Last week the comic strip Pearls Before Swine had two of its characters break off their relationship because he realized they were wrong for each other. The example he told her was that if they were lost in a snowstorm and found a shelter made of cheese they could either stay safe inside it or eat it and die happy. Of course she said don’t eat it. His comment was “I just can't be with someone who doesn't prioritize cheese.” I laughed out loud! I couldn't agree more! Cheese is the reason I could never be a vegan. I know it is not so great for you, but come on! Have you ever spread cracked pepper Boursin on a cracker? Or had some outstanding Parmesan grated over an arugula salad? Or eaten my mother’s mac ’n cheese? Ok, probably not the last one, but you get my drift. I love cheese. I even overlook the fact that it is often not truly vegetarian because I want to eat it. Some people feel that everything is better with bacon. I say forget the pork! Add cheese!
Having said all that, I have been trying to find new recipes that use different ingredients to achieve an end product that is satisfyingly non-cheesy. I am doing this purely for healthy eating reasons, not to give up cheese. I have posted some recipes that use cashews as a stand in for cheese (Key Lime Cheesecake Balls) or cream (Pasta in Chardonnay sauce). I have experimented with some store bought non-dairy cheeses and ice creams, such as Daiya and So Delicious (the coconut milk chocolate almond ice cream bars are amazing!). I have also subbed non-dairy milks (soy, almond and coconut) in many cooking and baking recipes that call for milk. What I have found is that it is very easy to be free of cheese and dairy, however, you will never replicate the flavor of real cheese. None of the food I make that uses an alternative is bad, and most of it is darn good. It is different, though. Not in a bad way, just different. That is why I hate to think of “substituting” these foods for something else. I talked about that when I wrote about alternatives to meat. Substitutions make me think you are going with second best because it is not the "real" thing. To me, using products other than meat or dairy means you are making something different and unique in its own way. There are so many options that you might have to try quite a few recipes or pre-made items before you find what works for you. Just remember, it will never be exactly the same, but it won't be bad.
I wrote this blog because I came across this week’s recipe that recreates a dip my mom used to make. Did anyone else have Ro*Tel dip made with Velveeta? Super easy: empty the can of Ro*Tel in a bowl with cubed Velveeta, microwave, stir and serve. This recipe is a bit more involved, requires some unconventional ingredients, and still super easy! I used the sauce to over nachos, enchiladas and for dipping. I think it would be great to use for macaroni and cheese, lasagna, and any other recipe that calls for cheese sauce. Simply leave out the Ro*Tel and season according to what you are making. For example, Italian seasonings or sautéed onions, etc.
Vegan American Cheese and Ro*Tel Dip
12 oz silken tofu (shelf stable or refrigerated)
1/2 cup nutritional yeast (find in nature’s section at Wegmans near baking goods)
1 Tbsp tomato paste
2 cloves garlic (I grated them)
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp miso paste (white or red. If you can’t find it use, soy sauce, tamari or liquid aminos)
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp onion powder
2 Tbsp tapioca starch (also called tapioca flour. If you cannot find it you can use rice flour or cornstarch but it won't have the same texture so try to find tapioca starch sometime!)
1 can Ro*Tel (I used a small can of green chiles and cut up fresh tomatoes. Could also use chunky salsa)
Blend everything together in a food processor or blender or use an immersion blender. Pour into small pan and stir in Ro*Tel (do not drain). Heat the sauce over high heat until it comes to a boil. Make sure you stir constantly while making this sauce so it doesn't burn or stick to the bottom. Continue to stir while boiling until the sauce becomes thick. Remove from the heat, let it cool enough so that you don't burn your mouth and eat!