheese adds both umami and creaminess to countless dishes, but the good news is that that luscious, cheesy goodness doesn’t have to be dairy based! Vegan cheeses can be absolutely delicious too, so you can celebrate their deliciousness as well as the fact that they’re cruelty-free.
I’ve found many recipes for vegan cheeses online, and some of them are really time-consuming and intense to prepare—we’re talking about days of prep work and intricate kitchen utensils, here—but there are also some great ones that only require a bit of time and effort, and ingredients that can be found pretty much everywhere. Their nutty, creamy saltiness is satisfying to even the most die-hard dairy lover, and they can be used in countless different ways.
This is one of my favorites: a chèvre-like soft cheese made of cashews, then crusted with walnuts and dried cranberries. It’s tangy, sweet, and creamy, and is absolutely gorgeous on crackers or toasted bagels. You can also use it as a filling in crescent rolls, phyllo pastry triangles, and other baked goods.
*Note: the ingredients listed below are just a serving suggestion. Feel free to omit the walnuts and just roll the cashew cheese log in the chopped cranberries for a really elegant presentation, or swap out the cranberries for fresh herbs if you’d prefer a savory version rather than a sweet one. This log is just as gorgeous when rolled in chopped parsley, summer savory, thyme, and cracked pepper as it is with chopped sundried tomatoes, capers and dill, or dried cherries. You can add some of the ingredients before you roll, or leave the cheese as it is and just coat the outside of it: experiment to your heart’s content, and enjoy!
Vegan Cashew “Cheese” with Walnuts and Cranberries
- 1 cup raw cashews (soaked for about 3 hours, then drained, rinsed, and patted dry)
- 2 tbsp coconut or sunflower oil
- 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- Water (as needed)
- 1/4 tsp salt (I like to use pink Himalayan mountain salt, but sea salt works well too)
- 1/3 cup dried cranberries, chopped finely
- 1/4 cup walnuts, chopped finely (you can either use them raw or toast them, or swap in chopped pecans instead)
In a blender or food processor, blend your cashews, oil, vinegar, lemon juice, and salt on high speed until it grinds fairly smoothly. If you find that it’s too thick to process into the desired smoothness, add water 1 tsp at a time until it reaches the desired consistency.
Drop the speed down to “combine”, and add some of the dried cranberries. It’s up to you whether you’d like all the cranberries inside the cheese and then just roll it in chopped walnuts afterward, or if you’d like a mixture of nuts and cranberries inside as well as on the crust. Let’s make this version a cran-wrapped log: add the walnuts and just combine the mixture to distribute them fairly evenly.
Take a large bowl and line it with plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Spoon the blended mixture inside and then pull wraping from the sides of the bowl to wrap up the mixture quite firmly. Put this into the freezes for 2-3 hours so it can set. Once firm, spread out another piece of wrap, foil, or waxed paper, and toss on whatever you’d like to crust the cheese with. In this case, let’s use all the chopped cranberries, along with any bits of walnut that may be left over.
On a clean surface, or even on the spread-out wrap you used earlier, roll your cheese into whatever shape you’d like. Logs are easiest, but you can also create a ball shape. Then, plunk that cheese log onto the crusting mixture and roll it around, pressing lightly as you go so. Once the log is coated nicely, wrap it tightly in foil and pop it back into the freezer for another hour or so. Serve with crackers, bread, sliced apples… or just devour it with a spoon.
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