A handful of cashews may be a nutrition-packed snack food, but did you know the popular kidney-shaped nut doubles as a dairy substitute in a variety of scrumptious recipes?
Cashews: A Nut or a Seed?
Cashews are derived from a tropical evergreen tree originally native to Brazil. The top cashew producing countries today include: Vietnam, Peru, India, Nigeria, and Côte d’Ivoire. What is strange about the cashew is how it grows. Although the cashew is considered a culinary nut, botanically it is actually a seed. The cashew (seed) comes from the cashew apple. The apple is yellow and bell shaped, and slightly resembles a bell pepper. The cashew is encased in a crescent shaped shell which grows from the bottom of the cashew apple on the tropical cashew tree. Wonder why you haven’t heard of the cashew apple before? The juice within the cashew apple is used locally when harvested, as a fruit drink. The exterior of the fruit, however, is very fragile and not able to withstand shipping. So, until you travel to a cashew orchard, there is the tasty cashew nut to enjoy. This delicious nut is rich in vitamins and minerals: potassium, manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, protein, iron, copper, vitamins K, and B-6, dietary fiber and healthy fats. Cashews contain no cholesterol.
In the tropical regions of the world, the cashew is used extensively, and is served in a wide-range of culinary dishes such as stir-fry, meat stews, soups, savory sauces, and milk-based desserts. Cashews are extremely versatile and have an unlimited potential of recipe applications, including cheese spread, ice cream, nut butter, cashew milk, cashew cream, cheesecake, vegetable lasagna, and the list goes on!
Cashews as a Dairy Substitute
So what makes the cashew so creamy and the perfect dairy substitute?
- High in Fat. The cashew’s high fat content makes it the perfect cheese, peanut butter, milk and cream alternative.
- High in Starch. The second quality that makes the cashew especially versatile in preparing dairy-like foods is its high starch content. Cashews contain more starch than other oily tree nuts, up to 10% of their weight. The starch in cashews makes it superior to other nuts and seeds as a thickening agent in water or milk based soups, beverages, or desserts.
- Subtle Flavor. Cashew’s mild, buttery flavor compliments and blends well with other ingredients, instead of masking them. Cashews taste great when paired with fresh basil in pesto recipes, layered as a cheese replacement in vegetable lasagna, and when combined with fresh fruits in ice cream making.
If you haven’t added cashews to your diet beyond fancy mixed nuts or trail mix, here are three yummy recipes featuring cashews used in place of dairy products.
Cashew and Sun Dried Tomato “Cheese” Spread
Once you taste this scrumptious spread, you’ll never go back to traditional cheese spreads.
Yield: 2 cups
1 ½ cups cashews
1 to 2 cloves garlic
¼ cup water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon sundried tomatoes in olive oil with Italian seasonings
½ teaspoon Himalayan sea salt
½ teaspoon Italian seasonings
Squirt of Liquid Aminos, optional (available where health foods are sold)
Directions: Place cashews and garlic cloves in the small bowl of a food processor and mix until cashews are ground. Add remaining ingredients and pulse until mixture is smooth and thoroughly combined.
For a delicious appetizer fill decapped and hollowed cherry tomatoes with this cashew and sundried tomato mixture, or spread on celery sticks. This spread also tastes great as a topping on baked portabella mushroom caps or eggplant.
This is a perfect substitute for ricotta in lasagna without the dairy. Also makes a perfect dip or spread!
Yield: approx. 2 cups.
1 1/2 cup raw, unsalted cashews
1/2 cup water
Juice of 1 large lemon or 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast (not baking yeast)
1 small garlic clove
1/2 teaspoon Sea salt
Cracked pepper, to taste
Directions: Soak the cashews for at least two hours in a bowl of water. Drain and place all remaining ingredients into a blender or food processor, scraping down sides as needed until a creamy consistency. Test for flavor, adding any additional ingredients to taste.
Store in refrigerator in an airtight container for an hour or two, this will stiffen the mixture a bit. Keeps in the refrigerator for up to a week. (Note: When using as ricotta in a lasagna, do not mix with eggs. Use as is).
Cashew milk is the latest nut milk to hit the market, but they must have saved the best for last. Making delicious cashew milk is so simple; it requires no straining, but you will need a Vitamix or blender.
Yield: 4 cups
1 cup raw, unsalted cashews
3 cups water
3 dates or your choice of sweetener, to taste
Pinch of sea salt, optional.
Add ingredients to a Vitamix or other high-powered blender. Start on lowest setting and quickly increase to high speed. Blend on high until cashews are completely pulverized and the milk is smooth. Chill and store in the refrigerator. Homemade cashew milk will only keep for 3 to 4 days. Freeze extra milk in ice cube trays for use in ice cream, smoothies and other chilled beverage recipes.