Saturday, January 21, 2012

Dairy-free "Cheese"

Being on a restricted diet can leave one feeling that they cannot enjoy some everyday foods, particularly if the restriction includes dairy and dairy products. I have been in this scenario before and have found that some alternatives are available, especially when it comes to cheese. One of my go-to alternative recipes is actually inspired by an ingredient loved by vegans; nutritional yeast.  Nutritional yeast is a great source for vitamin B12 and is used as a food ingredient when one is trying to acquire a cheese-like flavour, whilst avoiding dairy. (For those of you who would like to read my previous post on nutritional yeast, click here.)

This particular recipe is for a dairy-free "cheese" sauce. For this recipe, you will require following ingredients:
- 1 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
- 1/2 cup raw cashews
- 1 teaspoon mustard
- 1 teaspoon double-concentrated tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 1/2 tablespoons agar (ground)

Agar is an ingredient that is commonly used in India, Iran and surrounding areas to make desserts like puddings, drinks and ice creams. You may know the ingredient from biology class, as it is used as the gelling agent in Petri dishes. It is also commonly known by other names including agar agar, China grass, faluda (falooda) and falooda sev, among others. Agar is basically a vegetable-based starch used to gel foods, a process that is similar to using gelatin or pectin.

In the Greater Toronto Area, you may be able to find agar at specialty food shops, bulk food stores or health food stores. However, I find that buying agar from these type of places can burn a hole in your pocket. For that reason, I prefer to visit the local East Indian grocery store to purchase it. I find that buying ingredients, such as this one, at Indian grocery stores can be done at a fraction of the price. For example, this packet below cost me approximately $2.00 CAD.

As you can see, the Indian version comes in a packed, nest-like form. The word "falooda" is often used to describe foods that have been shredded. Also, the word "sev" is used to describe vermicelli.

As the agar will need to be dissolved in this recipe, I find it easier to work with when it is broken down into smaller pieces. I simply place the agar nest into my Magic Bullet blender and pulverize it to the consistency below.

In a saucepan, slowly heat the water with the measured amount of ground agar. You don't need to boil the liquid. You simply want the agar to soften. This process should take approximately 5 minutes.

Once softened, place all of your ingredients into a blender.

Simply blend the mixture until reaches a smooth, liquid consistency. That's it! Your "cheese" sauce is ready.

You can use this cheese sauce anywhere you would use melted cheese. For example, try using it with:
- nacho chips
- tortillas or flat breads
- pasta, as I did below, for a yummy mac and "cheese"

Of course, instead of plain, every day mac and cheese, I topped mine with caramelized onions cooked with Herbs de Provence. Mmm.

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