I think if you ask many vegetarians what is one of the most difficult foods to give up in the move towards being vegan... it would be cheese. Yes, there are those who find it difficult to give up chocolate, or a dense and luscious double cream, or the fragrant, tooth-biting, brain-freezing heavenliness of traditional ice-cream, or the ubiquitous smell and taste of bacon. However, I’m sure at the top of the list, or certainly very near the top of the list, the most difficult food to give up for many is cheese; in all its beguiling creamy, grated, melting, crunchy cheesy yummy goodness. And so it is for Richard and myself.
Firstly, where do we sit on the vegetarian and vegan scale? Well, we are certainly not vegan as there are many things that we do eat currently that are just not vegan. At the moment we eat small amounts of fish (mainly fish fingers), so pescatarian; and we eat eggs and we also eat cheese... Oh, we like our cheese!
We don’t have any animal milks in our household any more; we have opted for a soya milk alternative instead and use this for all our beverages and cooking requirements. If we run out, we make our own oat milk - an easy recipe that we recently shared with Brady Sissy on our Facebook group Planet Vegetaria. We have not given up cream, though I can’t really remember the last time we had cream as we generally substitute this for yoghurt, which in every way is a cop-out as it is still a produce from a cow (in our case) though the next step for us here is to move to non-dairy yoghurt.
What is our favourite cheese? Well, I suppose it would have to be hard cheeses like Cheddar, and Parmesan. We are also particularly enjoying a Red Leicester at the moment from Lidl, and could not do without cottage cheese; either eaten as it is with crackers and salad or made into a delicious smoked mackerel pate.
This summer has been about lunches of homemade bread toasted, then our own allotment-grown grilled tomatoes sliced and laid on top, warmed under a grill, then slices of cheddar added and all then grilled to a melting glory. With a little bit of sea salt and cracked black pepper I’m not sure we had anything more divine over the summer months; in fact I think our second favourite lunch has been exactly the same but just as a sandwich, and with no addition of heat other than the 30° outside.
Anyway, back to cheese...
Even if one is not vegetarian or moving towards being a vegan, I think we all know that it is best to cut down on our saturated fat intake, and that obviously includes all of the hard cheeses, and many of the creamy, French-style ones that we buy in shops. Obviously, there are low fat and fat-free alternatives, though I think it’s better to have a little bit of something fabulous than a larger bit of something average. When it comes to being vegetarian and vegan, there are now many cheese alternatives; ones that can be made in a domestic kitchen at home as well as a decent number of branded versions in the shops. However, I think I’m yet to find a vegan alternative to cheese that will make us give up a good Cheddar or Red Leicester, or in fact a decent Parmesan. Who does not like a lovely grating of salty, crystal dense parmesan on their Bolognese, chillies, soups, or in fact virtually anything veggie and savoury?
Well, if this is your thing then maybe it’s time to try some alternatives…
One of the substitutes for parmesan that you can make at home is actually called Poor Man's Parmesan. Admittedly, it is not at all cheesy but it does add a texture to a dish akin to the traditional style parmesan that many Italians know and love. Poor Man’s Parmesan is basically breadcrumbs sautéed in olive oil with parsley and salt and pepper. It sounds simple, and it is, though it is absolutely divine. Sometimes, with our friend Mireille, we will have spaghetti with Poor Man's Parmesan with additional sliced or minced garlic added. Sublime! You could either buy the breadcrumbs or make your own by blitzing stale bread in a blender. This should be made to use immediately.
Taking the difficulty level up a little, though still very simple, is cheesy breadcrumbs. Take a few slices of good bread, preferably stale, tear into chunks then bake in a moderate oven for 10 to 15 minutes until all the moisture has evaporated from the bread. Once cooled, blitz the baked bread chunks with nutritional yeast flakes, onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper. This will keep in a sealed jam jar or glass jar for a few days.
If you like that hint of cheese and want to add another flavour level and some protein, then have a go at a vegan parmesan made with cashews, nutritional yeast flakes, garlic powder, onion powder and some salt and pepper (if you like pepper). You just add all ingredients to a blender and blitz until the texture of fine breadcrumbs. A scattering on top of your favourite pasta dish will surprise you, and added to a fine chili will lift it to a divine chili. This will keep in a sealed jam jar or glass jar for up to a week.
So the above are three simple ways you can cut down a little on cheese, and more importantly your saturated fat intake. Like many of the recipes we try and we share, feel free to add your own twist; herbs, seasonings, different types of nuts and even seeds can be added or substituted. Maybe roast the nuts for Vegan Parmesan for ten minutes in a hot oven for an added flavour dimension.
Below are the recipes for use with the above directions:
Poor Man’s Parmesan
2 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp bread crumbs
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
2 thick slices of stale bread (white, wholegrain or whatever you have)
3 tbsp nutritional yeast
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
6 tbsp raw cashews or cashews/almonds
3 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tsp salt
1tsp cracked black pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
It's amazing how jobs that sometimes seem daunting, are often just a matter of getting stuck in.
Today I sowed Broad Bean Aquadulce Claudia in the edged bed Richard and I made yesterday in our video. Yesterday afternoon I emptied three barrow loads of our pallet bin compost into it and levelled it off. This morning was the sowing of seeds and watering them in. I've left the bamboo canes on the bed and added the upturned cordial bottles as a deterrent to our on-site foxes.
If you want to see our plot update and the building of this edged bed visit our channel at YouTube.com/c/richardandpaul
...long term partners.