Before I was vegan, I was a cheese addict. The toughest thing to give up was the gooey, salty creaminess of brie, mozzarella and camembert. Although the Daiya brand is a great non-dairy alternative, I wanted to make my own cheese sauce and had heard about using cashew nuts. But I was lazy and thought it was too much work.
So I was late to the party for cooking with cashews. I decided to try it with mac and cheese, my all-time favourite comfort food as a kid. It surprised me how quick and easy it was to throw the nuts along with garlic, onion and spices into a blender. Total blending time: one minute.
And cashews are healthy for you. They have protein (about 18 grams per cup), plus iron, zinc and copper. In fact, cashews have the second-highest amount of copper (behind sesame seeds), a mineral that supports bone and tissue integrity, antioxidant protection and energy production.
Cashews help lower cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease. They are a good source of magnesium, which contributes to higher metabolism and bone health. Although cashews—and nuts in general—are high in fat, most of these fats are the monounsaturated kind that are good for your heart.
Back to the mac and cheese. I prefer to use the raw, unsalted type of cashews from the bulk food store. Be sure to soak them in water for at least four hours before putting them in the blender. This will make them softer and easier to whip into a sauce.
You can make the cashew “cheese” sauce as garlicky and spicy as you like. For extra zing, I used fresh red chilis diced up, plus chili powder. You could even add curry powder or smoked paprika. I also sprinkled turmeric, which gave the sauce a rich yellow hue. (And turmeric has its own health benefits, in terms of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties).
In addition to mac and cheese, there are many ways to use cashew cheese sauce in vegan cooking: on top of nachos, pizzas and casseroles; in grilled cheese sandwiches; lasagnas; pastas; tacos; quesadillas; cheesecakes; as butter, dips and spreads.
For this post (pictured above), I introduced my mac and cheese to a bed of blue corn nachos—the perfect match for my crispy, melty carb cravings this weekend.
What “cheesy” dish would you like to try?