I have missed block cheese a lot, more for the texture than the flavour. I’ve never been one to throw slabs of cheese (or really, anything else) down my throat. I like a little ‘zazz, ya know? I make a lot of burritos, nachos, lasagnes – the texture of shredded or melted cheese is a huge component of the overall experience, so I am determined to find the vegan analogue and turn it into a cornerstone of my kitchen. This was the first recipe I found that had uniformly good reviews. I’m not sure why, to be honest. Maybe it’s just me, but this was nothing like cheese. It was like a block of gritty tofu. Didn’t melt, didn’t shred, was soggy, and tasted like…tofu. I looked at the quality of my ingredients, the prep method, and the final result, tweaked a bit, and tried again. The original recipe is here.
My revised ingredient list:
11 fl oz (300 ml) water
2 tsp agar agar powder
4½ oz (100g) RAW cashew nuts
½ oz (12.5g) nutritional yeast flakes
3 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp tahini
1/3 cup red onions, finely diced
1-2 tsp Dijon fancypants mustard
¼ tsp salt
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
For lack of a food processor I used a hand blender with the chopping bowl attachment thingamabob. I’ve ground coffee beans in here before with no problem, and it handled the cashews well. I used raw cashews this time to keep some of the stickiness and chewiness, and about 10 more than the original recipe called for as the first batch came out pretty thin.
The original recipe says “onion/garlic granules”. I have never seen an onion or garlic “granule”, so I’m assuming the chef meant “powder”. I used standard garlic and onion powder on the first pass, so this time I chopped some garlic and onion into very fine pieces, put them in a dish, and marked the dish “GRANULES ONLY! ALL OTHERS KEEP OUT!” and put a little security guard in front to prevent incursion.(ok, it was a cashew. with a hat. that i made.)
The mustard powder became Dijon mustard as the powder is so foul-smelling I refuse to keep it in my home. I have never been a mustard person, ever. Lame as it sounds, forcing myself to eat and cook with mustard and mustard products to make vegan cheese analogues has been really nasty for me. The smell, the flavour…just thinking about it makes me nauseous. Yet, never let it be said I wouldn’t try!
You will recall my excitement about agar powder, which I finally got a chance to use – the only other weirdie ingredient was the nutritional yeast. OK, I use Smilin’ Old Farmer Guy Bob Something brand yeast, and I’ve come to the end of a package and want to try something else. This stuff was flavourless, expensive, and Smiling Farmer Bob creeps me out. So I’ll be looking into a new brand, but for now, that’s what I used. Sorry, Bob. I'm sorry you had to find out this way.
It's effortless prep:
Boil the water and sprinkle agar agar powder on top.
Stir and simmer for around 3 minutes.
Place in a food processor together with the remaining ingredients. Blend until smooth.
Place in a mold.
Chill in fridge overnight
Doesn't get easier than that.
The mixing went well (lot more watery than I thought – watch out for spills) and the setting as well. In hindsight, I should have tried to get all those bubbles out before I let it set, but it was so liquidy I thought they’d work it out for themselves, and it seemed like a private matter I shouldn’t get involved in.
The cheese was firm, came out of the mold well, and I let it air-dry a little covered in a thick paper towel to try to get the condensation off. After an hour or so, it was a bit more dry, so I cut a chunk off to try, being sure to take this incredibly artistic (possibly award-winning?????) photo. The kids today, they like the photos of food. Big market. Denny Crane.
Verdict: Meh. Not much flavour. Held together well. Basically tasted like tofu with lots of bubbles in it. Didn’t melt, and was too soggy to shred. My search for a block cheese continues. I think I’m going to try this one more time, but swap in some turmeric, and maybe use garlic/onion SALT instead of powder to try and add some flavour. And the cashews did add a nice mellow sweetness, so I think raw cashews are the way to go – just maybe a few more of ‘em.
FUN FACT: It’s AUTUMN. In honour of Bill Hicks, the cowboy hero himself, I’d like to quote him.