If there is one ingredient most essential to creating yummy plant-based dishes, it is definitely the mighty cashew.
Cashews are such a stellar ingredient in vegan cooking because they have a very creamy mouthfeel and a neutral taste. Plus, they’re quite soft and easy to blend. Put all of this together and you have an excellent base for creams and cheeses.
Cashew cheese is like the vegan version of a “mother sauce” which can be used to make a million different dishes. This blog is proof of that idea, as a search for “cashew” turns up 32 results, or about 20% of all the recipes on this site…
In just the last 18 months, we’ve made cashew-based cheeses and sauces and dressings and dips and even beverages. But today, I wanted to kind of make it “official” by sharing the foolproof base recipe that I always have on hand.
Makes about 2 cups
- 1 1/2 cups raw cashews
- 1/2 cup water (to start)
- 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
Soak the cashews! Place about 1 1/2 cups of cashews in a container with warm water and soak for at least 2 hours. This is incredibly important because it will soften the cashews, allowing them to be fully blended – no one likes little chunks of cashews in their sauces.
Then, drain the cashews and add all ingredients (cashews, water, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, garlic powder, black pepper, and salt) to a high-powered blender like a Vitamix and blend until smooth. This will likely be very thick and you will need to manage the speed to ensure that it continues blending. If it’s wayyyy too thick, add a little more water.
I’ve found this specific list of ingredients to be the perfect combo. The nutritional yeast adds a distinctly cheesy taste, the garlic and salt intensify the flavors, while the acid from the lemon juice and apple cider vinegar brighten things up. In all, it’s an extremely flavorful base recipe that can be pulled in a million different directions.
Chill. Spoon the cheese into a jar or container and refrigerate. I don’t know exactly why, but cashew cheeses become much better after refrigerating for several hours. The texture improves and the flavors meld together perfectly.
The final texture will be solid, but spreadable. You can easily thin it out (such as for pasta sauces) by adding more water. If stored in a sealed jar, the cheese will last for about a week in the refrigerator.
Cashew Cheese Tips & Ideas
Now that you have a whole jar of cashew cheese, how do you use the stuff?! Obviously, you can just spread onto crackers and enjoy, but if you’re feeling a little more daring…
- Make an extra firm cheese spread by stirring in an extra tablespoon of nutritional yeast until dissolved, and even some Italian herbs like rosemary and sage.
- Thin with more water and pour into a food-grade squirt bottle to make a pretty cashew cheese garnish, as seen in the Spicy Quinoa Taco Bowl.
- Make a “cheddar” cashew cheese by blending with a little dried turmeric and some extra water. Then, toss with macaroni for cheddar mac & cheese.
- Make the perfect Alfredo sauce by cooking fettuccine, draining the pasta, and tossing with this cashew cheese and about 1/3 cup of the reserved pasta water to achieve the right consistency.
- Blend with more water, garlic, Dijon mustard, and Kalamata olives for a Caesar salad dressing, as seen in my Caesar Salad Recipe
- Add a few tablespoons into a soup base to make a creamy white soup, as seen in my Creamy Tofu Tortilla Soup
- Make some baked— oh, that one’s still a secret. Just make sure you save a cup of this cheese for an amazing recipe that’s coming on Thursday 🙂 (update: see the Baked Spaghetti with Cashew Cheese)
See what I mean about this being the vegan mother sauce? There are at least 2.7 million ways this basic sauce can be used… what are your favorites?