Food allergies seem to be so prominent ‘these days’…I truly think a lot of that has to do with how our food is being processed and preserved as well as how much more in tune we are to our bodies as a whole. I have extremely sensitive skin. I get terrible eczema when I am exposed to chemically laden products as well as when I consume dairy. I am a cheese lover so this has caused quite a bit of heartbreak…and truth be told I fall off the wagon sometimes and indulge in a good gouda, peppery parmesan or molten mozzarella…(I’m salivating as I type this) and I still treat myself to a latte at the tea shop in town every now and then. I have found cheese and sour cream the hardest forms of dairy to give up so I’ve been working really hard at coming up with alternatives.
Sadly, you will never find an alternative that is a dead ringer for the original. That’s just something I’m learning to live with! But the following recipes give you a satisfying nibble to enjoy with wine and crackers, on top of pizza or lasagna, or to pile into tacos and on top of nachos. I find it most helpful when looking to go dairy free to experiment with vegan recipes (even though I’m not vegan). If you are like me and can’t consume dairy it’s often super daunting to have to rework a recipe on your own so that it jives with your restrictions. It’s a lot easier to add meat to a recipe then delete the dairy I’ve found! Living in a small town there are fewer dairy alternative products available and honestly I like controlling what goes into the food we eat and in turn consume less additives and preservatives.
I have experimented with a lot of nuts when making cheeses and milk. I’ve purchased nut bags to get the silkiest product and I’ve created a lot of flops and successes out of the nut pulp. Cashews have become my pantry staple. I buy them raw and unsalted from the bulk barn and keep a stock in my freezer. The key to any nut milk or cheese is to soak your nuts prior to blending. You can do this overnight in cold water or a quick method is to let them simmer in a pot of water for a half hour or so. I have to say my favourite tool has become my vitamix blender. I don’t even have to strain anything anymore. I saved up for this appliance though, it comes at a hefty price. If you don’t want to spend your life’s savings as I did you can purchase any sort of high speed blender and nut bags are super cheap!
Here’s my recipe for Cashew Cream which is a solid base for most other recipes:
- 1 cup raw unsalted cashews
- 2 cups water
- simmer over medium heat for 30-45 mins or soak overnight then strain
- In a high speed blender, combine your soaked cashews with 1/2 cup cold water and a pinch of salt. Blend at a high speed until smooth adding more cold water as you go until you have the desired consistency. I use this cashew cream in soups, sauces, coffee creamer, and anywhere that calls for cream. You can simply thin this down with more water to get the desired consistency to use as a milk substitute as well. (You can use this same method with any other raw nuts. I also like almonds but I be sure to skin them after they have soaked to get a more pure consistency. If you want to sweeten your milk/cream simply blend with a pitted date and some vanilla. This makes a great coffee creamer.)
Cashew Sour Cream
- Using the above method blend up your soaked cashews adding less water so you have a thicker cream.
- While blending add:
- 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
- juice from half a lemon
- an extra pinch or two of salt
- 2 cups soaked and drained cashews
- 1 cup water
- 3 Tbsp tapioca starch (this is what gives your cheese it’s goo)
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast (this gives nut cheese it’s tang, it’s a yellow flaky product that can be found at most health food stores or at bulk barn)
- In a saucepan combine all the ingredients and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the cheese comes together and thickens. You’ll notice it starts to get gooey. Keep cooking and stirring for another couple minutes then take off the heat and let cool slightly before adding flavours and pouring into molds. You can also just use this ‘cheese’ at this point. It’s a bit of a basic mozzarella. I usually add a splash of apple cider vinegar and some garlic powder though.
- Smoky Chipotle Cheese: add 1/2 tsp smoked paprika, 1/2 tsp chili powder, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, 1/4 tsp chipotle pepper, pinch of cayenne (or more for added heat)
- Lemon Herb Cheese: add 3-4 Tbsp chopped fresh herbs of your liking (I used dill, parsley and chives), juice and zest from half a lemon.
Experimenting has become the key to my success when avoiding dairy. Most recipes can easily be changed but substituting the dairy milk for a nut milk. I have found that it doesn’t change the final product at all in most baking (muffins, cakes, etc.). Adding it to soups instead of whole milk or cream has been my favourite as I’ve discovered nut milk does not separate if over heated like a dairy milk does. Nutritionally speaking I am not an expert so I have not much guidance in that respect. Since eliminating dairy in our house I make sure we are taking multi-vitamins with calcium daily. We eat a very balanced diet for the most part so I’m also sure to up our leafy greens whenever I can. I do suggest talking to a nutritionist if you have any concerns! All in all it’s fun to experiment in the kitchen and have something up your sleeve to indulge in if you’re also dairy free or to have something in your arsenal to offer those in your life who are.