A few weeks ago, I told you about an event held by VegNews with the amazing Miyoko Schinner present. She dazzled us with her singing, witty stories, and of course, her recipes. One that she whipped up was a versatile, spot on dairy-free almond feta from her new cookbook (launching today!), The Homemade Vegan Pantry: The Art of Making Your Own Staples. And yes, we are sharing that amazing mock cheese recipe today …
But first, I’d be remiss not to offer some information about this fantastic new essential. While I expected a big intro discussing ingredients, shopping and techniques, Miyoko opted not to mess around. The Homemade Vegan Pantry begins with just a brief “hello” introduction and then jumps right into the recipes.
And though every morsel is dairy-free, The Homemade Vegan Pantry is really a DIY dream for vegans with chapters for Condiments, Dairy and Egg-Free Goodness, All You Need Is Soup, The Meat of the Argument, Magic and Pasta, The Grains of Truth, and Sweet Endings. For a quick taste of the variety, here is a recipe sampling of two titles from each chapter:
- Classic eggless mayo
- Erster (oyster) sauce
- Glorious butterless butter
- Flaxseed meringue
- Got no beef broth
- See-food chowder
- Canadian yuba “bacon”
- Italian unsausages
- 15-minute rustic pasta
- Well-crafted macaroni and cheese mix
- Buckwheat pancake and waffle mix
- Basic yeasted sweet pastry dough
- Homemade vanilla extract
Naturally, there is a good smattering of vegan “cheese” recipes in The Homemade Vegan Pantry, too, because that’s how Miyoko rolls. And this dairy-free almond feta seemed to be one that she was particularly proud of.
I had almost forgotten the joy that feta cheese can add to dishes. For example, the wonderful Greek spinach pie, spanakopita – I had basically given up on this entirely. I’d made and had many vegan versions of it, but without the briny flavor of feta, the flavors just fell flat. After much knocking around in my noggin, I came up with the perfect vegan substitute. Salty and briny, this dairy-free almond feta works beautifully crumbled over salads or slightly melted in all of the traditional dishes. Best of all, stored in brine, it keeps for weeks, getting stronger in flavor and more delicious as time goes by (in fact, it vastly improves after a month, so make this weeks ahead of time if you can).
Though I had to pass on the spanakopita at the event (I was simply too full!), the feedback from others was “delicious”, “just like the real thing”, and “can I have another?”. I did get the chance to sample the dairy-free almond feta “cheese” on Greek salad, and indeed, it tasted every bit as impressive and perfect as it looks …
Special Diet Notes: Dairy-Free Almond Feta Cheese
By ingredients, this recipe is dairy-free / non-dairy, egg-free, gluten-free, peanut-free, soy-free, vegan / plant-based, and vegetarian.
- 2 cups blanched almonds, soaked in water for 12 to 24 hours
- 1 cup Easy Rejuvelac (recipe below or store-bought) or juice from sauerkraut
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ⅔ cup water
- 2 tablespoons agar powder
- 6 cups water
- ¾ cup sea salt or kosher salt
- For the almond feta, drain and rinse the almonds. Place them in your blender with the rejuvelac and salt, and process on the highest setting for 1 to 2 minutes until smooth and no longer grainy to the tongue.
- Pour the mixture into a clean container and cover with a nonpermeable lid or plastic wrap.
- Leave on your kitchen counter for 1 to 2 days to culture, making sure you taste it each day, until it begins to get tangy. Keep in mind there is no hard and fast rule about how long it needs to culture—your taste buds will have to guide you in determining the right length of time. In warmer weather, it could be just a day, while in cooler weather, it could take 2 days or even longer.
- Once the cheese is slightly tangy, you can move onto solidifying it. First, prepare the mold for the cheese by lining an 8-inch square pan with cheesecloth.
- Combine the water and agar in a medium saucepan and whisk well. Cover the pan with a lid and bring to a simmer over low heat. Don’t peek for 3 to 4 minutes, then check to see if it is bubbling away. At first, if you peek too early, it may look as if it has solidified. However, if you let it simmer over low heat for a couple of minutes more, it will start to liquefy again and bubble away. When the agar is fully dissolved, pour in the cultured almond mixture and whisk immediately until fully combined.
- Pour the cheese mixture into the cheesecloth-lined pan. Refrigerate for several hours, until hard.
- Prepare the brine by whisking together the water and the salt in a large bowl until most of the salt is dissolved. Cut the cheese into four pieces and place in the brine. Cover and let sit for 8 hours at room temperature.
- Transfer the cheese to a storage container and pour the brine over the cheese until it is halfway submerged. Add more plain water to completely cover the cheese and dilute the brine. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 or 4 months. The flavor vastly improves after the first 3 to 4 weeks.
- 1 cup whole grains (such as brown rice, Kamut berries, millet, oat groats, quinoa, rye berries, wheat berries, or a combination)
- 6 cups filtered water
- Put the grains in a 1-quart glass jar and add water to cover. Place a double layer of cheesecloth over the mouth of the jar and secure it with a rubber band. Let the grains soak for 8 to 12 hours.
- Drain, then add just enough water to moisten the grains but not so much that they are immersed in water. Put the jar in a warm place out of direct sunlight for 1 to 3 days and rinse the grains once or twice a day, each time draining well and then adding just enough fresh water to moisten them.
- Continue this process until the grains have begun to sprout (they will have little tails emerging).
- Divide the sprouted grains equally between two 1-quart glass jars. Pour 3 cups of the filtered water into each jar. Cover each jar with fresh cheesecloth and secure it with rubber bands. Put the jars in a warm place out of direct sunlight for 1 to 3 days. The water will turn cloudy and white, and the liquid will have a slightly tart flavor, somewhat like lemon juice.
- Strain the liquid into clean glass jars and discard the grains.