Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Spanish omelet with cashew cheese

I had this big vegan cheese manifesto prepared for this post, but after all pictures speak louder than words, so I'll just give you the theme and get on with it: once you step away from irrational expectations, cashew cheese, in itself and not as an ersatz something else, can be excellent. For me, it took leaving out the nutritional yeast (the "cheesy-tasting" element) to make me start to really enjoy it, and now I'm pepped for more experimentation.

The cheese recipe I'm giving here was adapted from one from the Real Food Daily Cookbook (which I'm going to buy since everything I've tried from it so far has been so outstanding) as given on 101 Cookbooks, except that I halved it and left out the nutritional yeast—and see my remarks on agar below.

What's so good about it? The miso for one thing, which gives the cheese a sharp, cheddary flavour. I also liked the use of soy milk in place of water, which made it creamier. The cheese itself has a mild, creamy, slightly tart taste, and, because of the oil, will melt (into a saucy texture). Meltability is not a requirement in my world, but just so you know. I've made this cheese before with nutritional yeast and didn't like it half so well; while I have nothing against nutritional yeast, I seem to enjoy it best in a raw state, as part of almonzano or sprinkled on popcorn. Maybe it's just me, but nothing reeks of the health food store more than nutritional yeast in cheeses and sauces, not in a good way.

Some remarks on agar. If you click on the 101 Cookbooks link above, you'll see some header notes to the original recipe from the author of the Real Food Daily Cookbook on how many kinds of agar there are, how you have to weigh it, and if your cheese doesn't turn out well it's because of the agar, and so on. She's right about all the different types, but in my experience agar is pretty forgiving. The agar I've been using comes in threads, as in the picture above. These threads in dry form are very tough—you can't process them into powder or flakes with a regular food processor, for instance. The agar shown above weighed half an ounce (making it half what half the recipe required, if you follow me). It was all I had so it was all I used and the cheese turned out fine. I've used much less, and there wasn't a whole lot of difference. Agar in powder form as it is sold in health food stores is heart-stoppingly expensive, for no reason that I can see. Agar in the various forms in which it is sold in Asian markets is dead cheap, so I'd encourage you to shop around.

Agar is made of seaweed and has no taste at all. If you're not planning to make a block of cheese that you can slice or grate—that is, if what you want is a cheesy sauce—just skip it and make one of the many great cashew sauces around instead, such as Vegan Dad's or the transcendently brilliant Super quick tomato basil cream from VeganYumYum—you'll save yourself time and trouble and get a better end result. These sauces, incidentally, shouldn't be baked, as they solidify and crack in an unattractive manner—use a béchamel base if you're baking the sauce, not a cashew base. Maybe this one is better for baking than most, again because of the high oil content, but I wouldn't chance more than sprinkling on some breadcrumbs and giving them a quick zap under the broiler.

So here's what I did:

Cashew cheddar cheese
adapted from the Real Food Daily Cookbook
makes 2 1/4 cups

3/4 cup raw cashews
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 cups + 2 tbsp unsweetened plain soymilk
1/2 oz agar flakes
1/4 cup canola oil
2 tbsp yellow miso
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Using the pulse button, finely grind the cashews in a blender; don't allow the cashews to turn into a paste. Add the onion powder, salt, and garlic powder and pulse a few more times to blend in the spices.

Combine the soymilk, agar, and oil in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a simmer over high heat. Decrease the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, or until the agar is dissolved.

Pour in the soymilk mixture and blend for 2 minutes, or until very smooth and creamy, and then blend in the miso and lemon juice.

For grated or sliced cheese, transfer the cheese to a container, cover, and refrigerate about 4 hours, until very firm.
So what did I do with my cheese? I made a Spanish omelet. Actually, I made two, one last night for supper and one this morning for lunch with some of the leftover omelet mix (half the omelet recipe from Vegan Brunch, which is what I used, makes three regular-sized omelets).

Spanish omelet
adapted from The Vegan Epicure: Book One
makes 3 omelets

1/2 omelet recipe from Vegan Brunch

1/2 jalapeno pepper, diced
1/2 sweet bell pepper, any colour, diced
1/3 cup diced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 lb peeled or canned chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp sliced green olives
1 tbsp capers
1 bay leaf

Heat the olive oil in a skillet and add the onions, garlic, peppers, and bay leaf, frying on medium heat until the onions are translucent. Add the other ingredients and season to taste with salt and pepper; simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Pour 1/2 cup of omelet mix into a lightly oiled non-stick frying pan and cook on medium-low heat until the top of the omelet has nearly set. Spoon on some of the pepper sauce, and sprinkle grated cashew cheese over it.

Now you can either do as the original recipe advises, and place the open omelet under the broiler for a minute until the cheese begins to brown:

Or you can leave it in the non-stick pan, cover the pan, and cook for an additional 5-6 minutes, until the cheese is melted. This is today's omelet and, yes, they really were this yellow. You know how sometimes turmeric just sticks in the jar and then suddenly sprays out all over everything…

Both omelets tasted great. Back to substitutions, sometimes, as in the case of this omelet recipe, they're much better than the originals. Who would ever want an egg omelet again after tasting this one?


  1. All I can say is WOW!! You are a "food artist" --absolutely beautiful! I can't wait to try to make such an omelet. I just keep looking at it with amazement -- it's perfection indeed! Now if only one could order that at a vegan cafe somewhere in Edmonton. What a wonderful dream :)

  2. that is quite the mission you took on! nicely done! thanks for sharing the recipe and process.

  3. It's funny--I've had the exact same experience with cashew cheese! I love nooch as mush as the next vegan, but once you get over the initial shock of how awesome it is, you start to get pretty burnt out on every single faux cheese tasting more or less the same. I've made cashew cheese for caprese salad, and while it didn't taste like mozzarella, even our omni friends thought it was amazing (probably precisely because it wasn't trying to be mozzarella).

    This recipe looks pretty stellar--definitely going on the "make soon" list. Thanks!

  4. Thanks for your comments. Gerda, I feel your pain re the lack of good vegan cafes in Edmonton, that is for sure. One of the reasons I started this blog is so friends and coworkers would stop feeling sorry for me because I have to order such uber-pathetic dishes in restaurants. Mark, word. And I checked out your caprese salad post and it looks fascinating!

  5. I only have agar flakes, so I hope that will work and I'll need to leave out/replace the miso too.

  6. Hi, Mandee:

    I've only ever used the threads or the powder, but I'm sure agar flakes will be fine. If you go back to the original recipe as posted on 101 Cookbooks (at you'll see it calls for 1/2 cup nutritional yeast, so if you're not using miso, you might want to add this back in.