Tal Ronnen

Raw Vegan Monday: Macadamia Caprese

I had to make another raw vegan recipe from The Conscious Cook this week: Macadamia Caprese. While the author of The Conscious Cook, Tal Ronnen, is not strictly raw, he invited a guest raw vegan, chef Chad Sarno, to contribute this recipe. It is visually stunning; at a glance you would never know that it was vegan, and it really is easy to prepare..

The "cheese" is made by culturing macadamia nuts with probiotic culture, much the same way as the cashew cheese I made earlier this summer. I can't say that the flavor was all that different using the macadamia nuts than it was with cashews (and cashews are far less expensive), but the cheese was much more firm due to the way I cultured it.

I weighted it down with my sophisticate pie weights (white beans in a canning jar) and left it in my oven overnight with the light on. That trick keeps your oven mildly warm without using too much electricity, and when my a/c (even with the house set at like 75 f...) has barely stopped running for the past week, I needed to be sure it was warmish and draft free. You may also recall I use this trick for culturing buttermilk and sour cream, and it always yields great results.

The cheese firmed up nicely, and had the same base flavor as the cashew cheese that was cultured the same way, but lacked a little of cashew's sweetness. Vegan cheese is strange, because you kind of want to believe that it will taste like cheve or whatever varietal it appears it should approximate, and it just does not. It is it's own thing. I believe that I can appreciate it for what it is, while also noting that it is nothing like actual dairy cheese. This one was rolled in crushed black pepper, tarragon and chives from my garden, and I did think that it was beautiful to look at, probably why my Husband even tried a slice with a spicy tomato, and thought it was all right, I noted however that he did not ask for seconds...

It's funny, too, that I'm posting this cheese directly after a grilled cheese post!

I would have to say that the star of this appetizer had to be the tomato. They are semi-dried, and spicy with Cajun seasoning. Since raw vegan cooking prohibits the use of boiling water, very hot water is used to cover the tomatoes (bottoms pierced in an "x") for 10 minutes, stems in tact. Then, remove them to an ice water bath for 5 minutes or so, and carefully peel them. I didn't think that it was going to work, but it did! Sprinkled with Cajun spice (I used Penzey's Hot Cajun) and a bit of sea salt, they rest on a screen at room temp for several hours - I left them for about 8. They form a little bit of a dried crust on the outside, and retain all of their lovely tomato-ness inside.

I really do love The Conscious Cook cookbook. It's well designed and executed, and offers many interesting things for the adventurous vegan cook. Since I was unable to find the macadamia cheese anywhere else online, and Chad Sarno was gracious in publishing his recipe through another chef's book, I will suggest that you find a copy! I first saw and became acquainted with the book at my library, and it is now in my ever-bottomless Amazon cart for future purchasing. Meanwhile, if you'd like to try another of his similarly styled vegan cheeses, you can have a look here at the rawchef website.

It is so true that the stipulations of being raw and vegan do so much to spark kitchen creativity. It's not just raw carrot sticks and a handful of nuts to these pioneering chefs. While personally I enjoy a wide range of foods, I continue to gain a deeper appreciation for those with strict diets - for either social or food allergy reasons.

I am frequently reminded of a fortune cookie I once opened: "One hundred people, One hundred minds". It's easy to read that and dismiss it, but it is so true. Every one of us feels and thinks passionately about something, and it may or may not be the same opinion as our closest friend, a parent, or even a spouse. I'm not saying that there aren't things that are inherently right or wrong, but that surface opinion varies from person to person - and doesn't that make for the spice of life!

I like to think "food people" tend to be kindred spirits, exploratory folk who will try anything at least once, but that is not always the case. 100 minds... If you have never thought about eating or preparing something vegan, I'd urge you to give it a go. You may just find that you can't stop! See you next week on Vegan Monday!

Excitement: Somehow it always includes Beets.

So in my recent obsessions with all things vegan, I got the book The Conscious Cook by Tal Ronnen from the library last week. It, of course, is now in my Amazon cart. In addition to lovely recipes, it has great photography and great layout, and is full of inspiring fresh recipes. In reading it cover to cover, I discovered that I was so curious about his "cheese" made from cashews, that I could think of nothing else. In his book, Tal makes Cashew Creams (you can find the recipe on his website) and also cheeses made from nuts that are kind of related to the Cashew Creams. His recipe for Beet Ravioli with Balsamic Pickled Figs and Green Garlic Oil was the one to really pique my interest, and a couple of days ago I decided to embark into the world of vegan "cheese".

His approach is to soak cashews overnight, then blend them together with probiotic powder and let them culture at warm room temperature for 12-14 hours. Now, dear readers, you know that I have a serious addiction to obsessions, when I was so curious about this, that I had to drop $26 at Outpost for the New Chapter Probiotic All-Flora capsules that this culturing project required. I wavered in how much I wanted to try this just a little bit, before giving in and just buying it. After all, I feel like I haven't been buying so many groceries lately, and giving $26 extra of my grocery fund to Outpost is not really a bad cause. I wasn't disappointed in my decision.

