31p Vegan Moussaka from Cooking on a Bootstrap | VeganMoFo Day Twenty-One

Week Three: Budget Week
This week, we’re going to prove once and for all that veganism is affordable!

I didn’t actually intend for all the non-original recipes I made this week to come from Cooking on a Bootstrap, but here we are on Thursday and, yes, I’m making another one. Or to be more accurate, Steven is making another one. Made another one. Feeling the beginning of dinner burnout (not to mention knowing I’d be tired from a particularly busy day at work getting our next issue of the magazine off to the printer), I asked him if he could take the lead on dinner last night. He agreed. I sent a couple recipe options, all of them featuring eggplants (aubergines to you Brits!) because I had bought two at the farmers market last weekend and wanted to use them before they went squishy. Steven’s choice: the vegan moussaka from Cooking on a Bootstrap.

My experience with moussaka is limited. When we lived in Wisconsin, our favorite co-op frequently featured a vegan moussaka at the hot bar. It was rich and creamy and filling and a total comfort food. But I don’t think I’ve ever made it myself, nor had I tried a dairy-based version before going vegan. So I was pretty pleased when Steven chose this recipe. It seems that my streak of not having to make moussaka (but still getting to enjoy it!) continues!

Alas, my dream of another uber-creamy moussaka would remain just that: a dream. The recipe simply didn’t yield enough white sauce to cover the lentil and eggplant filling; the sauce got absorbed into the filling and had entirely disappeared by the time we sat down to eat. The scant sauce also meant that there wasn’t enough left to cover the top layer of eggplant slices; they remained just a tad dry up until the point of serving, when I mixed them in with the filling. Perhaps our robust American eggplants were too large compared to daintier British aubergines, and that discrepancy upset the filling-to-sauce ratio? It’s possible. Perhaps offering a weight measurement for the aubergines would help. (Steven also notes that the recipe didn’t specify which size casserole dish to use or when to add the mustard.)

All that said, this was not by any means an unsatisfying dish. But moussaka it was not. Better to call it a lentil and eggplant bake, then, and enjoy it as such.

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Crisper Drawer Risotto | VeganMoFo 2018 Day Twenty

Week Three: Budget Week
This week, we’re going to prove once and for all that veganism is affordable!

Risotto might not be top of mind when you think of budget meals, but hear me out. What better way to glam up the floppy carrots, wilty greens, and otherwise less-than-perfect produce languishing in your crisper drawer than by throwing it all in a pot of creamy, rich rice, a dish that’s more than the sum of its parts? Sure, you could make a stew or a soup or a chili, but risotto is just a little fancier, a little more elevated.

In my kitchen sink, crisper drawer, leftover-friendly risotto, I used carrots, okra, and kale that were past their prime. I chopped them all up small and cooked my rice in vegetable broth, adding vegan butter towards the end for extra richness, then topped my dish with roasted Brussels sprouts for added texture, nutrition, and deliciousness. A squeeze of lemon brought it all together, adding a little acidic punch to the savory dish.

I’ve provided a recipe below, but you can use it as a template for any ingredients that would otherwise go to waste (and waste your money). Peas, broccoli, carrots, squash… anything and everything can find a home in risotto with a little creativity. I left my flavors pretty basic, but you can fancy up your DIY risotto by cooking the rice in tomato sauce thinned with water, adding a splash of white wine, stirring in a couple cloves of roasted garlic, topping it with vegan parmesan, etc. Be creative and have fun! (And check out the recipe notes below for a few more suggestions.)

Risotto is NOT as intimidating a dish as many folks make it out to be, and it’s just about guaranteed to taste good no matter what you throw in it. (Just be sure to cook those grains until they’re soft.) And if arborio rice is not in the budget, try it with any short-grain rice: They are a fine stand-in for arborio if you cook ‘em low and slow with lots of liquid.

