A simple cashew cream cheese is such a versatile and delicious dish, so easy to add to and vary, and so straightforward to prepare. It’s a fridge staple that you can always turn for creating a gorgeous meal or snack. It’s fresh, nutritious and a lovely alternative to soya or dairy cheese.
Cooking and preparing good, wholesome and tasty food is one of the best things that you can do for yourself. If you know you are going to be under pressure, make sure you have foods ready to eat or easy to assemble that will satisfy you even on a stressed day. This is especially important for those of us following a specialist diet, or if you are trying to lose weight (check out my tips on sustainable weight loss) but really a great way for anyone to maintain a truly healthy and nurturing lifestyle successfully, long-term. A solid plan is to have a time where you bulk cook, and to freeze meals and components of meals, then or as you go along, whatever works best for you. This makes it far easier to cook, especially when you are finding things difficult, or pushed for time or inspiration, which are the times it is easiest to fall back on the wrong foods for you and to lose your way. Prepare a salad that keeps well in the fridge, some houmous, cashew cheese, have fridge pickles ready for sandwiches and wraps, a stew or soup, or both, that you can freeze, get into a routine of freezing extra portions or components of meals, that will make cooking quicker and less stressful, if you find it is. Plan what you’re going to have for your lunch so it’s always easy and you never have to fall back onto less healthy options unless it’s your choice to do so. It makes life easier and more joyful, and that’s always a good thing.
for the best chance at success, be prepared.
Have the foods you need in easy reach and not the ones you don’t. This is especially important when you are changing your relationship to food and following a specific diet by avoiding certain foods or food groups. It’s important that you have a good idea of what there is for you to eat, and that you feel positive about it. A fridge or a cupboard can be a desolate place to stare at when you feel uninspired and cannot see anything appealing to make from its contents. Protect yourself as much as you can from these moments as they knock your confidence and momentum. Make a list of the healthy meals and snacks that you enjoy, that give you a boost and that are easy to make, and stick it to your cupboard door or somewhere in the kitchen you will use it. Why not write motivational statements and tips on it to encourage yourself, and watch the list grow as you learn and grow, and find that what once may have seemed restricted actually opens up a whole new world of culinary experience. I think things like that are so positive and helpful.
GO FOR IT!
Also, I think it’s really important not to be too self-critical; build up your experience, learn from mistakes, without blowing them out of proportion. For some people it’s vital to be very strict, if you’re gluten or lactose intolerant for example, other times I think it’s okay to fall off the wagon, and important to get back on again, and to prepare as much as possible so that we fall off the wagon less and keep our motivation and the benefits of eating the way we have chosen to eat going. If you can be then be flexible. Be creative, enjoy yourself, or alternatively eat plain, simple food, that’s more than okay. Ultimately do what is right for you, and what is your clear-headed choice to do, as much as possible.
treat yourself well.
This cashew cheese is a lovely thing to make. The only time-consuming part is soaking the nuts in warm water (for 20 mins or ideally more, to soften), but you can do this in advance or be getting on with other things meanwhile. Make a good batch and have some left over for other dishes. Cashew cheese is one of those foods, in its various wonderful forms (experiment!), that is a great thing to have ready in bulk in the fridge for the week ahead. I’ve made this recipe with coconut cream, which makes it wonderfully fresh and creamy but does not dominate with a coconut flavour, especially with the addition of garlic, lemon and salt. This is often the way with coconut milk, it is very malleable as an ingredient.
I recommend eating cashew cream cheese with fresh herbs, here I have served it with chives. It goes beautifully with breads of all kinds, olives, avocado, pickles, in a root vegetable mash, as part of a salad dressing, pasta and veg, cauliflower or other veg bakes, as a sandwich or wrap filling, a dip with carrot and celery sticks, cucumber and lettuce, or whatever you fancy… the list goes on, it’s so wonderfully versatile and a vegan staple food.
- 1 can coconut cream
- 1 cup of cashew nuts
- pinch of nutritional yeast flakes, optional
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 medium sized garlic cloves
- 2 pinches of finely ground black pepper
- 3 pinches of salt, to taste, I use Maldon smoked sea salt flakes or pink Himalayan salt
- 1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp agar agar powder (3 if using flakes), use 2 if you'd like a firmer soft cheese
Soak the cashews, for at least 20 mins, more ideally as they will be softer and make a creamier cheese, but not longer than a day, and blend with the coconut cream, adding also the skinned raw garlic cloves.
Transfer the mixture to a saucepan on a medium heat and stir in the other ingredients bar the lemon juice. If using agar agar flakes follow the instructions on their jar, it should say to stir for about ten minutes, but if using powder then not so much time is needed, five or less will suffice. Constant stirring is required for both kinds.
Adjust the seasoning to taste, you may like to add your own twist, but creating a good basic cashew cheese is a solid foundation to build from. Remove from the heat and add the lemon juice to taste, it does mellow as the cheese sits and adds a lovely tang. Transfer to the container you wish to keep the cheese in. If you add some to a small bowl it turns out very well, looking good at the table, but for storage I recommend tupperware of some kind.
I added chopped chives to garnish, which go very well, as do many other fresh herbs such as basil or oregano. You can leave the bay leaf in and remove when serving as it only adds variety and flavour, or remove it as you wish.
You could add a tbsp of cooked sweet potato to the cheese (originally I listed this ingredient as an optional in the recipe), and more nutritional yeast for a cheesier flavour.
Use as solid a coconut cream as possible for the best result (I recommend using several cans of cream and taking the solid part of each, find a brand which is reliably solid and stick to it, I find Amoy to be so, but then it isn't organic). Don't worry about it too much, a looser cream also makes a delicious cream cheese, and you can add more agar agar to balance a very liquid coconut milk out.
If you don't have agar agar don't worry about it too much either, there are alternatives, or you can just use as solid coconut cream as possible and it will still be perfectly delicious. The agar agar sets it into a firmer cream cheese (and if you use more, into harder cheese). It is a seaweed derived gelatin-type substitute and very good but can be expensive. I source mine from eBay these days as I find it's a bit cheaper. Any other tips for other things to use would be most welcome!
I’ve been listening to… Paul Simon ‘You Can Call Me Al’
I’ve been reading… Ali Smith ‘Hotel World’