Say "Plant-Based" Cheese
Before you formulate expletives in your mind, (or out loud!), please hear me out! Plant-Based cheese is on fire at the moment and there is no reason not to embrace this exploding trend in the food world! I’m on the record as being born and raised in America’s Dairyland and have eaten hundreds of times my weight in cheese over the years, (#not proud) but saying that dairy-free cheese is where it's at, makes me wildly unpopular among many of my friends and family. To say I was cheese-obsessed is no joke, and if you’re following along, you may realize by now that I tend toward many compulsive food obsessions, but cheese was a biggie! Probably the biggest! And there is a reason we ALL literally ALL, feel that way!
Growing up like most kids, mac and cheese and grilled cheese sandwiches were staples, and a burger without cheese was basically naked! I always say that cheese is ubiquitous. In other words, it’s everywhere. And it is.
As an adult, I embraced the uppity quality of fancy cheeses, and it became a source of discovery and adventure in gastronomical pleasure. Long gone were the American slices and shredded cheddar of my youth. These were aged, and expensive (with hard to pronounce names), and perfect with a glass of wine!
Perusing any restaurant menu today, other than an Asian restaurant, you will find cheese in almost every single dish, (even salads) and there is a reason for that. Cheese is scientifically proven to be highly addictive because of its casomorphins and stimulates the same pleasure center in our brains as actual morphine! I kid you not. This is the reason you, (and me until about 6 years ago), say we could never give it up and restaurants bank on it to keep us coming back for more!
I’m here to offer a fresh perspective. No shame and no rants about the typical reasons I’d ask you to reconsider your cheese consumption, like the saturated fat, sodium, cruelty, hormonal complications, and health implications, but a new take on the fact that delicious flavors are simply drowned when that blanket of cheese highjacks and coats our tastebuds. Can you even imagine how a meal might taste without the added cheese? Once you get used to it, your mind will be blown by the amazing deliciousness that awaits you! And if creamy, salty or tangy is what you think you’d be missing, there are healthier ways to bite into those taste sensations.
One thing that I’ve noticed is that it’s a texture thing. In addition to blending up my own incredibly simple cheese substitutes, from veggies, nuts, seeds or tofu, sometimes just adding guacamole, hummus or unsweetened, plant-based yogurt is the perfect touch of creaminess to elevate a dish.
Nutritional yeast has a flaky, cheesy flavor that works great as an umami bomb to add rich, saltiness to a dish in place of parmesan. Mixed with miso paste and chopped nuts its next level amazing sprinkled on pasta, pizza or popcorn.
You probably have a favorite type of cheese, and I can assure you that there is a substitute, a way to replicate it or at least get close in pursuit of your health goals and future wild shenanigans. If you’re adventurous and want to attempt some of the delicious recipes that have been created for whole food plant-based cheeses, I’m ecstatic! If you want to grab one of the many nut-based cheeses from your grocers refrigerated case, I’m still pretty damn happy!
I’ve found some store-bought versions that have rocked my world, but I really enjoy the process of trying different recipes myself. It’s Zen-like calm crossed with Mardi Gras-like excitement when I mix, taste and use them, knowing all it really took was a base of almonds, cashews, tofu or sunflower seeds, acidity (like lemon juice or vinegar), salt and a blender or food processor. Not to mention it’s exponentially less expensive than a store-bought variety.
One of my very easy go-to recipes is almond ricotta. I just buzz slivered blanched almonds in a highspeed blender with some water, lemon juice and salt. The water keeps it moving and add lemon juice and salt to your taste preference. This can be done with tofu in place of almonds, and herbs and spices add an especially exotic touch.
I love this stuff blobbed on my leftover cheese-less pizza from a restaurant, on the incredible frozen Amy’s Roasted Vegetable no cheese pizza, in veggie lasagna, on top of marinara or lentil Bolognese or slathered on a hearty piece of toasted bread with jam.
I also make an absolutely tangy herby feta with cubed tofu marinated in vinegar, garlic, oregano and lemon juice that rocks my world in salads or wraps.
Once you start to enjoy and really taste the incredible flavors of actual whole foods, you won’t want that deliciousness masked. The homemade cheese ideas I’ve mentioned are taste and texture explosions, yes, but also add more healthy foods to your dish and amp up the enjoyment factor exponentially!
Try it for yourself and see if you agree! It may take a hot minute to uncoat your taste buds to reveal the bursting flavor of foods not slathered with cheese but consider it just one more fantastic food adventure in your journey to new horizons.
Love + Lentils,