Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Excitement: Somehow it always includes Beets.

So in my recent obsessions with all things vegan, I got the book The Conscious Cook by Tal Ronnen from the library last week. It, of course, is now in my Amazon cart. In addition to lovely recipes, it has great photography and great layout, and is full of inspiring fresh recipes. In reading it cover to cover, I discovered that I was so curious about his "cheese" made from cashews, that I could think of nothing else. In his book, Tal makes Cashew Creams (you can find the recipe on his website) and also cheeses made from nuts that are kind of related to the Cashew Creams. His recipe for Beet Ravioli with Balsamic Pickled Figs and Green Garlic Oil was the one to really pique my interest, and a couple of days ago I decided to embark into the world of vegan "cheese".

His approach is to soak cashews overnight, then blend them together with probiotic powder and let them culture at warm room temperature for 12-14 hours. Now, dear readers, you know that I have a serious addiction to obsessions, when I was so curious about this, that I had to drop $26 at Outpost for the New Chapter Probiotic All-Flora capsules that this culturing project required. I wavered in how much I wanted to try this just a little bit, before giving in and just buying it. After all, I feel like I haven't been buying so many groceries lately, and giving $26 extra of my grocery fund to Outpost is not really a bad cause. I wasn't disappointed in my decision.

I am absolutely glad I parted with my USD's, since the result of this cashew "ricotta" as I'm calling it, was wonderful. I used my immersion blender to puree the cashews and water, and was not able to achieve absolute smoothness, but the flavor of plain, soaked and blended cashews was nice enough that the bit of grainy texture didn't bother me at all. In fact, I thought it tasted exactly like the texture of ricotta, and could see the finished product taking on all of the "cheese-ness" of cheese, sans cheese of course.

The state of the plain blended cashews prior to culturing wasn't all that different either, so if you feel that you can't part with $26, I'd say to go ahead and make it (skipping the long culturing time) anyway! Meanwhile, I used my savvy kitchen math to realize that my 6 capsules that went to inoculation purposes cost me $2.60, and that is affordable for the sake of experimentation! If nothing else, I can pop 80 cents worth of probiotics down my gullet every day for the next month and be proud of my healthfulness - but I'm sure I'll use more of my capsules to try some others of Tal's cheeses. I also didn't measure any of the added spices, I added to taste. No wonder why I love vegan cooking so much!

Tal Ronnen's Cashew Ricotta Cheese
  • 2 cups raw cashews
  • 1 t. probiotic powder (from 6 capsules of All-Flora, or another comparable quality powder) dissolved in 1 cup of warm water.
  • 2 T. nutritional yeast flakes
  • 1 1/2 t. onion powder (I used granulated onion)
  • 1 1/2 T. minced chives
  • 2 T. minced parsley
  • 1 t. sea salt
  • black pepper
Put cashews in a bowl, add cold water to cover them, and refrigerate 12-14 hours. Drain and rinse them under warm water.

Place nuts in a blender with the probiotic powder and water mixture (I used an immersion blender), and blend until very smooth. Transfer to a clean, glass bowl, and let sit at warm room temperature (I leave the oven light on in the closed oven) for 14-16 hours to culture.

Transfer to a medium bowl, and stir in remaining ingredients. Cheese will keep for a week under refrigeration.

This morning, after a night of chilling, I took to doctoring up that cultured cashew cheese into a proper "ricotta" filling. Onion granules, nutritional yeast flakes, some fresh chives and parsley from my yard, and a bit of salt and pepper, and I was completely fooled at how delicious the taste of this was, and that it did indeed taste like ricotta cheese. (Before mixing up the savory version, I saved out a cup portion to play around later with some sweet applications... I have it in my mind that I can make a cupcake frosting out of it!)

I departed from Tal's original recipe here, since I did not make the green garlic oil, and forgot to buy figs during the Probiotic Powder shopping trip. But I was glad, since my result was so good, I was nearly jumping up and down. So many times if you spend a lot of time and effort (and those USD's) on something, the result is not up to your expectation. What a happy surprise to know that I will make this again and again!

I still had my borrowed mandoline (that I have to return), so I sliced a peeled beet very thinly. I ate a slice of raw beet, and then got out my steamer. This is no Raw Vegan recipe, now... but I'm so glad I steamed them, since they got tender enough to resemble pasta, and were easy enough to cut with a fork and gobble down. Boy-O and I spent the morning at the library, and because he was so consumed with a book on Stingrays, I got to peruse my cookbook aisle. I fortuitously plucked Eat, Drink & Be Vegan by Dreena Burton from the shelves, and found a dressing that I decided would be good for the top of my creation, a vinaigrette made from balsamic and maple syrup. Dreena's book has many great recipes, and I'm looking forward to looking over it more completely later today. I also noted that she is a blogger at eat, drink & be vegan, so I'll be adding her to my feedly, no doubt!

I have no idea why I never thought of combining balsamic vinegar and maple syrup, but I'm more than excited that I did. I used equal proportions of each, and it was almost candy-like. I made a very small amount, but it is so easy to double or triple that you'll hardly need to use any of your kitchen math!

Balsamic Maple Syrup Vinaigrette (adapted from Drena Burton)
  • 2 T. balsamic vinegar
  • 2 T. maple syrup, preferably dark
  • splash of extra virgin olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper
That's it. Blend it up.

Assemble the little stacks or "raviolis" however you wish, obsessively try to get a good photo, and then eat them up! Next time, I will make this more of a meal and have a pretty green salad underneath, but for my lunch for one, a whole steamed beet, and maybe a healthy 1/4 cup of this ricotta cheese was really satisfying.

I know I shouldn't be surprised at how contented I am eating simple whole foods that have little or no cooking. I guess, it doesn't surprise me at all that I'm so excited about my new vegan obsessions, since I do know that often it only takes a little push in any given food direction to send me off and reading about something different to me.

innBrooklyn is hosting another installment of Veg of the Month Club, due on June 10th, and the veg for this go around is beets. I have more beets in the fridge, and I didn't consider using this recipe for the Club submission, but I just may, since I loved it so much! Nothing says "excitement" to me, like beets, so I'm looking forward to seeing some good inspirations there.


  1. What an interesting recipe, Rebecca! I love all things cashews so I am sure I would enjoy the "cheese" part of this dish. The vinagrette sounds amazing too. I've only had beets a handful of times, but this seriously looks like a great creative way to prepare them.

  2. This is so beautiful. I love beets, and not just because the color is just so amazing. Things I like: going to the library, getting a few minutes to peruse the cookbook section, a new obsession. Ahh.

  3. How lovely! I'm such a fan of the passionately colored beet, it's no wonder this appeals.

    Of course, I'm now totally intrigued by that cashew cheese, and I can't wait to read all about your adventures with the sweet side of things!

  4. Beets are the bomb-digity-dig in the veg world. I just love them so. So perfectly red and delicious. These look a little like beet muppets and I just want to eat them up!

    Both the maple/balsamic and that cashew cheese sound amazing. When do I get a sample? :)

  5. Beet Muppets... Meat Puppets... Peat Moffits... I could keep going, but I won't. Next time we have a Burp!/Cakewalk dinner, I'll have to make a freshly cultured batch of cashew cheese!

  6. Wow- this looks great. I'd have never guessed the chesse is cheese-free. Yum!


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