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Gena Hamshaw of the blog Choosing Raw eats a mostly raw, vegan diet without losing time, money, or her sanity. Let her show you how to make "rabbit food" taste delicious and satisfying every other Thursday on Food52.
Today: Time, water, and magic can take cashews from a party snack to a cream that enhances almost any dish, sweet or savory. Gena discusses its many iterations, including a hearty Carrot Ginger Bisque.
I used to think that cashews had one purpose: they were party snacks. They were to be found, salted and roasted, in little glass dishes at bars and happy hours and holiday gatherings. If not, they could be tossed into some trail mix, but that was about it.
Upon taking the vegan plunge, I realized that cashews are, in fact, a magical ingredient. One of the more obvious challenges of vegan cooking is to find ways to replace the saturated fats that give so much texture and appeal to cream and butter based sauces -- and cashew cream will do just that.
Cashew cream is the result of soaking cashews and blending them up with water. Depending on how much water you add, it can be quite thick — like the texture of ricotta — or thin enough to resemble heavy cream. It demands very little effort — all you need is a food processor or a high speed blender — and it’s incredibly versatile. Add a little maple syrup or demerara sugar, and it becomes a sweet dessert cream. Add some miso or salt and a touch of lemon, and the cream (or crème, if you want to be fancy) turns savory. Add some cocoa powder and vanilla, and you can even create a vegan ganache.
The key to making good cashew cream is to soak the cashews thoroughly beforehand; this will make for easy blending. It’s also essential to use raw cashews, as roasted ones won’t boast the same neutral flavor or blend up as well. Your cream will last at least four days in the fridge, and can be frozen as well. Curious about what to do with cashew cream, other than simply eating it with a spoon? Here are a few of my favorite applications:
1. Add it to soup. As you’ll see in the recipe below, cashew cream adds thickness and richness to any soup you’d normally enhance with milk or cream.
2. Enhance your desserts. Top your favorite tart or pie with a thick, sweet variation, or add cashew cream to a dessert filling. The perfect way to do both? My vegan pumpkin pie.
3. Prove that creamy vegan pasta is possible. Mix in a tablespoon of lemon juice, some sea salt, and a little Dijon mustard with your cashew cream. Serve it with cooked noodles for a vegan alternative to alfredo sauce!
4. Dress up your vegetables. Use cashew cream in any vegetable recipe that uses heavy cream: Brussels sprouts braised in cream sauce, creamed corn, creamed spinach, hot artichoke dip. Be sure to salt it well, and don’t make it too thick!
In the following recipe, heavenly cashew cream meets a rich, fragrant carrot ginger bisque. The cashew cream serves as both an essential ingredient and a creamy garnish, stirred in just before serving. The soup is quite nice on its own, but the cashew cream elevates it to new places.
Serves 4 to 6
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 cups onion, diced
1/2 cup celery, diced
2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
4 cups vegetable stock
1 medium small russet potato, quartered
1 1/4 pound carrots, chopped
sea salt to taste
1 1/2 teaspoon mild curry powder
2/3 cups cashew cream, divided
Makes 2 1/2 to 3 cups (recipe can easily be halved)
2 cups raw cashews
1 cup cold water, plus more as needed
1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon sea salt (optional)
1-2 tablespoon lemon juice (optional)
2 tablespoons evaporated cane juice, demerara sugar, or maple syrup (optional)
Warm up with more hearty vegan dishes:
Photos by James Ransom