Although I am as omnivorous as they come, I have a vivid interest in the diet of those who decide to -- or must -- walk an alternate path, be it vegetarian, vegan, raw, or allergen-free.
The reason why I'm so interested is that cooking and eating under constraints such as these encourages those who do to think out of the box, seek out new ingredients or look at old ones in a different light, and invent techniques, recipes, and dishes that come to enrich the general pool of foods that everyone else can enjoy, if they're curious enough to try them.
When I was in Los Angeles last spring promoting my Paris book, I was excited to finally visit Real Food Daily, a long-established vegan restaurant I had first heard of through its same-name cookbook a few years ago.
I had a lovely meal there (a Ciao Bella sandwich and a glass of juice) and because I was flying out that night, I also ordered a wrap to go, which I ate placidly on the plane, as the passenger seated next to me considered her in-flight meal with palpable despair.
Once home, I picked up the book again and, leafing through it with a fresh eye (that was after I'd recovered from the jetlag), noticed a recipe that propelled me from couch to kitchen -- a phenomenon every cookbook reader lives for.
The recipe was for cashew cheese, a sort of vegan alternative to the dairy kind. The idea was intriguing, the process a cinch, and I had all the ingredients in my pantry.
Instant gratification it was not, since the recipe has you soak the cashews for a couple of hours and leave the "cheese" to set for a day, but delayed gratification is fine by me, especially when it takes such a flavorsome form.
Those of us who consume the real thing
at every meal in moderation will agree that calling this preparation "cheese" is a bit of a stretch -- and I don't mean the mozzarella kind --, yet its texture does evoke that of homemade ricotta, and it is a delight in its own right: a fluffy-smooth and subtly sweet spread, which we enjoyed on fresh baguette, on oatcakes, and in pita sandwiches. And if you want to follow the raw food trail all the way, I'm sure it will do well on dehydrated seed crackers.
(P.S.: I am going to a Thanksgiving potluck on Thursday -- pumpkin pie, here I come! As a contribution, I considered bringing my mother's cauliflower gratin, a zucchini and mushroom crumble, or some aged gouda and dried pear scones, but finally decided on this warm salad of roasted squash and white beans.)
- 190 grams (1 1/2 cups) plain cashew nuts (not roasted or salted)
- 60 ml (1/4 cup) water
- 2 tablespoons dry white wine (optional; substitute water if preferred)
- 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice or good vinegar
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast (optional)
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- freshly ground pepper
Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
Place the nuts in a salad bowl, cover with fresh water, and let stand for 2 hours.
Drain the nuts and place them in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Add 60 ml (1/4 cup) water and the rest of the ingredients, and mix until thoroughly puréed, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl every once in a while. Add a little more water if necessary and blend again to adjust the consistency; the cheese will get a little more solid as it sets.
Transfer to a bowl, cover, and let stand somewhere cool for 24 hours before placing in the fridge, where it will keep for another 5 days.
Adapted from Real Food Daily.
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