As I’ve said before, I am not “vegan” and I don’t pretend to be. I am, however, lactose and gluten intolerant which stemmed my love for getting creative with food in the first place and have since grown a love for all things plant-based.
I’m not the biggest advocate for replacing cheese with “cheeze” as it’s widely known in the vegan world – essentially anything to replace regular cheese that can be made from a wide array of ingredients. This could be shop bought dairy free cheese made from processed soy ingredients or a homemade cashew concoction flavoured with nutritional yeast to replicate the flavour of regular cheese.
To be honest, and although I was a fan of cheese in what I’m going to call my past life (the first 21 years of this current one), I don’t see the point in trying to replace such a specific thing with something else.
Instead, I’ve rather sought out different options and found alternatives that, in my option, are a better fit, tastier and often take far less effort than soaking cashews, blitzing them into an off-white paste and pretending it’s ever going to resemble cheese.
And while I’m on this somewhat of a rant, I want to point out that I am fully aware that some people have absolutely nailed this art and have created different “cheeze” varieties, sauces and spreads that do in fact taste almost like the real deal and provide an excellent alternative to cheese. I’ve tasted a few in different varieties from various places on fries, on burgers, on nachos, on a vegan pizza and I’ve made my own “cheezecake” and other dairy free delights using what can be called a cheese replacement, but my verdict is that honestly, why bother?
I completely relate to the fact that cheese is often used in a dish or on a plate as a sauce to give it some moisture, but for that, there are other options.
There are so many better ingredients out there that already exist for what they are and I wanted to give a moment to give them some credit.
Let’s put the things in the limelight that deserve to be there!
Here are some ideas for savory subs for cheese, cream or cheese sauce. Try one of these out next time you’re trying to change a recipe to be dairy free.
- Hummus – works like cream cheese and is all kinds of magic. So much more than just a dip. Spread on a sandwich, scooped into a salad or dolloped on top of a baked potato. Replace the feta in a Greek salad with quenelles of hummus and you wouldn’t even know it wasn’t the original recipe. The best part about hummus is that you can flavour it with whatever your heart desires which ultimately makes it better than cheese, take my word for it. In fact, don’t. Try it!
- Smashed Avo / Guacamole – used as above, it’s pretty much my go-to and also goes nicely hand in hand with hummus for an extra spark. My favourite is making a spicy tomato sauce on the rare occasion I do have a pizza, cooking it with mixed veg and then a spoonful of smashed avocado on top to give it that creaminess that’s missed by the cheese.
- Tahini – isn’t my favourite but is good for versatility. It’s got a strong flavour of sesame which I don’t love, so will always be sure to make it into a dip with added flavours to tone down the sesame. This works well where you’d normally add sour cream, crème fraîche or melted cheese. Think a five bean chili on rice finished with a dollop (I love that word!) of a coconutty-lime-tahini number.
- Dijon Mustard – I prefer wholegrain for texture but smooth works too. If I am pushing the boat out and eating a steak, wholegrain Mustard is my sauce of choice. Mixed with a little olive oil and a squeeze of lemon, it makes the perfect accompaniment to a piece of meat without the added calories or nastiness of cream and butter. (Hypocritical comment alert – eating the muscle of an animal yet bitching about the nastiness of its byproduct, but hey). It is delicious spread onto a jacket potato with some rocket and chili. It also makes the best base to a salad dressing. Just whip up equal parts Apple Cider Vinegar, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, wholegrain Dijon, season to taste and you’re good to go! Also, by the way, a bit of Dijon with some grilled salmon, spring onions and crumbled pistachio is the BEST.
- Egg-Free Mayo – plain and simply can be used anywhere mayo would be. Can be used in place of cream cheese and changed up with some crushed garlic, a squeeze of lemon or a pinch of Paprika. The flavour options are endless and the versatility is amazing too.
- Tomato sauce – no, I’m not talking about ketchup. Never. For some reason, I’m okay with mayonnaise but ketchup, just no. And while it may not be the creamy richness of a cheese or cream based sauce, the deep flavours make the need for that completely melt away. (Pun somewhat intended.) I’m talking a good, homemade tomato sauce. Currently in Italy, I have access to canned cherry tomatoes in abundance that I absolutely love. They are my favourite for this kind of sauce and I love a rich sauce with a splash of balsamic added in. This is my go-to pasta sauce but also works on my quarterly pizza fix, on my beloved sweet potato, on top of nachos, with chicken and a whole lot of other plates.
- Pesto – this can come in many forms but the most common is a good old basil pesto. Shop bought varieties will usually have Parmesan in, but there are some that don’t. Either way, it’s a super simple sauce to whip up and have on hand for sandwiches, pasta, pizza, potatoes, meat, fish or basically anything. My favourite is a combination of artichoke and parsley. Using the preserved hearts from a jar, blitz them with an equal measure of parsley, olive oil, lemon, some almonds and seasoning and you’ve got yourself a creamy sauce made from a simple, delicious and healthy artichoke!
- Olive tapenade – rich and flavourful, how about that stuffed inside of a chicken instead of goat’s cheese? Paired with sundried tomato, fresh herbs and a little olive oil. You’re onto a winner.
This is just a short list of ways I’ve managed to dodge cheese and creamy sauces since going dairy free six years ago. I’m sure I have some more tricks up my sleeve but it’s been one heck of a day and it’s taken me the entire duration to get around to posting this. It’s been very broken up, written in sections throughout the day as I’ve snuck in five minutes to myself here and there and on several occasions I’ve thought of something and then forgotten it by the time I came to type.
But I hope this brings a little inspiration or hope for anybody that’s going dairy free, trying to cut out animal products or simply wants a change of scene!
I’d love to hear your favourite dairy free substitutes when mealtime comes around.
In the meantime, I hope you enjoy mine.
Turmeric Hummus with Paprika & Pumpkin Seeds