Does vegan cheese sound nuts? Well, it is--cashews, to be precise.
An unassuming bag of cashews can be used to make fluffy "ricotta" with just three simple steps. To make cashew ricotta, start by soaking 1½ cups of cashews in 1 cup of water for 2 hours or up to overnight, then drain and place them in a blender or food processor. Add the juice of one lemon for tang typical of the dairy version and 1 tablespoon of nutritional yeast, the darling ingredient of any vegan's pantry, for cheesy flavor. Blend everything together until it's thick and textural, then season with salt and pepper to taste.
If the ricotta is too thick for your liking, simply add water to thin it out. But the longer you soak the cashews, the less water you'll need to add, since the nuts will sponge up liquid like mini camels.
Use this alternative like you would normal ricotta; lasagna and stuffed shells work particularly well, and once you add heaping spoonfuls of tomato sauce, no one will know the difference. Throw a taco-night party and spread tortillas with cashew cheese in lieu of queso fresco, or keep it classic and use it as sandwich spread or a toast topper with honey and a fresh herb like thyme or mint. Pro tip: If you add additional water to the basic recipe above and process longer, you get cashew cream, which can be used for pie fillings, vegan ice cream or drizzling on quick breads.
The beauty in this is that you can flavor it however you like by tossing chile flakes, garlic, fresh herbs and the like into the food processor. Or try a sweet, mascarpone-like version by adding a few dates and a dash of vanilla extract. Anything's fair game. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself if an ingredient would taste OK sprinkled on cashews--the answer will likely be yes.
Try substituting cashew ricotta for the dairy one in these recipes:
• Start the day with creamy ricotta toasts with poppy seeds, orange and mint.
• Layer it with berries between slices of cinnamon swirl bread for sweet grilled cheese.
• Throw peas and Parmesan into the mix for a toast spread or vegetable dip.
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