- Soak the cashews or the sunflower seeds in a clean, sanitized container with filtered water and a tiny pinch of salt. Allow them to soak from 1 hour to overnight. However, if they soak overnight, they will be very soft, and the texture of the cheeze may be much more fluid than you desire. The primary reason for soaking nuts and seeds is not only to soften them but rather to remove some of the phytic acid which is the form in which nuts, seeds, legumes, and many plants store phosphorous. This is important for the plants born from these seeds and nuts, as it provides necessary energy for growth. Phytic acid assists in protecting seeds, legumes, and nuts from degradation until conditions are suitable for the sprouting and growing of the seed into its plant form. Along with phytic acid, there are a number of enzyme inhibitors in nuts and seeds. These prevent digestive and metabolic enzymes in humans and animals from being able to fully digest the nuts and seeds, thereby allowing many to pass right through (I think we’ve all seen seeds present in animal scat . . .). Soaking nuts and seeds in warm water with a little salt helps to deactivate the enzyme inhibitors and leach out some of the phytic acid thus allowing us to more easily digest them and obtain more of their nutritional value. The added bonus is that this makes blending nuts and seeds a whole lot easier.
- After soaking, drain the nuts or seeds and rinse to remove any of the slimy residue which may be present. This is a result of the enzymes being leached and acting on the surface of the nuts or seeds.
- If you have a food processor, place the nuts or seeds in the food processor and blend until as smooth as possible. There will still be some texture; don’t worry too much about this, as you can refine it in the second blend. If you do not have a food processor, you will have to do a bit more work with your blender, pulsing, scraping, and adding small amounts of water to achieve smoothness.
- After blending in the food processor, remove from the processor, using a spatula to get all of the paste out. Add all of the liquid components (i.e., lemon juice, vinegar) to a high-speed blender first, then the salt, nutritional yeast, and any of the flavoring elements that you wish to add. Alternatively, if you wish to have some texture, you can reserve things such as figs, and add them at the end of the blending process or even turn them into the mixture by hand.
- Blend until smooth, adding small amounts of filtered water a little at a time. Take time to interrupt the blending process. Use a spatula to clear the sides and then add water. Be careful to not turn the blender on to highest speed immediately (an instinct many have). It is best to start at lower speeds to allow the blender blades to catch the material and then gradually turn the speed up, combining this with spatula scraping and small additions of water.
- Blend until you reach the desired consistency. Also, as you blend, check the seasoning to see if you need to adjust any of the elements, particularly the salty and acidic ones. If needed, add more salt, vinegar, or lemon juice. Be careful to not add too much water at once, as you may possibly end up with more of a sauce than a cheeze, though this may not be a terrible outcome.
- Once you have reached the texture you desire, scrape the mixture out of the blender and place inside a cheesecloth bag, (nut milk bags, or synthetic porous produce bags, are suitable alternatives). Hang the bag over a bowl and allow to drain for up to 4 hours at room temperature, or up to overnight in the refrigerator if you desire a firmer, drier cheeze.
- After the cheeze has drained excess fluid, you can store in a container as is, covered and refrigerated, for up to 10 days. If you wish to dress it up for presentation at a party, or just for fun, you can place the cheeze mixture in a shaping mold, or hand shape the mixture, and then cover it in herbs, spices, mix herbs or dried fruit in, or whatever pleases you.
- If you are aiming to make a firmer or drier cheeze, you will want to place the mixture in a cheesecloth lined ring mold or other shape molding device, place on a bamboo mat, and then on a wood board, and place in the refrigerator to allow excess moisture to evaporate.
- Fig, tarragon and balsamic: add ⅓ cup chopped figs, dried, and 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar in place of the apple cider vinegar.
- Roasted garlic, cracked pepper and rosemary: add ½ bulb of roasted garlic, ½ tbsp coarse cracked black pepper, and as much chopped fresh rosemary as you like.
- Dill, mint, and lemon: add 4 tbsp chopped fresh dill, 2 tbsp chopped fresh mint, and zest of 1 lemon.
Again, this is a great base recipe to try with your own flavor combinations. Storage time for this cheeze is up to 10 days, properly covered or wrapped. With the absence of culture, the cashew may want to ferment on its own; don’t be alarmed. If you find your batch getting a bit sharp tasting, it may be that the cashew paste has begun fermenting. So long as you have kept the container clean, not used your fingers to taste, or cross contaminated the mixture in some way, you can continue to use the cheeze if you like the evolving flavor profile.
If you avoid adding cooked ingredients to this core recipe it is suitable for raw food diet preferences.
Ways to use this cheeze
- sandwiches and toast
- in raw lasagne
- in baked vegan lasagne
- in ravioli
- scooped into small balls, and used in vegan caprese salads, or salads in general
Reprinted with permission from The Art of Plant-Based Cheesemaking: How to Craft Real, Cultured, Non-Dairy Cheese. 2017 by Karen McAthy, New Society Publishers