Thursday, September 28, 2023

Hey, Vegans: You’re Going To Want To Scream For This Cashew Cream

I prepared a simple vegan meal for a vegan family of eight the other day. I am a chef, so simple is not a fair word perhaps. They were also coming up on their one-year anniversary of their family-wide veganism, so they were newbies.

As they watched me prepare their dishes for the evening — creamy salad dressing, mushroom steaks, ‘cheesecake,’ you know, basic vegan menu 101 — they were floored by the complexity. Not one of these vegans could recognize a single dish on their vegan menu that evening. “What in the world have you all been eating for the past year!” I asked. They shrugged, hungrily, and explained, hungrily, that they just thought, hungrily, that salads and such were all that was left in the cards for them as vegans…..I died. Suffering through only salads for a year….I can’t.

If you are maintaining a vegan diet and you have taste buds, you must turn yourself into somewhat of a cook (or move to Portland. Either Portland. Lots of options in either Portland).

You will not only starve if you do not get a few staple vegan dishes under your apron, but what will actually kill you is the pure boredom of leafy salads day in and day out.

And, hey, if you are a vegan that only eats salads, this is also not a healthful, or a balanced diet to maintain.

If you’ve ever checked out my Instagram account, at first glance, you may think I’m vegan. But I am not. Nor am I a double agent trying to sneak a “live vegan” tee shirt into my wardrobe in order appear a part of  the health-conscious community. I will get to why plant-based diets are best, but hear me out first.

There are so many ways to eat healthful and so many ways to achieve a balanced and nutrient rich diet, and there have not always been many options in the past. We now have resources of clean and hormone-free animal proteins, chickens producing happier offspring than Gwyneth Paltrow, small batch dairy farms with integrity.

Unless you are maintaining a vegan lifestyle for any reason other than medical, spiritual, or ethical ones, you might be missing the whole point.

I gotta tell you, eating clean lies in how your food is grown, what is used to grow it and the health of the soil that it is grown in; nothing do with being a vegan, per se.

I have never been full-on vegan, but remain to ache for that cute tee that dubs me so. Community is powerful. My X-Man (cuter name for the ex-boyfriends you don’t hate, yes?) told me once that the hardest thing about not being a vegan anymore (he was one for 12 years) was not his conscious being destroyed with every mouthful of is 13-hour smoked pork shoulder, but not actually getting to BE A VEGAN anymore. I get that. Being a part of a community is powerful stuff.

I eat like a vegan, but I am not one.

I want to eat everything, travel, and enjoy being a guest in another country, someone’s home, or at Costco! To me, a conscientious cook and health nut, this means having a plant-based diet, not a vegan one. I promote not cutting entire food groups out of your meal plan, rather adding all the good stuff in!

This whole Meatless Monday thing is out of control with everyone just eating pizza and Alfredo pasta and patting themselves on their temporarily vegetarian backs. Totes missing the point me thinks.

The not eating meat on Mondays intention should perhaps be more geared towards a habit of eating better, meaning fresh foods, greens, vegetables, etc. not just being without flesh in your mouth, and Alfredo in it.

There is a lot of food out there, lots of options to be had if you educate yourself. Try new things. Try vegan things. But do not be hypnotized by the V word and rest. Just because something is vegan does not necessarily mean that it is nutrient rich. If you want a balanced and healthy diet, eat clean, and lots of plants.

If you really want to be plant based, start with plants! The standard American diet could use a huge shift from overeating meat and dairy into the world of roughage, greens, sea vegetables, non-gmo grains, roots, herbs, seeds, nuts, cold pressed fats and fruits.

At first I thought I was going to give you a really “wow” recipe that will challenge both your inner and/or actual vegan souls, but instead, thanks to this vegan family of eight, I will give you the gift of shifting into plant-based cuisine: cashew cream.

Use on its own, make sweet or savory, thicken things, makes sauces, make dressings, make desserts, make coffee creamer…..this recipe is so helpful! Dairy is delicious, I know. Do you eat a lot of it? Try shaking up your regular dairy intake and try this non-dairy recipe on to promote balance in your diet and enhance your vegetable and meat dishes!


Photo courtesy of Ryan Ross

As a non-vegan and a plant-based eater, my day may look like raw, grass-fed dairy cream in my tea or coffee, but a creamy cashew salad dressing on my sprouted grain kale Caesar salad wrap that afternoon before my roasted cauliflower soup made with bone-broth — to me, this is a balanced and healthful way to turn my meat and dairy intake into the supporting roles of my diet, as condiments, and not the lead characters of my dishes. As far as I know ,there is not a tee-shirt for this community yet, so I just pick one that I own already and feel great anyways.

Cashew Cream

  • 1 cup organic, raw cashews
  • ¾ – 1 cup water, depending on desired consistency

Soak cashews over night, strain and rinse. Add to a high powered blender with ¾ cup of water, streaming in more as you go. Blend until smooth, smooth , smooth.

For savory: Add lemon juice and salt. Feel free to experiment, with herbs, vinegars, spices, etc.

For sweet: Add lemon, less salt than the savory version, and maple syrup. Feel free to experiment with warm spices, vanilla, fruits, honey, etc.

My favorite ‘cheesecake’ filling, and it’s vegan: Fill a springform pan with your preferred crust, I like making a pecan and almond crust with honey, and press into pan to form an even layer.

Take two cups of your sweetened cashew cream and add ½ cup of of coconut oil, the kind that gets solid when cold, and 1 cup of fresh or frozen blueberries to a high powered blender. Blend until smooth and pour into spring form. Chill over night. If you are making to take to a party, keep in freezer before the car ride….it will thaw to perfection by the time you arrive. Probably.


Chef Ryan Ross is a private chef who also runs Supper Corps, the name of her dinner party series that is hosted in uncommon spaces. She grew up in her mother’s organic health food store in Virginia, got her culinary degree from The Natural Gourmet Institute of NYC, and currently resides with her husband in the Skagit Valley of Washington. She is a recipe writer, product developer and has consulted for plant-based restaurants all over the world. She also won the “Light Makes Right” episode of Chopped on the Food Network.


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