I don’t know about you, but I’m always on the look out for a decent plant-based cheese alternative. I know they’re not the same as ‘normal’ cheese (which is just as well when you’re intolerant to it!), but it’s so good to find something that gives a little bit of cheesy satisfaction.
Even thought there are some excellent dairy-free cheeses available to buy (have you checked out the specialist cheese shop La Faumagerie in London?) there’s still not many I can eat due to the saturated fat content. And that’s not just my problem – anyone following programmes like Overcoming MS, reversing heart disease or using a whole-food plant-based diet as medicine has the same challenge.
To get the texture and solidity, and to make it reasonably affordable, most dairy-free ‘cheeses’ use coconut oil. Although it’s plant-based, it also has one of the highest levels of saturated fat and is highly processed (it does look more like lard than coconut after all!). And oils are not part of a whole-food plant-based diet – or not one that supports the transformation of a health problem.
So what to do? Is it possible to make a ‘cheese’ that doesn’t use oil, is suitable for special diets and intolerances plus tastes good? Of course, the answer is yes!
I have two recipes up on the blog so far, a dairy-free cheese and a dairy-free parmesan. Here is a third one for you, a type of ricotta that can be made thick with some structure or soft for a sauce, depending on what you want to use it for.
There is one key ingredient for making dairy-free cheese at home – nutritional yeast. It provides the savoury cheesy-like flavour and is a really useful ingredient to have in the cupboard when you’re following a plant-based diet. It can be a problem for some people though who have a yeast intolerance or super unhealthy gut microbiome, so take care with it if that’s you. To find out more about nutritional yeast, check out this post.
You can use either silken or firm tofu for this recipe. If you are making a thicker ricotta for a stuffing, definitely go for a firm to extra firm one as the silken is just too watery. However, if you want a soft, creamy ricotta for a sauce then silken is definitely the best. If you only have firm, then use that and just add a bit extra water.
The fat in this recipe comes from the cashew nuts – they also provide some of the creaminess too. If you are nut intolerant, then use sunflower seeds instead. Both need to be soaked before hand to soften (remember to discard the soaking water before using); the cashews will only need a couple of hours, the sunflower seeds at least four hours. By using whole ingredients like nuts or seeds, you are keeping all the wonderful fibre as well as fat in it’s natural (rather than refined) state which is much better for the body, and moderates the calorie intake too.
The other key ingredient is lemon juice. This brings the ricotta to life by adding a sour element to the flavour. Fresh lemon juice is best, but bottled juice will be ok.
This video shows you how easy it is to make. I use this soft, saucy ricotta for dishes like moussaka, lasagne or other baked pasta dishes. It develops a light brown colouring once cooked and tastes delicious. It’s also packed with fabulous plant nutrients including lots of plant protein, fats and minerals.
I hope enjoy making and eating this dairy-free ricotta. Do let me know how you get on.
- Food processer
- 80 grams cashew nuts or sunflower seeds
- 300 grams tofu silken or firm
- 3 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 tbsp lemon juice
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder optional
- Soak the cashew nuts (min 2 hours) or sunflower seeds (min 4 hours). Discard the soaking water and rinse.
- Place the nuts or seeds in the food processer alongwith the other ingredients. Blend for 2 minutes until smooth.
- Check the taste and add more salt, nutritional yeast or lemon as needed.
- Use straight away or keep in the fridge for a maximum of 3 days.