Crisper Drawer Risotto with Crispy Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 2 cups arborio rice
  • 6-8 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 5 cloves garlic, sliced thin
  • 1 – 2 cups chopped veggies (I used carrots, okra, and kale)
  • 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 2 tablespoons vegan butter (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 lemon, juiced

Optional topping:

  • 1 pint Brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered (cut into sixths if the sprouts are particularly large)
  • 1 tablespoon olive  oil
  • Salt and pepper

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 415˚F and start heating about 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium pot over medium-low heat
  2. Toss trimmed and quartered Brussels sprouts with a little oil, salt, and pepper, then tip onto baking sheet. (I don’t usually line my sheet; the oil prevents sticking and I actually like the near-burnt bits on my sprouts!) Place in preheated oven and set timer for 15 minutes.
  3. When the oil in the pot is just shimmering, add the chopped vegetables and cook for a couple minutes, then add the sliced garlic and cook for about 2 minutes, just until the garlic begins to turn golden.
  4. Add the rice and stir so that the rice is coated with the oil, veggie, and garlic mixture. Add a cup of the vegetable broth and stir to combine.
  5. Over the next 20-30 minutes, keep checking the rice and adding more broth as it starts to get soaked up. Give the rice a good stir every couple minutes, but don’t feel like you need to stand over the pot the entire time. You might not use all the broth, and that’s okay.
  6. After the sprouts have roasted for about 15 minutes, use a spatula to flip most of them over. Roast for another 10-15 minutes until they’re as crispy as you’d like them. Turn off the heat and leave them in the oven. (If they’re too blackened, remove from oven and set aside.)
    Bonus! If the leaves of your sprouts start to burn in the oven, just scoop them out with your spatula and give yourself a little mid-cooking treat. They are like crispy little sprout chips.
  7. Taste the risotto as the rice begins to soften to test whether it’s done. Towards the end of the cooking process, add the nutritional yeast, salt, pepper, and any additional spices you want to try. Turn off the heat and stir in the vegan butter (if using).
  8. Drizzle with lemon juice, top with roasted Brussels sprouts, and serve right away.
Notes:
  • Use whatever veggies you have available. They likely won’t add a ton of flavor but will provide fiber and nutrients while bulking up the rice.
  • Increase the garlic to as many cloves as you’d like, or substitute with diced shallots or onions. Do try to use at least one allium, though!
  • If you want to cut down on the veggie broth (or don’t want to make too much and waste it), you can use hot water and just add a bouillon cube to the risotto to taste.
  • Feel free to swap out the crispy roasted Brussels sprouts for another roasted veggie (like broccoli) or something crunchy (like toasted nuts). You don’t absolutely have to use a crunchy, crispy topper, but I think it provides a really nice textural counterpoint.
  • The lemon juice at the end is non-negotiable! :)

Check out my Butternut Squash Risotto with Sage and Toasted Hazelnuts for another take on risotto, and share your favorite risotto recipe with me!

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Vegan risotto made with leftover veggies from your crisper drawer // govegga.com

48p Tin Bolognese from Cooking on a Bootstrap | VeganMoFo 2018 Day Nineteen

Week Three: Budget Week
This week, we’re going to prove once and for all that veganism is affordable!

If rice and beans is the number-one quintessential cheap dish, pasta must come in a close second. Yes, you can fancy it up with creamy vodka sauce or garlic butter or garlic alfredo sauce, but even a classic, simple, cheap tomato-based red sauce poured atop your favorite noodles can’t fail to satisfy.

One step up from a classic red sauce? A lentil-based bolognese, with mushrooms, red wine, and lots of garlic for added flavor. Another recipe from Cooking on a Bootstrap, this so-called Tin Bolognese relies on tinned (canned if you’re in the U.S.!) mushrooms and lentils and comes together at just 48p a serving. I used fresh mushrooms, bulk lentils cooked from dry, and garlic from the garden, rendering it a Not-So-Tin Bolognese. Jack uses stuffing crumbs for a little bulk and flavor; I opted for panko because that’s what I had in the pantry.

Not terribly photogenic (especially at 6 p.m. when the light is failing and I’m trying to take a photo through a north-facing window), but I assure you it was tasty! Thanks to the lentils and my use of whole wheat noodles, the protein content was more than respectable (I estimate ~30g per serving, with just over two servings total), making this a filling and wholesome meal. Pasta does it again.

9p Bean Burgers from Cooking on a Bootstrap | VeganMoFo 2019 Day Eighteen

Week Three: Budget Week
This week, we’re going to prove once and for all that veganism is affordable!

I’m not sure how or when I first became familiar with Jack Monroe and her Cooking on a Bootstrap blog, but it was definitely within the last year. I appreciate Jack’s no-nonsense yet empathetic approach to budget cooking… and I especially appreciate that she’s now vegan and has a plethora of super-cheap veg recipes!

