Some of my fondest memories concern what is commonly known as Plastic cheese: Nachos from the cinema, cheese tips from the bowling alley, soft pretzels from the theme park, dipped in a tub of neon yellow goop. The combination of carbohydrates and warm, salty, cheese-related substances is uniquely calming. When I am hit by a wave of nostalgia, I long for it.
My love for snacks is ingrained, but since I don’t always enjoy the feeling after a meal (which doesn’t mean you won’t always find multiple varieties of salty, crispy snacks in my kitchen), I have a parallel passion for recreating less processed ones Developed versions of my favorites. Over the years, figuring out how to translate the supply of ingredients in my pantry – vegan staples like yeast, coconut oil, and vital wheat gluten – into the best possible approximations has become a hobby. Often times the results are both better and more satisfying than their inspirations.
One last evening at home (of course) I felt the acute need to have that sticky, salty “plastic cheese” on the twice-baked potatoes I wanted to make for dinner. So I decided to handle something like this with what I had on hand. While plant-based cheese sauces are not a new idea, this one requires absolutely no planning. No soaking the cashew nuts overnight, no cooking and mashing of starchy orange vegetables, no preservatives or emulsifiers. It lasts 15 minutes, starts and ends, and can be customized and applied in a myriad of ways.
How to make vegan cheese:
Start by soaking ½ cup of cashew nuts 10 minutes in hot water, then drain and put in a blender 3 TBSP. Nutritional yeast, 1 TBSP. red miso, 1 teaspoon. turmericand 5 tbsp. Water, plant-based milk, vegetable broth, or even pasta water (this salty and starchy bath is ideal). I like to add ½ tsp. Garlic powder, ½ tsp. hot peppersand a few strokes of liquid smoke to spice things up. Mix this mixture until it’s very smooth (I use a hand blender when I’m too lazy to break my ninja out), and “cheese” is done.
I like to spread it cold, on crackers or to eat warm – as a dip with pretzel nuggets or fries, frothed Plant-based burgersdrizzled over roasted vegetables. I’ll stir in chopped jalapeños or Hatch chillies for a spicy variant that works perfectly with chips, Tacosor as a basis for Macaroni and Cheese. Or sometimes I add diced pimientos, cayenne pepper, and veganaise and then put them in the fridge for a pimiento cheese spread that makes a mean sandwich. When I’m feeling more on the healthy side, it’s the perfect complement to mine Raw vegetables Plate too.
Is this vegan cheese sauce a 1: 1 substitute for the “plastic cheese” my nostalgic brain wanted? Well not exactly. It may not have the strange, stretchy texture of a plastic tub with a removable foil lid, but it is about ten times more flavorful – and just as comforting.
VC’s time to shine: