Week Two: Dietary & Lifestyle Restrictions
We love eating all the vegan food we can, but it’s good to learn how to cook for those who may have allergies or intolerances — and challenge ourselves in the process.
It’s become a bit of a tradition: At our annual holiday party, the dinner table threatens to buckle under the weight of a massive spread. All vegan, all delicious, all devoured by the end of the night. And each year, I have to put together a vegan cheese platter for my expectant guests. Because one of our friends is allergic to nuts, I always make sure to include at least one nut-free cheese, and usually another made with almonds (like my sister, my friend is also allergic to all nuts except almonds!).
Last year, though, something tasted off with my cheeses. Though none of my guests commented on it, I detected a strange, almost chemical aftertaste in the varieties that used agar. Since then, I’ve been wary of cooking with it, even though I know in all likelihood it was a bad batch or had maybe been sitting in the cupboard too long. I’ll invest in a new supply of agar closer to the holiday season, but for now, I’ve been avoiding any agar-based cheese recipes.
Happily, Vegan Richa just happens to have an agar-free nacho cheese slice recipe that’s also nut-free! She uses chickpea flour as a base; this magical ingredients provides both bulk and the ability to firm up when cool. Genius! (I buy my chickpea flour (aka besan) at the local Asian market, and I love that it comes in a paper bag like other flours. You can find various brands online, though most are packaged in plastic.)
Richa uses lots of savory ingredients to pack her cheese full of flavor: pickled jalapeños, chipotle peppers, smoked paprika, roasted red pepper, and chili flakes, plus various spices. As you can imagine, this creates quite a spicy cheese! I forgot how powerful a kick this recipe packs when I made it this weekend; next time, I’ll cut down on some of the ingredients so it’s not quite as overpowering.
This recipe is a great one to keep in your repertoire! It’s relatively simple, and after refrigerating the mixture for a couple hours, you’ll have a cheese block that should withstand slicing and grating. No, the slices won’t be as firm as you’ll get with an agar-based cheese, but it’s a small price to pay! And if it doesn’t solidify as much as you’d like (which has happened to me before), you can just call it a spread and nobody will be the wiser. ;) Alternatively, stick it in the freezer for a couple minutes before slicing into it.
If you’re looking for additional nut-free vegan cheese recipes, here are a few!
- Easy vegan queso. This isn’t fancy or gourmet, but it’s actually my go-to quick queso recipe! It’s so simple and requires only the most basic ingredients. (Yes, I count nutritional yeast as a basic ingredient.) I definitely recommend mixing in some salsa or Ro-Tel at the end for a kick, and don’t omit the 2 tablespoons of vegan butter — it makes a difference.
- Potato- and carrot-based cheese sauce. Variations on this recipe have been floating around for years; I haven’t tried this exact iteration, but the other ones I’ve made have all been really tasty… and healthy!
- Eggplant and caramelized onion cheese sauce. Mmm, caramelized onions. I made this a while back and enjoyed it.
- Smoked coconut gouda. This sliceable, grate-able cheese uses a coconut milk base and pectin rather than agar. I’ve made it a few times and it’s good, if a little too smoky for my tastes. It would be a really nice, mild creamy cheese if you omitted the liquid smoke.
- Coconut mozzarella. Similar to the above recipe, this one uses coconut milk for a mozzarella that’s just crying out to be sliced onto pizza.
- Cheddar cheese ball. Like the slices I’m posting about here, this recipe also uses chickpea flour. I made this cheese ball for my last Christmas party and it was a hit.
- Paprika cheese made with sweet potatoes and oats. I made this recipe (sans agar) and was going to post about it, but it was not photogenic. But it’s good! And it uses oats, my ingredient du semaine.
What’s your go-to vegan cheese recipe?!