Although I don’t have any of Jack’s cookbooks, her website has a generous recipe archive — including a vegan section. I knew I’d tap into that archive during budget week, and when Jack posted her Carrot, Cumin, and Kidney Bean Burger recipe last week, I knew which dish to try first! Jack describes this recipe as the one that brought her to national attention in Britain. And it’s easy to see why: With smart purchases, you can make four bean burgers for just 9p a serving. That is undeniably cheap for any recipe, vegan or not! (Note that I didn’t calculate the actual cost of my burgers when I made them, but I’m pretty confident it was more than 9p/12 cents.)

When I sent Steven to the grocery store on Sunday to pick up ingredients for the week, I initially asked him to grab some burger buns. But then I changed my mind. Why not make them myself?! I’ve been blabbering on about homemade bread, and homemade buns are the next logical step. In fact, I’d argue that they’re even easier than bread. Just don’t do what I did a few years ago and decide to make pretzel buns as your first foray into bun-making. It was a big pain in the butt and NOT worth the hassle. I was smarter this time, opting for a much simpler recipe. I omitted the poppy seeds and the “egg” wash, and I was thrilled at how easily it all came together! (Using my KitchenAid dough hook definitely saved time.) There’s one hourlong rise, then you shape the dough into balls, let them rise again briefly, and bake them for just 15-18 minutes. Then you pull a beautiful batch of buns — all puffy and golden brown on top — from the oven and feel like a real domestic genius.

Although my buns were not exactly uniform in size, they were still light, fluffy, and really quite tasty. Plus, they’re far less expensive than buying ready-made bun and they don’t come wrapped in plastic.

But back to the reason I made those buns in the first place: bean burgers! So, how did they turn out? Well, for 9p, you could do a whole lot worse. The flavor is pretty much what you’d expect for such a short ingredient list, and they are quite squishy (as is the wont of these old-school bean burgers). But for a basic, cheap, quick burger you can customize with your own spices or additional ingredients, it’s a solid recipe. We topped ours with homemade Big Mac sauce and some halved cherry tomatoes from the garden. Served alongside simple roasted potatoes, this was a filling and cheap dinner.

What’s your go-to cheap meal?

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DIY Vegan Mixes to Keep on Hand | VeganMoFo 2018 Day Seventeen

Week Three: Budget Week
This week, we’re going to prove once and for all that veganism is affordable!

Yesterday I got onto my [cruelty-free and vegan] soap box to talk about the privilege inherent in calling a vegan diet inexpensive. I certainly think it’s possible for many people to be vegan on a budget, and there are plenty of cookbooks and blogs that share inexpensive vegan recipes. In fact, I’ll be sharing a list of those resources later this week. But today, let’s talk about one tool you can keep in your pantry to save both time and money: DIY mixes!

Perhaps unsurprisingly — given how often I’ve blogged about this book in the past — Miyoko Schinner’s The Homemade Vegan Pantry is my go-to source for mixes to make at home and keep on hand. My favorite is the classic biscuit and pancake mix (p. 158), a mix of flour, ground flax, sugar, salt, and baking powder that you can use for simple baked goods like waffles, pancakes, and biscuits. It’s super easy to mix up a big batch so you’re always ready to whip up waffles on a whim!

I only tried the well-crafted macaroni and cheese mix (p. 151) for the first time this summer, and I’ll admit that it wasn’t exactly love at first bite. The mix relies on ground cashew, nutritional yeast, and other spices, which you then cook up with some non-dairy milk for a ridiculously fast mac and cheese. The first time I tried it, I was disappointed: The sauce wasn’t creamy at all, and it was pretty bland. But that’s easily fixed: Now, when I make up the sauce, I reduce the amount of milk, add in a couple tablespoons of Earth Balance, and add a little more seasoning to taste.

Another great (print) resource for DIY mixes is Joni Marie Newman’s Vegan Food Gifts. I recipe tested for this book a million years ago, and I love its whole concept and aesthetic. While some of the recipes are intended to be made and gifted as a finished produce (chocolate bark, mini quick breads, granola, etc.), the book also includes plenty of DIY-style, just-add-water mixes: cheesy potato soup, cranberry muffins, pancakes, red beans and rice… there are tons!

I recognize that touting these mixes as money-saving options and then saying you need to buy a cookbook to get the recipes is a little counter-productive! The good news: You can find plenty of similar mixes online. Here is a non-exhaustive list.

