I’ve had so much fun learning the techniques for cooking delicious vegan food, and get so excited about the recipes that I keep skipping over the basics… so here is a quick primer (not as glamorous as The Conscious Cook recipes, but important).
Major secret ingredient #1 is cashew cream. It originated with raw food chefs using a sweetened version of it in place of whipped cream in desserts. The Conscious Cook takes it a step further by using an unsweetened version to replace cream to thicken soups and sauces. Pure genius! In the past, soy milk would usually be substituted for the cream, but since it has no real fat, it failed at thickening the sauces created.
Tal Ronnen making cashew cream
Raw cashews have no flavor; it is not until they are roasted that the sweet nutty flavor comes out, so when soaked over night in water, then pureed to the consistency of either single or double cream… you get a silky textured, virtually tasteless, liquid fat that really has very similar properties of real cream (but without the dairy and saturated fats). It seems labor intensive, but it really isn’t. You just soak 2 cups of raw cashews in water over night, drain, rinse, add fresh water back in and puree in a Vita Mix or a blender. If you do not own a Vita Mix (and I don’t), TalRonnen recommends straining the cream through a chinois strainer to get any remaining grit out.
Once incorporated into soup or sauce… I DARE you to taste the difference! None of my guinea pigs could believe it wasn’t cream. This method is so good, I am now using it in non-vegan recipes too. I actually prefer it to cooking with real cream.
Other animal product substitutes
Other extremely useful cooking products include earth balance, a margarine made from cold pressed oil (so it is non-hydrogenated) in place of butter. Vegetable broth works in place of any chicken, beef, or veal broth a recipe may call for, and I like Gardein or Match Meat products for their muscle fiber consistency when I crave a meat-like main course. When using meat alternatives, it is important to know that they tend to feel soft and squishy until cooked…then they have a similar texture to meat. Cooking time should be about half that of real meat (or it can overcook and dry out), and no resting time is required. I’ll talk about more about baking, pasta, and cheese substitutes next time. In the meantime please enjoy my new soup recipe inspired by The Conscious Cook, and try some of these tricks out with your own recipes. Even if you do not want a vegetarian or vegan meal… they are great snippets of information for your cooking arsenal.
Julie Anne Rhodes
“Cream” of Cauliflower & Sun Choke Soup with White Truffle Oil
Sun choke, also known as sunflower choke or Jerusalem artichoke, has a mild nutty flavor. Although not related to artichoke, the flavor is similar to that of artichoke heart. The sunflower root is available October through July, and happens to be one of my favorites raw in salads, roasted with meat, or boiled in stews… or with potatoes for mashed potatoes. Although native to North America, it became popular in French cookery in the 17th century.
- 2 Tablespoons of olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 celery stalks, chopped
- 1 large cauliflower, chopped
- 1 pound sun chokes, peeled and chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- 6 cups vegetable broth or chicken broth
- 1 cup thick cashew cream (see notes), or half-n-half if not vegan or heart healthy
- 2 Tablespoons white truffle oil, optional
- Salt and pepper to taste
1). Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion, celery, cauliflower, and sun chokes. Cook, stirring occasionally for 8 minutes.
2). Add vegetable or chicken broth and bay leaves. Bring to boil, cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 30 minutes.
3). Add cashew cream, stir well and simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Turn off heat, and remove bay leaves.
4). Working in batches, ladle soup into blender. Place a towel over the lid in case any hot liquid escapes, and puree. Pour into a large bowl, and repeat until all of the soup is blended. If too thick add additional broth or water to desired thickness.
5). If you are adding the white truffle oil, do so now and stir well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Note: This is a method of replacing the dairy that I learned from The Conscious Cook cookbook. Cover 2 cups of raw cashews with water, and refrigerate over night. Drain and add fresh water to same level as cashews for thick cashew cream, or 1 inch above cashews for regular cashew cream. Puree in a blender until smooth and creamy.
Serving Suggestions: Serve hot or cold, using a squeeze bottle filled with the roasted beet juice, squeeze a heart shape into the center of the soup. If you do not like roasted beets try chopped pistachios or a slice of toasted baguette as a garnish.