You've joined the 'just say "No" to dairy' crowd, but are wondering what to do when you've gotta have heavy cream for a recipe. Hmmm. Pasta Alla Vodka is a good example. Or, what about amping up some Creamy Chikin Gravy? Hey, this stuff is da bomb in a vegan, oil-free salad dressing, as a stand-in for sour 'cream' with a few drops of vinegar or fresh lemon juice, or in your crazy-good green veggie smoothie! Yeah. It's that versatile.
I wouldn't go back to using dairy products, if just for the calorie savings alone, but there are so many other reasons. Milk and other dairy products are one of the top sources of artery-clogging saturated fat in our diet. Milk products also contain extra cholesterol that we don't need. High in fat, saturated fat, dairy products increase the risk of heart disease, which remains our top killer. Then, there are the environmental costs. The benefits of ditching dairy surprised me. I had clearer skin and lost weight (helped along by ditching all animal products, and going to a Whole-food, Plant-based way of eating). Additionally, I reduced my exposure to added hormones and antibiotics!
But, what about those recipes where you 'gotta have it'? That's where the cashew nut comes in!
There's a LOT that I didn't know about cashews! They are botanically classified as seeds because they grow inside the cashew fruit, which is also known as a drupe. Look at those things! Are they weird or what? A drupe is a type of fruit in which an outer fleshy part surrounds a shell (what we sometimes call a pit) with a seed inside. Drupes include peaches, plums, cherries, walnuts, almonds and pecans. Yes, those nuts are drupes where we eat the seed inside the pit. The cashew seed is considered a nut - in the culinary sense. That's enough for me to know right now.
Cashews are the creamy chameleon (okay. Odd word picture.) of the vegan culinary world. When raw and unsalted, the flavor is pretty neutral. They can be soaked and blended in a high-speed blender (think VitaMix) into pastes. When combined with liquids or plant milks, they turn into a very reasonable facsimile of what we perceive as 'cream'.
But, let's make vegan, oil-free heavy 'cream'. This is so simple, you'll wonder why you weren't doing this all along.
One cup of raw, unsalted cashews. Really. Do not try this with roasted, salted cashews! The result will be awful. In a bowl, pour boiling water over the cashews and let them soak for at least 15 minutes. If you don't have a high-speed blender, let them soak longer. Like for an hour. The high-speed blenders do the best job of making the cashews smooth and creamy. Drain the cashews.
Measure out a cup of your favorite plant milk. I prefer oat milk - either the 365 Whole Foods brand or the Oatly full-fat brand. I don't recommend using coconut milk unless you're going for a Southeast Asian flavored dish. For me, oat milk is so neutral that it just works better.
Combine the plant milk and cashews, turn the blender speed all the way up (I'm hoping you have the lid on VERY tightly!). Walk away. Check your phone. Let the thing blend for 3-4 minutes, or until the contents are super smooth and no bits of cashew remain.
This is what you end up with - and from a purely visual standpoint you're not going to be able to tell this isn't dairy heavy cream. And, from a taste perspective, it's not going to be obvious either. Seriously. It's so close to the real thing that I'm always amazed. It's so good that I find myself licking the spoon. I'm not real careful to scrape out the blender with a rubber spatula into a jar because, well, I'm leaving some for me. It's so delicious.
You'll end up with about 8 ounces of heavy cashew cream. It stores in the fridge just great for 7-10 days. That gives you plenty of time to crank up any number of 'rich' dishes, smoothies, sauces and gravies.
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