  • Vegan mac and cheese powder (mix). This DIY mix from It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken is both nut-free and uses pretty standard pantry ingredients! (I bet you could leave out the lemon pepper with no ill effects.)
  • DIY spice blends. Rather than shelling out on small pre-made spice blends, make your own! The cheapest place I’ve found to buy spices (i.e. the individual ingredients for these blends) is at my local Asian market, but your mileage may vary.
  • DIY vegan hot chocolate mix. This recipe from The Full Helping uses either regular cocoa powder or cacao powder. While I have no desire for summer to end, I must admit I’m looking forward to hot chocolate weather…
  • Classic pancake and biscuit mix. Well, hey — here’s Miyoko’s recipe, shared on Vegan Yack Attack with permission from the publisher! You’re in luck! :)
  • DIY popcorn seasonings. Rather than splash out for an overpriced plastic bag of flavored vegan popcorn, why not pop your own kernels and top them with a homemade seasoning blend?! The list I’ve linked to here has plenty of options. I keep jars of homemade Dorito-flavored seasoning and sour cream and onion seasoning in the pantry.

What other DIY mixes do you like?

Homemade Vegan Bread | VeganMoFo 2018 Day Sixteen

Week Three: Budget Week
This week, we’re going to prove once and for all that veganism is affordable!

Welcome to week three of VeganMoFo 2018! As you can see, this week’s prompt aims to demonstrate that veganism is affordable. I promise I’ll get to that, but first, time to put on my Debbie Downer hat!

Here’s the thing. I often cringe when the response to “But being vegan is expensive” is a quick, reflexive “No, it’s not!” Because sometimes… it is. Sometimes those of us who are financially comfortable might forget the challenges faced by folks on a very strict budget. We might play at budgeting (“I did a budget week and only spent $25 on food, go me!”), doing it out of curiosity or to prove a point, but if we have a financial cushion that means we don’t have to spend $25 on food for our family, I don’t think we can truly understand what it’s like to worry about every penny every day of every week of every month of every year.

Kale and White Bean Soup

Yes, you can buy bulk rice and beans and lentils and frozen veggies and eat perfectly fine, perfectly healthy vegan meals without breaking the bank, but what if you live in a food desert and don’t have a car and you literally can’t buy bulk rice and beans at the shops near you? What if they only sell one brand of canned beans, but it’s more expensive than a same-size can of ready-made meat chili or stew? And what if — heaven forbid — you actually want to eat MORE than rice and beans? Vegan convenience foods and snacks are not cheap, at least not in the U.S., and they’re not available at, say, your corner bodega.

It’s disingenuous to say that everybody can eat vegan on the cheap and still enjoy a plentiful, varied, healthy mix of meals. Some people certainly can. But not everyone. So please take my budget week recommendations with that in mind. If you want to incorporate more vegan foods into your diet but are constrained by your location, your schedule, or what’s in your wallet, please just do the best you can. Eating a little less meat or dairy or eggs is better than giving up on veg eating entirely. Thank you for trying. <3

Okay, removing my Debbie Downer hat now! So, what to expect this week? Tips for saving money on a vegan diet, along with a look at vegan items that can be expensive but don’t have to be… if you make them yourself or are a savvy shopper. First up: BREAD!

Oh, bread. I’ve yet to meet anyone who wouldn’t devour a slice of steaming homemade bread and feel like that’s the best thing they’ll eat all day. Yet poor maligned bread gets blamed for all sorts of health issues, its carby goodness cast aside during the diet fad du jour. Wheat gets a bad rap, gluten gets a bad rap, and meanwhile I firmly believe that bread is one of life’s simplest, most delicious pleasures.

I grew up on whole-wheat sandwich bread. None of that white stuff, despite my brother swearing it made the best grilled cheese based on what his friend’s mom made at her house. That habit has always stuck with me. And as an adult, I started trying breads other than the simple soft sandwich loaf I was used to eating. A garlicky ciabatta from the to-go grill at college, a loaf of sharp sourdough from the co-op when I lived in Madison… I’ll try it all.

 

So it seems only natural that I’d start making it myself. Since last March, when a sweet friend hosted a sourdough workshop at her house and thoughtfully gifted us starters, I don’t think I’ve purchased a single loaf of bread. It’s a tradition to name your starter (and to pre-name it when you give it away), and my friend named mine Mary Berry. Mary’s got pride of place on my counter or in my fridge at all times!

