By Integrative Nutrition
If you thought grilled cheese sandwiches were a thing of the past because you’ve adopted a dairy-free diet, think again. Cashew cheese makes a great alternative to dairy cheese as part of a plant-based or vegan diet. It’s creamy, savory, salty, and full of fat – just like real cheese! It’s made by soaking raw cashews until soft and then blending them with spices and flavorings of choice until they form a rich spread. It has far more in common with soft cheeses like brie and mascarpone than it does with snacking nuts by the time it’s finished.
Cashews, unlike cheese, are packed with vitamins E, K, and B6. They also offer a variety of vital minerals, including copper, phosphorus, zinc, magnesium, iron, and selenium. Cashews are also completely free of cholesterol. Consuming cashews that are both raw and soaked (as they are in cashew cheese recipes) makes the nutrients and minerals more readily available to your body.
In this recipe, cashew cheese is given a pesto-inspired twist with the addition of lemon juice and zest, tahini (ground sesame paste), garlic and fresh basil. Paired with fresh tomato, it makes the perfect filling for a savory and satisfying grilled sandwich.
Feel free to get creative with your cashew cheese creations once you’ve mastered the technique. Fresh and dried herbs are always delicious, but try various dried fruits, roasted vegetables, and other nuts and seeds (toasted or not) for different flavor profiles. You can even add small quantities of greens like spinach or kale. There’s inspiration everywhere once you start looking for it.
With this recipe, you will have some leftover cheese. Leftover cashew cheese is perfect for vegan pizza, pasta dishes both cold and hot, or wraps. Be sure to try it as a cracker or chip dip. It’s a versatile crowd-pleaser that’s great for parties for both vegans and non-vegans. If you wrap it in a cheesecloth and hang it over a bowl to remove some of the liquid, it can be served like a cheese ball or soft cheese with knives for cutting and spreading. Get as gourmet as you like.
These sandwiches pair perfectly with tomato basil soup or any other pureed vegetable-based soup. Cut the sandwiches into “dippers” for a kid-pleasing twist.
Vegan Pesto Grilled Cashew Cheese Sandwiches (Makes two sandwiches (with leftover cashew cheese)
1 cup raw organic cashews, soaked overnight in cold water
2 minced garlic cloves
Zest and juice of 1 unwaxed lemon
6 tablespoons cold water
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast flakes
1 tablespoon tahini
¼ teaspoon sea salt
Large handful fresh basil leaves
4 slices sprouted sourdough bread
Vegan buttery spread
1 ripe tomato, thinly sliced
- Drain cashews and place in food processor. Add garlic, lemon zest and juice, water, nutritional yeast, tahini, sea salt, and basil and blend on high until mixture is creamy and thick (approximately the consistency of cream cheese), scraping the sides with a spatula as necessary. If the mixture seems too thick, add additional water 1 tablespoon at a time.
- Preheat a griddle or frying pan over medium heat. Spread one side of each slice of bread with buttery spread, then spread opposite sides with pesto cashew cheese. Top cashew cheese with tomato slices, then form two sandwiches with the buttery sides facing out.
- Grill sandwiches in pre-heated pan until bread is golden brown and toasted on both sides – about two minutes per side. Cover the pan with a lid for 1-2 minutes if it seems like the sandwiches are taking too long to warm through.
- Cut sandwiches in half and serve hot. Leftover cashew cheese will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. You can also freeze cashew cheese in an airtight freezer container or bag for up to a month.
- For a heartier sandwich, add roasted or grilled bell peppers, eggplant, portabella mushrooms, or sliced beets. You can also add a handful of fresh baby spinach or arugula after grilling.
- Any crusty, flavorful bread is good here. Buy something fresh and locally made if possible.
- For an extra kick of basil flavor – or if your garden is exploding with fresh basil! – tuck a few whole leaves into your finished sandwiches.
Integrative Nutrition is the world’s largest nutrition school and Health Coach Training Program. Through our innovative, one-year online course, students learn the principles of health coaching, business skills, and over 100 different dietary theories with lectures by the world’s leading experts.