Dairy is one food that most of us think we can't live without. We love the flavor or mouth-feel of various cheeses, drinks and vegetables with cheese toppings. For many people transitioning to a plant-based diet, the most difficult type of food to give up is cheese.
There really is no need to have dairy-based cheese after learning how to replace it in our diets. With the alternative dairy options now on the market, dairy does not have to be a mainstay.
Those of us who are lactose intolerant or want a substitute for animal products for a number of reasons (including concerns about health, cholesterol and saturated fats in dairy products; the environmental impacts of animal agriculture; the often cruel treatment of dairy animals; and the use of antibiotics and growth hormones) need to learn about making plant-based replacements.
What is the difference between plant-based cheese and dairy cheese?
Simple milk is transformed into cheese through a culturing process that begins with various bacteria and enzymes, which coagulate the proteins in the milk, allowing solids to separate from the whey.
The cheese is then aged for a few days to many months, and develops its distinctive character and flavor. Depending on the type of enzymes and bacteria used, as well as certain molds for blue-veined cheeses, the final product takes on different characteristics.
With plant-based "cheese," the process is a little different. The proteins in soy milk and nut milks react differently to culturing agents and don't tend to coagulate in such a way that curds separate out. Therefore they must be processed and aged using somewhat different methods.
Most plant-based cheeses on the market today aren't cultured or aged. Instead they are made to taste like cheese through the addition of flavorings, often utilizing an acidic ingredient such as lemon juice, to imitate a sharp flavor. This provides a more tangy than sharp flavor.
Some of the prepared plant-based "cheeses" on the market that do culture their ingredients are: Miyoko's Kitchen, Treeline, Chao by Field Roast, Daiya Cheese and Flo and Grace. Some of these are available locally and some can be ordered online. I will offer a future class on replacing dairy in the diet after the first of the year.
It is also possible to create plant-based "cheese" that really does taste just as good as the dairy option. Today's recipe for pumpkin cashew "cheese" cake is delicious and worth your time to introduce it to your holiday table as the first step to updating your seasonal favorites.
It is not cultured, but is is made from nuts. It's also dairy-free, gluten-free and refined sugar-free. Some of the plant-based desserts on the market may have too much sugar added or have other ingredients you find unacceptable.
Making your own delicious dessert that you can freeze by the slice and take out as desired is the best option. Add a pumpkin spice dairy-free latte, and you will fulfill your craving for the spices of the season.
Since the majority of the food I choose to eat is plant-based and free of refined ingredients, creating a dessert that also fits that requirement and is delicious is a win-win fo rme.
Here are some tips on giving up dairy from Dr. Mark Hyman, a functional medicine doctor at Cleveland Clinic as provided in a 2010 Huffington Post Healthy Living article:
* Take your cow for a walk. It will do you more good than drinking milk.
* Don't rely on dairy for healthy bones. If you want healthy bones, get plenty of exercise and supplement with 2,000 international units of vitamin D daily.
* Get your calcium from calcium-rich foods. These include dark green, leafy vegetables, sesame tahini, sea vegetables, sardines or salmon with the bones.
* Try giving up dairy. That means eliminate meat, cheese, yogurt and ice cream for two weeks
and see if you feel better. You should notice improvements with your sinuses, post-nasal drip, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, energy and weight. Then start eating dairy again and see how you feel. If you fell worse, you should try to give it up for life.
* If you can tolerate dairy, use only raw, organic dairy products. I suggest focusing on fermented products like unsweetened yogurt and kefir, occasionally.
* If you have to feed your child formula from milk, don't worry. The milk in infant formula is hydrolyzed or broken down and easier to digest, although it can still cause allergies. Once your child is 1, switch him or her to real food and almond milk.
Still got milk? I hope not. Remember, dairy is not crucial for good health. I encourage you to go dairy free and see what it does for you.
