The magic ingredient that makes it easy to live without dairy
If you’ve thumbed through the recipes in The Conscious Cook, you’ve seen the ingredient “cashew cream” a few times. It’s a vegan-chef staple that stands in for dairy in a variety of ways. In the raw-food world, where it originated, it’s used in lots of desserts. When you cook with it, though, it can be so much more—from cheese filling in ravioli to heavy cream in soups. It can be stored 2 to 3 days in the refrigerator and can be frozen for up to 6 months (although after it’s defrosted it can be a bit lumpy, so it’s good to give it a spin in the blender to smooth it out before using it).
The trick when making cashew cream is to use raw cashews. They have no flavor of their own; they’re just a vessel for fat and creaminess. (It’s the roasting that brings out the familiar sweetness in cashews.) Because it has a nice fat content, cashew cream reduces in a pan even faster than heavy cream. (Soy milk, which some people use in vegan cooking, has no fat, so it doesn’t reduce into a thick sauce—it’s really not an alternative.)
For different applications, there are different consistencies—thick and regular. (I’ve also included a recipe for Whipped Cashew Cream, which is a great accompaniment to desserts.) Both are easy to make but not quick, because the cashews need to soak overnight. A shortcut is to put the cashews in a pot with water, bring them to a boil, then shut off the heat and let them soak for an hour. But this starts to leach out the sweetness, so you’re better off with the overnight method. Also, there’s at least one decent brand of store-bought nut cream, called Mimic Cream, which combines cashews and almonds; you can usually find it on the shelves or in the refrigerated section near the soy milk. Of course, nothing compares to homemade, and once you get used to it, there may be no turning back.
Put the cashews in a bowl and add cold water to cover them. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.
Drain the cashews and rinse under cold water. Place them in a blender with enough fresh cold water to cover them by 1 inch. Blend on high for several minutes until very smooth. (If you’re not using a professional high-speed blender such as a Vita-Mix, which creates an ultra-smooth cream, strain the cashew cream through a fine-mesh sieve.)
To make thick cashew cream, which some of the recipes in this book call for, simply reduce the amount of water when they are placed in the blender, so that the water just slightly covers the cashews.
Makes about 2 1/4 cups thick cream or 3 1/2 cups regular cream
Prep time: 10 minutes, plus soaking overnight.