Dairy free ‘parmesan’ cheese

Cheese is one the most difficult things to replace in a dairy free or plant based diet. There are lots of alternative products on the market, but very few that either taste that good or are not full of fake ingredients – usually both!

I used to really crave cheese, but it’s so long since I’ve eaten it I now have no emotion about it. Having said that, I’m always on the lookout for alternatives that work, as cheese can bring flavour and texture to a dish. Parmesan cheese is particularly good as a last minute salty savoury shot, but I had never found a dairy free alternative I liked – until now.

I was flicking through my Twitter feed recently when a link to a cashew parmesan recipe caught my eye, as well as the website – BBC Good Food. It just goes to show how much interest there is in dairy free food – it’s gone mainstream!

As with many ‘cheese’ recipes, it uses nutritional yeast. This used to be a no-go area for me, as yeast was one of my food intolerances. In fact, my initial reason for changing the way I ate was for the very shallow purpose of being able to drink wine again! And it’s working – I can tolerate a glass or two now, as long as it’s vegan (remember the post about milk in wine? http://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/milk-in-wine-surely-not/). Result!

Nutritional yeast is dried, inactive yeast that is supposed to free from forms of Candida that contribute to unhealthy yeast overgrowth in the gut as well as thrush. If wine, which is made with activated yeast, is ok, I hoped this would be too. And all seems well – so far, in small doses.

Having tried to move away from processed foods and only eat real whole foods, it does seem a bit odd adding a non-food entity to my diet. Grown on sugar, this yeast is manipulated to create a completely man-made product. But it does have some good nutrients in it, like the B vitamins, as well as zinc and some fibre. It’s also gluten free. And it does somehow provide a stinky cheese kind of flavour, which is missed at times!

It’s so long since I’ve eaten parmesan cheese, it’s hard to remember the true flavour. Trying out the cashew nut recipe, it certainly added another salty, savoury dimension to recipes; I’ve ended up adapting the original recipe by increasing the amount of nutritional yeast. I’ve also tried it with sunflower seeds – it’s just as good, a great nut-free cheesy alternative. It keeps in the fridge for a good four weeks too.

High-speed blenders like a Nutribullet are too powerful for this recipe – whilst you want the nuts or seeds broken down, a slight crumby texture is needed, not a sticky mass! Pulsing rather than blitzing is the action you need here.  I used the bowl attached with my stick blender, but a small bowl of a food processor will work just as well. Sunflower seeds take a few seconds more than cashew nuts to break down, but otherwise the recipe is just the same.

So if you’re looking for a tasty cheesy topping to sprinkle on your salads, pasta or roasted veggies, why not mix up a batch of this ‘parmesan’ for a flavour infusion?

Dairy free ‘parmesan’ cheese

75g cashew nuts or sunflower seeds
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon Himalayan salt
4 tablespoons nutritional yeast (I used Engevita yeast flakes)

Place the nuts or seeds into a small processor and pulse a couple of times to break down into a rough crumb. Add the remaining ingredients and pulse until blended. Keep in a clean jar in the fridge.

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