Ingredients for Crust
2 cups pecans or walnuts (soaked and dried in a dehydrator or oven on warm)
7 medjool dates (pitted)
2 tablespoons unrefined coconut oil (melted liquid)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Ingredients for Filling
1 can organic pumpkin (BPA-free can) or make your own fresh pumpkin from small pie pumpkins cut in half and roasted to get the flesh ready for blending, or just peel and blend in small batches in the Vitamix to have a truly raw pumpkin flavor.
2 cups cashews (soaked 4 hours)
4 tablespoons unrefined coconut oil (melted liquid)
1/4 cup liquid sweetener (coconut nectar or maple syrup)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons powdered ginger
1 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Prepare an 8-inch springform cake pan by lining the bottom with parchment paper.
Blend together the nuts and dates for the crust in a food processor until uniform.
Add vanilla and cinnamon, and blend to combine.
Spread on the prepared cake pan and press evenly on the bottom.
Place in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.
Thoroughly rinse the cashews.
Blend in a food processor or blender until cashews become a very smooth paste. This may take a while, depending on the strength of the blender.
Scrape down the sides as you process, adding a little bit of water if cashews seem to dry.
Add the remaining ingredients once cashews are smooth, and process until uniform.
Scrape pumpkin filling onto chilled crust and smooth top.
Put in the freezer for at least 1 hour.
You may prepare topping and keep in the refrigerator until serving.
You also may slice the cake and freeze each piece separately at this point or keep slices in a container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
It is easier to slice this cake when it is partially frozen. Use a wet knife and a cake lifter.
Optional whipped topping
Tops 1, 8-inch cheesecake
1 cup cashews (soaked for 4 hours)
1 cup coconut milk chilled in can (BPA-free can)
1/4 coconut nectar (I used the dark unrefined version for more of a caramelized flavor)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of sea salt
1 tablespoon lecithin
1/2 cup coconut oil (melted to liquid)
Rinse the cashews thoroughly.
Blend in a blender, if possible, or a food processor, the cashews, coconut milk (open chilled coconut milk and scoop out the solid meat to measure), coconut nectar, lemon juice, vanilla extract and salt until creamy.
Add the lecithin and coconut oil.
Test your frosting by pouring a small amount in a small cup and placing in the freezer for 20 to 30 minutes.
After this time, the frosting should be firm to the touch and have thickened throughout. If the frosting is still soft, add more coconut oil.
Add another tablespoon and blend again. Re-test.
Transfer frosting to the fridge as soon as it is firm. You don't want the frosting to be frozen. A frozen frosting will always change in texture and appearance, making it harder to work with.
Pumpkin Spice Latte
1 cup almond milk (or your favorite coconut milk)
1 tablespoon pumpkin puree
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 cup strong black coffee or 1/2 cup espresso (optional)
Monk fruit powder or coconut nectar to taste for sweetness
Heat the first four ingredients in a small saucepan or medium-low heat, stirring constantly. You want to heat the milk and dissolve the pumpkin puree, but you don't want it to boil.
Stir until it's heated through and there are no pumpkin lumps remaining.
Divide the coffee between two large mugs.
Top with the pumpkin-milk mixture, and sweeten to taste.
Add optional whipped topping.
Makes 6 cups
1 cup almonds (soaked 8-12 hours)
4-5 cups water (reverse osmosis, spring or filtered)
Place the almonds in the Vitamix or blender after rinsing.
Blend for 2 minutes.
If you have a nut milk bag, pour the mixture through the bag and the peels and almond paste will remain in the bag while the milk stays white.
Discard the pulp.
Strain through cheesecloth or a fine strainer if you don't have a nut milk bag. (Nut milk bags can be ordered online)
Store in the refrigerator in a glass jar It will keep for up to 5 days. Shake each time before pouring, as it will separate.
Add three dates (pitted and soaked for 2 hours) or two drops vanilla extract ( add while blending) to make sweet almond milk.