I can’t tell you how happy I am that this recipe translates so well to dairy-free. It’s a dish that my cousin (trained Chef and so much more) created and would put out as an appetizer around Christmas time when all of our families would get together. My Mom then started making it because we all loved it so much, so it now tastes, to me, like every fun family occasion.
I hadn’t thought about it in years, but suddenly it’s all I could think about. It’s a little bit retro now, it was born back when pine nuts were cool and sundried tomatoes were sort of new and fancy and everyone had a jar of those Costco ones in their fridge.
The cheese is traditionally cream cheese, but we have made a nut-based cheese from scratch, similar to our nut-based goat cheese. My main tips here are to blend it until it is VERY smooth and to make sure that it strains well through cheese cloth or a nut milk bag. I hang it from one of my kitchen cupboard handle overnight, while it ferments, with a plate underneath to collect the water. The drier it is the better it will hold its shape (like cream cheese), which is important for this presentation.
The sun-dried tomatoes we used are unsulphured, dry (organic) tomatoes that we then reconstituted in hot water. The ones that you buy in oil are often sulphured (check the label) and are in a low grade, highly processed oil. Once rehydrated, I toss them in extra virgin olive oil and some sea salt. If all you can find are the sdts in oil, don’t worry, it’s not the end of the world, just drain them well. Another option is to oven-dry your own cherry tomatoes like we did in this purple potato salad recipe. It’s not nearly as complicated as you might think.
The pesto that we’ve made is actually an (almost) classic pistou (meaning there is no cheese in it), made of fresh basil, garlic, lemon, olive oil and some pine nuts. I added spinach too because it helps it stay nice and green over time (whereas basil alone eventually turns the pesto brown because it bruises).
Pine nuts are very high in fat and are often rancid before you even get them home, so make sure to buy them from a busy grocery store with high turnover. If you’re like me, buy twice as many as you need because you will probably burn the first batch which will cost you approximately $1200 (they’re not cheap). You can also replace the pine nuts with chopped almonds or pumpkin seeds. We don’t toast nuts around here very often, but when we do, it’s in a low oven and not too dark. I think it’s worth it for this recipe, that toasty contrast with the sweet tomatoes and lemony, fresh basil is so nice.
We plate this in two layers like a cake. I use a piping bag (or ziplock with the corner snipped out) to get it all into the right circular position like a coiled snake. I then smooth it out with a spatula or knife. This is much easier and less messy than trying to spread it all out into the right position.
Serve with LOTS of veggies. I love Belgian endive (whitloof) as a vessel for this delicious spread. Radishes go really well too (and look so festive), and are a great way to get people eating this cruciferous superstar (why don’t we eat more radishes?). If you don’t put the crackers out at all, people will be forced to eat (and love) the veggies. They’ll thank you when they still have room for dinner and have eaten their daily veggie quota before the meal even begins.
I think one of the reasons I hadn’t made this in so long was because my husband claimed to dislike nut-based cheese, pesto and pine nuts. (He lived in Japan for the best part of the nineties. He didn’t really like Pearl Jam or plaid until recently either). I made this version of it, put it in the fridge and ran out to run some errands. By the time I got home, he had eaten very close to the entire thing (saved me some). I don’t recommend this, although he obviously loved it, he didn’t feel that great, that’s a lot of nuts. Hopefully your guests don’t have black lab eating habits.
This easily replaces a cheeseboard/baked brie at your holiday table. You don’t have to tell anyone its vegan, in my experience, this just encourages weird tofu stories. Just put it out and let them make their own assumptions (have nut convos if there are allergies…obvs). This cheesy spread reminds me of this time of year, but translates to pretty much any time of year, especially late summer when tomatoes are at their best (try making your own oven-dried tomatoes).
*This recipe is dedicated to my newest niece who was born far away, all brand new while I was elbow-deep in these old, nostalgic flavours. She is beautiful and perfect and I still have cashew cream cheese all over my phone from our very first facetime xo*
- ½ c Cashews, soaked for 8-12 hours, drained and rinsed
- ½ c Macadamia Nuts, soaked for 8-12 hours, drained and rinsed
- 3 Tbsp Lemon Juice
- 1 Tbsp Raw Apple Cider Vinegar
- 1 Tbsp Unpasteurized Miso (Chick pea Miso or brown rice if possible)
- ½ tsp Sea(weed) Salt
- ¼ c Fresh Basil Leaves
- ¼ c Spinach
- 1-2 Garlic Cloves
- 1 Lemon Zested
- 1 tsp Lemon Juice
- Sea(weed) Salt to taste
- ½ Red Onion, small diced
- Rehydrated, Sulphure-free Sun dried Tomatoes, cut into strips and tossed in extra virgin olive oil
- Basil for garnish
- 2-3 Tbsp Pine Nuts (raw or lightly toasted)
- In a blender, blend the nuts, lemon juice, vinegar and salt until very smoothe.
- Add the miso and blend until combined.
- Let ferment overnight, either in cheese cloth in a sieve (covered) or hang in a nut milk bag. This will dry it out a little bit.
- Blend all ingredients except for the lemon juice together (in a blender or with an immersion blender) until well blended.
- Mix in the lemon juice right before assembling (it will turn it brown over time).
- Fill a piping bag (or a zip lock with the corner snipped out) with the cream cheese.
- Pipe a 6-7 inch circle on your chosen plate or platter and swirl it into the center (fill it in).
- With a spoon/knife/offset spatula, smooth this first layer out so that it no longer looks like a snail.
- Carefully spread on a layer of pesto.
- Scatter with red onion and sun dried tomatoes.
- Pipe another cheese layer on and smooth it out again.
- Add another layer of pesto, sun dried tomatoes, red onion and top with pine nuts and fresh basil.
- Serve with fresh veggies (Belgian endive, thin beet slices, radishes, bok choy leaves, celery etc.)
- This keeps for 3-4 days in the fridge, although I recommend you assemble it the day of.