I love cheese. Most of the people I know love cheese too. With holiday season imminently knocking on our doors, we are now entering the time where we’ll be hosting and attending family gatherings, get-togethers with friends, office pot lucks and other social events where cheese platters and dips are always a main offering. But here’s the thing with cheese: as wonderful as it tastes and as versatile as it is, it’s not the best choice for everyone.
Many people, myself included, cannot consume or choose not to consume dairy products due to food sensitivity/allergy issues, health concerns, personal preferences, ethical or environmental reasons. So what’s a cheese lover to do when there’s a hankering for a hunk of cheese and there are hunks of cheese all over the place? One whips up a batch of my wonderful Cashew & Leek “Brie” Spread, that’s what they do! I have been making this recipe for quite some time and it is a huge hit with dairy lovers and non-dairy lovers alike. There is never any left at the end of the evening which is sad for me because I always want to take some back home.
Now you might be saying to yourself “Hold up…aren’t cashews high in saturated fats? How can they be any better eating real cheese?”. While cashews do contain saturated fats, they are actually much higher in monounsaturated fats…three times higher in fact. 100g of raw cashews contains 8g of saturated fats and 24g of monounsaturated fats. These are the good fats! These are the ones that our bodies thrive off. They won’t clog arteries or cause inflammation like animal saturated fats or highly refined polyunsaturated fats which are often found in processed cheeses. In addition, 100g of raw cashews will provide you with 37% of your daily requirement of iron, 73% of your daily requirement of magnesium (which we all could use more of!), 20% of your daily requirement for vitamin B6 and 18% of your daily requirement for potassium. So let’s just say that cashews are a very health-friendly nut!
Cashews aren’t the only nutrient dense ingredient in this delicious recipe. Tahini paste (made from hulled sesame seeds) is also high in iron and magnesium, as well as calcium and mono and polyunsaturated fats . Garlic is a powerhouse ingredient, offering cholesterol and immune boosting benefits. Garlic’s other special nutrient, also found in the leeks, is sulfur, a powerful mineral required by the liver to enhance its detoxification capabilities which we all could use a boost with every day! Nutritional yeast, which provides the wonderful “cheesy” flavour, is a B vitamin superstar providing well above the daily requirements of all B vitamins, including vitamin B12, per 16g serving. Finally, we have parsley which is also a helpful detoxifier and basil, an excellent source of calcium and vitamin K, both essential for bone health.
Okay okay…you get the picture. This is a healthy cheese!! How about the recipe please!!
- 1/2 cup filtered water
- 3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tbsp tahini paste
- 1/2 cup chopped raw cashew nuts (soaked in water for at least 2 hours)
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast (more if you wish)
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder or 2 garlic cloves (preferred)
- 1/2 cup chopped leeks, divided into two equal portions
- 1 tbsp fresh chopped basil, divided into two equal portions
- 1 tbsp fresh chopped parsley, divided into two equal portions
- 1 cup filtered water
- 1 1/2 tbsp agar powder (or 5 tsp agar flakes) – this is a sea vegetable and you can typically find it with the other sea vegetables at the health food store. It is what provides this “cheese” with its creamy cheese-like texture
- Set aside a 2 cup glass storage container (or any shape or mold if you want to get fancy).
- Drain and discard the soak water from the cashews.
- In a high-speed blender, add 1/2 cup water, the lemon juice, tahini paste, cashews, nutritional yeast, sea salt and garlic. Blend until smooth, no grit should be detected. Add half of the leeks, basil and parsley and blend together.
- In a small sauce pain, bring 1 cup of water to a boil and slowly add the agar, stirring with a whisk. Reduce the heat and simmer, whisking often, for 5 to 10 minutes until the agar is completely dissolved.
- Before adding the agar gel to the blender, get a vortex (aka mini tornado) going in it. This will draw the agar down into the mix which will help it blend quickly.
- Slowly pour the agar gel into the blender while it is running. Be very careful that you don’t get sprayed with the hot liquid! Working quickly, process until the mixture is completely smooth, scraping down the sides of the blender jar as necessary. Quickly add the remaining leeks, basil and parsley and just blend them in for a few seconds. Leave bits and pieces for visual and texture purposes.
- Pour the mixture into your container and cool uncovered in the refrigerator. When completely cool, cover and chill for at least 15 to 30 minutes.
- To serve, simply turn out of the container onto a serving plate or platter. You can either slice it or, as I prefer to do, mash it up a bit so it’s more like a spread.
- Store any leftovers in the refrigerator. It will keep for 5 to 7 days.
Cheers to cheese with benefits!