(Yes, I know Paul Hollywood is the bread enthusiast, but let’s be real… I’d rather have Mary Berry in my home than Paul. Also, I’ve taken to calling my starter “Frankenberry” because she was almost dead at one point, and I revived her by adding some of these dried sourdough starter shards Steven had given me a few years ago. So now she’s a Frankenstein’s monster of two separate sourdough strains, plus whatever wild yeasts are floating around my own kitchen!)

Anyway, six months later, my sourdough breads are still not perfect. Some loaves are faultless, with a soft-yet-not-doughy interior, a beautifully crisp outer crust, and a lovely dark sheen. Others don’t rise well or are a little stodgy or, on one terrible occasion, are denser than a stack of bricks. Many factors can affect sourdough, but rarely do they create truly inedible loaves (brick aside).

And you know what? With a no-knead recipe (see below), they are really, really quick to prepare. You mix up the ingredients on day one, leave them to rise for a certain amount of time, give the dough a fold and a short second rise the next day, and bake them to bread-y perfection. There’s very little hands-on time required, although you do need to plan in advance. (There are plenty of similar recipes for regular yeast (not sourdough) breads, too!)

Homemade bread is cheap, too. Water is inexpensive, salt is cheap, and you can buy generic store-brand flour for not too much dough, if you’ll pardon the pun. And if you use a sourdough starter, you don’t even have to pay for yeast!

The downside, of course, is that homemade bread doesn’t last as long as most store-bought breads… both because it gets gobbled up by hungry carbophiles and because it contains no preservatives. But rarely in the past half year have I had a loaf go truly stale or moldy, and if it does get hard, you can just make your own breadcrumbs!

Have I sold you on homemade bread yet?! If so, here are tips and recipes.

  • This overnight no-knead sourdough recipe from Johanna at Green Gourmet Giraffe is one of my staples, although I usually halve it. I keep a scrap of paper with the measurements tucked behind a cookbook on my kitchen counter for easy baking!
  • For a no-knead, non-sourdough bread, try this recipe. You can halve it or follow the instructions so you have enough dough for two loaves.
  • Prefer cup measurements to weight? Try this no-knead sourdough loaf. (Fun fact: Kristie’s sourdough starter is my starter’s grandmother!)
  • King Arthur flour has a trove of resources and recipes for both sourdough and traditional breads, along with this guide for maintaining a sourdough starter. Honestly, I am pretty lazy with Mary Berry and she’s doing just fine!
  • Vaishali has some great bread recipes AND some fun ideas for using a sourdough starter (think pancakes, pretzels, and more). I made her sourdough challah once (see photo above) and it was perfection.
  • I invested in a Dutch oven soon after getting my starter and I haven’t looked back. You can absolutely make bread without one, but to get a perfect crust, a Dutch oven is invaluable. I have this one from Lodge and I love it.
  • I recently stumbled on this quick bread recipe that breaks all the rules: YOU MICROWAVE THE DOUGH. You only let it rise for 20 minutes total. It’s insanity. But it works. (Photo below!) The texture and overall appearance are both different from that of a traditional loaf, but you know what? It’s a totally decent bread! The crumb is very soft, with none of the  big whopping holes people love in their artisanal breads, but for something you can whip up in an hour, I think it’s great. No shame in the speedy bread game.

No matter what kind of loaf you attempt, don’t be afraid of breadmaking! Experiment, have fun, and remember that even if your loaf isn’t perfect, it will almost never be entirely inedible. And it’ll make your house smell amazing while it’s baking.

What’s your favorite bread recipe, sourdough or otherwise?

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Resources for Gluten-Free, Nut-Free Vegan Recipes | VeganMoFo 2018 Day Fifteen

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.

I’m taking things easy on this last Saturday of summer and sharing some of my favorite resources for finding nut-free, gluten-free vegan recipes. The good news is that many vegan food bloggers tag their recipes when they don’t contain a specific allergen, and some even have separate categories and lists of recipes without certain ingredients. Plus, there are plenty of vegan brands with nut-free and gluten-free options if you don’t feel like making your own food! Here are some of my favorites.

