Cashews: The Vegan’s Best Friend

If there is one thing that has forced me to learn about nutrition and think seriously about cooking it is having gone vegan over a decade ago. When you have to make food with restrictions on what goes into it you either learn quickly what you can do to adapt and make delicious food, or you are constantly hungry and eventually give up. Hunger pangs were one of the first challenges I encountered and I quickly realised that I was primarily lacking enough fat to feel full. I needed a way to stave off hunger to avoid bingeing. Enter the humble cashew nut.

Just to annoy everyone in the world: a tomato is a fruit, a banana is a berry and a cashew is actually a seed. Not that it makes the slightest difference. What does matter is that for somebody wishing to eat yummy vegan food the cashew is a healthy, nutritious staple that is the basis of so many delicious meals, snacks and condiments.

To unlock the magical properties of this nut one must turn it into cashew cream. That makes for one of the most versatile foodstuffs imaginable.

Things I Make Using Cashew Cream

  • Sour cream
  • Cheese sauce
  • Maple cream
  • “Cream ofsoups
  • Curries
  • Chocolate sauce
  • Cheesecake fillings
Cashew Sour Cream
Cashew Sour Cream

That list is just off the top of my head. How do you make cashew cream? Simple. Soak them in boiling water for ten minutes, drain, then add a little non-dairy milk and pulverise in the blender until smooth, adding milk where necessary. That’s it. From there you can either sweeten it using maple syrup, vanilla etc, or sour it using salt and lemon juice. You can make it cheesy with nutritional yeast or you can make it umami with marmite. If you want an easy cheesecake filling then mix in vanilla, coconut milk, coconut oil to set it and whatever flavour you like. Add it to a curry to thicken the sauce and give it a richer flavour. Chuck in maple syrup and serve as sweet cream on pancakes. The list goes on and on. The simple rule is that if you can make it with cream then you can make it with cashews. I have never eaten better comfort food in all my years than cashew cheese sauce with fried potatoes, served as a savoury fondue type dish. Good lord, if you are sick or – heavens forfend – hungover then it will hit the spot but without the food hangover, the greasy stodge or the digestive *ahem* challenges. You can put the savoury versions on toast, baked potatoes, dip tortillas or use it as a sandwich sauce. Even cheesy pizza sauce works. It never ends.

Chocolate Cups with a Minty Cashew Filling
Chocolate Cups with a Minty Cashew Filling

The beauty of cashews in sauces and soups is that they have high fat content and thus when you eat them you will feel satiated and full for longer, not to mention the vitamin K and the nutrients they contain. The carbohydrates in them are almost all starch, very little sugar and they are loaded with thiamin and vitamin B6. What’s not to like?

Vegan Cheesecake with Fruit Coulis
Vegan Cheesecake with Fruit Coulis

To give an example of what to use cashew cream for: take leek and potato soup. This dish is as simple as it gets. Onion, leeks, potatoes and stock, plus a little seasoning. That’s it, but if you add cashew cream it makes the soup creamy and a bowl becomes ridiculously filling. It’s the same with tomato soup. In fact I use this trick in parsnip soup, squash soup, mushroom soup and so on. In my experience it’s impossible to overeat with cashews. They fill you up so quickly that you can’t eat enough to get bloated.

So what are you waiting for? Get stuck in to some cashews!