I am absolutely glad I parted with my USD's, since the result of this cashew "ricotta" as I'm calling it, was wonderful. I used my immersion blender to puree the cashews and water, and was not able to achieve absolute smoothness, but the flavor of plain, soaked and blended cashews was nice enough that the bit of grainy texture didn't bother me at all. In fact, I thought it tasted exactly like the texture of ricotta, and could see the finished product taking on all of the "cheese-ness" of cheese, sans cheese of course.

The state of the plain blended cashews prior to culturing wasn't all that different either, so if you feel that you can't part with $26, I'd say to go ahead and make it (skipping the long culturing time) anyway! Meanwhile, I used my savvy kitchen math to realize that my 6 capsules that went to inoculation purposes cost me $2.60, and that is affordable for the sake of experimentation! If nothing else, I can pop 80 cents worth of probiotics down my gullet every day for the next month and be proud of my healthfulness - but I'm sure I'll use more of my capsules to try some others of Tal's cheeses. I also didn't measure any of the added spices, I added to taste. No wonder why I love vegan cooking so much!

Tal Ronnen's Cashew Ricotta Cheese
  • 2 cups raw cashews
  • 1 t. probiotic powder (from 6 capsules of All-Flora, or another comparable quality powder) dissolved in 1 cup of warm water.
  • 2 T. nutritional yeast flakes
  • 1 1/2 t. onion powder (I used granulated onion)
  • 1 1/2 T. minced chives
  • 2 T. minced parsley
  • 1 t. sea salt
  • black pepper
Put cashews in a bowl, add cold water to cover them, and refrigerate 12-14 hours. Drain and rinse them under warm water.

Place nuts in a blender with the probiotic powder and water mixture (I used an immersion blender), and blend until very smooth. Transfer to a clean, glass bowl, and let sit at warm room temperature (I leave the oven light on in the closed oven) for 14-16 hours to culture.

Transfer to a medium bowl, and stir in remaining ingredients. Cheese will keep for a week under refrigeration.

This morning, after a night of chilling, I took to doctoring up that cultured cashew cheese into a proper "ricotta" filling. Onion granules, nutritional yeast flakes, some fresh chives and parsley from my yard, and a bit of salt and pepper, and I was completely fooled at how delicious the taste of this was, and that it did indeed taste like ricotta cheese. (Before mixing up the savory version, I saved out a cup portion to play around later with some sweet applications... I have it in my mind that I can make a cupcake frosting out of it!)

I departed from Tal's original recipe here, since I did not make the green garlic oil, and forgot to buy figs during the Probiotic Powder shopping trip. But I was glad, since my result was so good, I was nearly jumping up and down. So many times if you spend a lot of time and effort (and those USD's) on something, the result is not up to your expectation. What a happy surprise to know that I will make this again and again!

I still had my borrowed mandoline (that I have to return), so I sliced a peeled beet very thinly. I ate a slice of raw beet, and then got out my steamer. This is no Raw Vegan recipe, now... but I'm so glad I steamed them, since they got tender enough to resemble pasta, and were easy enough to cut with a fork and gobble down. Boy-O and I spent the morning at the library, and because he was so consumed with a book on Stingrays, I got to peruse my cookbook aisle. I fortuitously plucked Eat, Drink & Be Vegan by Dreena Burton from the shelves, and found a dressing that I decided would be good for the top of my creation, a vinaigrette made from balsamic and maple syrup. Dreena's book has many great recipes, and I'm looking forward to looking over it more completely later today. I also noted that she is a blogger at eat, drink & be vegan, so I'll be adding her to my feedly, no doubt!

I have no idea why I never thought of combining balsamic vinegar and maple syrup, but I'm more than excited that I did. I used equal proportions of each, and it was almost candy-like. I made a very small amount, but it is so easy to double or triple that you'll hardly need to use any of your kitchen math!

Balsamic Maple Syrup Vinaigrette (adapted from Drena Burton)
  • 2 T. balsamic vinegar
  • 2 T. maple syrup, preferably dark
  • splash of extra virgin olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper
That's it. Blend it up.

Assemble the little stacks or "raviolis" however you wish, obsessively try to get a good photo, and then eat them up! Next time, I will make this more of a meal and have a pretty green salad underneath, but for my lunch for one, a whole steamed beet, and maybe a healthy 1/4 cup of this ricotta cheese was really satisfying.

I know I shouldn't be surprised at how contented I am eating simple whole foods that have little or no cooking. I guess, it doesn't surprise me at all that I'm so excited about my new vegan obsessions, since I do know that often it only takes a little push in any given food direction to send me off and reading about something different to me.

innBrooklyn is hosting another installment of Veg of the Month Club, due on June 10th, and the veg for this go around is beets. I have more beets in the fridge, and I didn't consider using this recipe for the Club submission, but I just may, since I loved it so much! Nothing says "excitement" to me, like beets, so I'm looking forward to seeing some good inspirations there.