Blogs with nut-free and/or gluten-free vegan recipes

Brands with nut-free and/or gluten-free vegan products

  • Amy’s Kitchen. Many of Amy’s ready-made meals are vegan, and plenty of those are gluten-free. They even have a product list that you can sort by ingredient — here’s the list of vegan, nut-free, gluten-free items they offer. I don’t buy a lot of convenience meals, but I do like their black bean and veggie enchiladas!
  • Daiya. Most vegans have Strong Feelings™ on Daiya, but regardless of how you feel about its products, you have to appreciate that its cheeses and other non-dairy products are free from gluten, soy, and nuts! I’m lukewarm on many Daiya products but do like their Greek-style yogurts, and I’ve heard that their new cutting board cheeses are a step up from the original shreds.
  • Enjoy Life.  The company’s tagline is “eat freely,” and all products are wheat-free and gluten-free, as well as free from 14 common allergens. Look for the signature teal packaging on products such as cookies, chocolate bars, lentil crisps, and more.
    Note: The Food Empowerment Project (which judges whether a company sources certain ingredients ethically) doesn’t recommend Enjoy Life’s chocolate. If you are not comfortable buying chocolate that may have been produced using child labor or slavery, skip Enjoy Life’s chocolate-based snacks.

These are by no means a comprehensive lists! These are just some of the blogs and brands I’m most familiar with. Feel free to share your own allergy-friendly favorites!

Gluten-Free, Nut-Free Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies | VeganMoFo 2018 Day Fourteen

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 been a tasty week in our household! Aside from all the yummy, oat-y treats we’ve been eating, we’ve had a few really tasty dinners. On Thursday night I roasted up some  roasted corn on the cob along with tofu marinated in this garlicky, herby delight. Served alongside some kale sautéed with cherry tomatoes from the garden, it all made for a healthy, veggie-forward, and immensely flavorful meal. A couple hours after eating, I decided that a delicious dinner like that one deserved to be followed up with dessert. It would be rude not to, right?

I didn’t want to spend too much time on a fussy, complicated treat, though. So I I turned to the queen of simple, relatively healthy, allergen-friendly vegan desserts: Chocolate-Covered Katie. Her healthy sugar cookies come together super quickly and make a perfect treat when you’re peckish at night, so I figured I should give her chocolate chip cookies a shot. I whizzed up some oats my VitaMix’s dry container to make flour; all the other ingredients are pantry staples.

The eagle-eyed among you (hah) will notice that my cookies look nothing like the ones on Katie’s website. There’s a good reason for that. For one, I didn’t quite pulverize the oats finely enough, so they didn’t quite become the texture of flour. (I actually enjoyed the slightly grainy texture!) More problematic was my failure to chill the dough for two hours. It was already 8 p.m. and I was craving sweets, so I forewent the full chill in favor of an abbreviated 15-minute fridging. That’s probably why they spread so much. They were still delicious.

Although these cookies don’t have the buttery richness you find in traditional choc chip cookies, they were still quite satisfying… a more than adequate follow-up to our tasty dinner. I think you could even replace the oil with vegan butter if you wanted a more traditional flavor. I’m happy to add these to my arsenal for a fuss-free, allergen-friendly vegan chocolate chip cookie recipe!

Nut-Free Vegan Cheese | VeganMoFo 2018 Day Thirteen

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?!

Vegan Scottish Oatcakes | VeganMoFo 2018 Day Twelve

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.

Sometimes simplicity is where it’s at. Take these oatcakes, for example. Made with oat bran, quick oats, boiling water, vegan butter, and a little salt, they require no hard-to-find ingredients. Oat bran is one of my favorite alternatives to straight oatmeal, offering a more Cream of Wheat-like, porridge-y experience, but I hadn’t thought to bake with it until I found this recipe. Unfortunately, when I set out to actually make the oatcakes, I realized I didn’t have nearly enough oat bran! I could’ve made some impromptu oat flour, but I was feeling lazy and didn’t want to drag out the food processer or the Vitamix. So instead I just added in some quick oats like this recipe does.

Even with this hodge-podge of a recipe, halved on the fly and cobbled together, I still managed to produce a small batch of crisp, gluten-free, fiber-rich crackers. Minimally flavored, they’re the perfect vessel for any topping:  fruit jam, a smear of your favorite spreadable vegan cheese… you name it.

Next time I make these, I’ll make sure I have ample oat bran on hand; these were a little bit crumbly, and I think the quick oats are to blame. Using 100% oat bran would probably help.

What’s your favorite super-simple cracker?

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