May 3, 2018
Cheese Alternatives in a Plant-Based Diet
By Stephanie Scavelli
Cheese really hits that salty-fatty taste bud. Simply adding a bit more salt and upping the fat can help curb the cheese-craving. There are all sorts of salts and seasoned salts for added flavor and even powdered or dried seaweeds like kelp and dulse. In terms of fats, I always find avocado the most satisfying fat.
One of my favorite whole food cheese replacements is olives or olive paste. Kalamata are my particular favorite but there are green and black olives. I even blend up my own spreads. Just simply mix olives, a drop of olive oil, enough water for texture and blend in a bullet or food processor. Olives are fatty, salty and a whole food.
When possible, hummus is a good option for switching out for cheese and it comes in every flavor. Or you can spruce up plain hummus to your family’s own taste preferences. Instead of cheese and crackers, try humus and crackers. Instead of cheese quesadillas, warm up the tortillas and spread with humus. Yum!
Do you make things like lasagna or baked ziti? For non-dairy ricotta, mash together with a fork the following: firm tofu, Veganaise (leading brand of non-dairy mayo), minced garlic, touch of salt and nutritional yeast. Voila! Use this crumbly mess as you would with milk ricotta.
Nutritional yeast is a delicious cheesy tasting seasoning. Use it straight or make a blend with a touch of salt and ground sesame seeds and use it like parmesan cheese to season any hot dish. Sesame seeds are super rich in bioavailable calcium which makes it great for women and children with growing bones.
Mac' and Cheese with non-dairy homemade cheese can be quite nutritious! Soak cashews until plump then blend cashews with just enough water to make into a velveeta-like cheese consistency. Add pinch of salt, a generous amount of nutritional yeast, turmeric (for color), and a splash of tamari or soy sauce. Optional seasonings include a pinch of one or any of the following: onion powder, garlic powder, paprika or cumin. Pour out of blender into sauce pan to heat. Stir often! This burns. Pour over elbow noodles! So Yummy!
Non-Dairy Cheese Products
If what your family needs is a more cheese- like experience there is a wall of cheese brands at Whole Foods, from shredded mozzarella to blocks of cheddar to plain or flavored cream cheeses! The brand Daiya makes the best shredded cheeses for pizza and I think it’s soy free, if that’s what you prefer. There are blocks of soy cheese too from Follow Your Heart and another brand that uses almonds to make their cheese! Tofutti makes the best replica of cream cheese ( all the other brands are somewhat horrible). Be sure to buy Tofutti's non-hydrogenated varieties only.
For a side note on other dairy-free or vegan alternatives like yogurts, Foragers is the healthiest option in my option and I have even bought it at main stream grocers like Decicco's.
If your kids were like me and as a young adult ate ice cream nearly every day (at least it seemed that way) then I recommend keeping frozen bananas in the freezer at all times. Mix frozen bananas in the blender with a splash of almond or cashew or coconut milk and you have an instant base for ice cream! I still eat “ice cream” often during the warmer months but now it starts with this banana-cream. My favorite is banana, almond milk, vanilla extract, a tablespoon of flaxseeds and crunchy peanut butter all blended until creamy.
I hope this helps to inspire some creativity or at least experimenting in the kitchen. Hopefully you can sneak in some new plant-based cheeses and you and your family will barely notice. Good luck!
About the Author
Certified Yoga Instructor Stephanie Scavelli practices a plant-based diet and traditional herbal medicine. She laughs endlessly at the adventurous whit of the animation series Rick & Morty. She wears minimalist, barefoot-inspired shoes and her favorite dessert is her sister's Oatmeal Crusted Vegan Pumpkin Pie. Stephanie lives in Westchester County, NY with her daughter Juniper.