By Sarah Jost
As I mentioned last week, the discovery of natural, unprocessed, non-soy-based substitutes for dairy and eggs has been one of the most important developments in my diet over the past three years. While it can be tempting to excitedly scoop up prepackaged soy cheeses and boxes of Ener-G Egg Replacer while scouring the aisles of your favourite health food store, some easy, natural alternatives are cheaper, tastier, and better for you.
I became a vegetarian at age thirteen, and it was one of the easiest and best decisions of my life. Sometime around my junior year of university, I began to realise the hypocrisies of my not transitioning to vegan. I knew that animals were suffering just as much, if not more, in factory-like dairy farms and battery cages as they were in factory farms that produced meat. For some reason, though, becoming vegan seemed so hard. What do they even eat? Their portrayal in movies, television, and other media made veganism seem like the domain of extremist eccentrics.
When I finally could compromise my ethics no longer and became fully vegan, I knew that saying goodbye to cheese would be the hardest adjustment. Saying I loved cheese is like saying the Urchins love books. I ate it by the brick. Imagine my delight, then, when I came across so many cheese substitutes lining the shelves of Whole Foods. This might not be so bad, I thought. I was wrong. It was worse. Sure, they look like cheese, and sometimes even act like cheese, but they, by and large, taste awful. If the taste alone isn’t enough to deter you, the preservative-laden ingredients lists should do the trick.
So I sulked and suffered, but eventually realised that without cheese, the flavours of the rest of my foods suddenly became richer and more pronounced. I felt healthier than ever and learned to enjoy and appreciate so many other foods in new ways. Then an old coworker introduced me to the joys of nutritional yeast. A deactivated yeast that usually comes as either a yellow powder or in flakes, nutritional yeast not only has a cheesy flavour, but is a complete protein and chock full of vitamins. You can also buy it fortified with B12. Nutritional yeast is fantastic sprinkled on popcorn, scrambles, and pasta.
For awhile I went about my dairy cheese-free life thinking that nutritional yeast was the extent of my natural cheese substitute options. Then, during a weekend in New York, I had the unmatched pleasure of eating at Pure Food and Wine, and discovered nut cheese. Exactly what it sounds like, nut cheeses are made from nuts and are one of the most wonderful tasting things in the world. With all the deliciousness of dairy cheese, but without the heavy, sick feeling after you eat it, or the artery-clogging fat and cholesterol, nut cheeses are a revolution.
Nut cheeses can be found at some stores and farmers markets, or made at home with any nut or spices you’d like. Here is a simple recipe to get you started:
- 2 cups almonds
- 1 cup water
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Quantities of lemon juice, garlic, and any other herbs or spices can be adjusted to taste.
1. Bring 4 cups water almost to a boil and turn off the heat. Add almonds and let sit for about 5 minutes. Drain and rinse in cool water, then slip off the peels.
2. Place all ingredients in food processor/high-speed blender. Process until smooth.
3. Place nut mixture in nut-milk bag (less than $10 from several different online retailers) or colander lined with cheesecloth.
4. Give a light squeeze and let sit for 12-36 hours until desired flavour is achieved.
Let me know what you think!