A mere few weeks ago I was all hot for coconut butters. Now I’m onto nut cheez. The original recipe for this came from The Complete Guide to Vegan Substitutions and called for roasted red peppers and jalapenos. I made a batch nearly straight-up (reduced the olive oil) true to the recipe and was just blown away by the flavor. (When it’s still hot, it smells uncannily like diary cheese.) It’s by far the best-tasting nut cheez I’ve ever made. I’ve got a thing or two against commercial vegan cheezes but still felt like I was missing out, so this recipe is a great addition to my list of vegan staple items. Slap a slice or two of this stuff between some red chile tortillas, grill – and you will be a very happy camper indeed.
The second time I made it, I thought pesto would be an ideal “add-in” instead of the jalapenos and red peppers. It makes for a beautiful little loaf of healthy, reduced fat vegan cheez. Totally worthy atop homemade crackers or melted between crunchy-soft bread. Making cheez at home is not a cheap option – a 1 oz. bag of agar flakes is about $6.99 and cashews are pricey as well, but a little of this cheez goes a long way and last time I looked, my homemade stuff didn’t have any ingredients I couldn’t pronounce (or tons of oil, either).
Smoky Pesto Cashew Cheez
One big ol’ loaf or 2 smaller rounds
1 oz. agar flakes or powder
3 cups water
2 cups raw cashews, ground into a fine powder
3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 tbsp. olive oil
1/4-1/2 tsp. Liquid Smoke
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. onion flakes or powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
~1 cup quick, oil-free pesto (recipe follows)
Quick Oil-free Pesto
2 cups fresh basil leaves
2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
dash ground black pepper
Make the pesto:
In a food processor, pulse the basil, garlic and pepper until finely chopped. Remove from processor and set aside.
Make the cheez:
Clean and dry the bowl of the food processor and grind the cashews. Either lightly oil a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan or use medium-sized ramekins to get round cheezes. One loaf pan is perfect for this recipe, but if you go smaller, you will need more than one pan or dish.
In a medium-sized sauce pan, bring the 3 cups of water and agar flakes to a boil and keep the mixture at a nice, rolling boil for 5 minutes, whisking often. Meanwhile, add the remaining cheez ingredients – but not the pesto or the water/agar – to the food processor. Process until everything is combined and you have a thick paste. When the agar mixture has boiled for 5 minutes, remove from the heat and immediately whisk in the cashew mixture. It will start off rather chunky, but will melt into the agar. Once it’s all whisked and smooth, quickly dump in the pesto and stir only one or two times. You don’t want to fully incorporate the pesto – you’re looking for streaks and lumps.
Quickly pour the cheez into the prepared pan(s) or dish(es). Pop into the ‘frige and allow to firm up. Once the cheez is firm, you can remove it from the pan(s) by running a knife around the edges. Serve sliced, as is, or use in quesadillas or grilled sandwiches.