Ask any older adults who have been observing the Fast for most of their lifetime and they’ll surely tell you that it was MUCH harder years ago. There was no such thing as non-dairy milk, soy cheese, or vegan options at the grocery store. We really had to get creative then and do some serious penance. Many serious fasters often choose to forgo these options today as well, perhaps as a more worthy penance or as an effort to stay away from unhealthy processed foods; this is certainly admirable and suits some souls well. Others, especially those who are just starting out on their fasting journey, or those with small children who are used to having their daily glass of milk with their mac and cheese, may opt to make use of these substitutes.
Not long ago I did an informal poll of my friends and asked what the toughest food was for them to avoid during the Fast. It was nearly unanimous: it was CHEESE. There's just something comforting about dairy and its often the last hold-out as one progresses. If you choose to use whole, simple ingredients like nut milk (we like cashew milk best for nearly everything), soaked raw cashews, nutritional yeast, a few vegetables and maybe a little tapioca flour, you can craft some substitutes for our beloved cheese that are truly delicious, nutritious, and yes… totally allowed! Once again, with the right combination of ingredients, your family’s stomachs can be fooled and totally satisfied while your heart, mind, and soul observe the fast.
These products are great to keep on hand as additions to so many recipes.
Here are some favorites that my family actually uses and enjoys.
Cashew Cheese Sauce
½ cup raw cashews
(you can even soak them overnight and drain them well to get a really creamy sauce)
1 cup water
1 Tbsp tapioca flour
(double this if you like extra stringy cheese, omit it if you want a lighter sauce)
2 Tbsp nutritional yeast flakes
½ tsp salt
Dash garlic powder
1 tsp lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
This recipe couldn’t be easier if you happen to have a really powerful blender. Just drop the ingredients in and blend on high speed for 5-7 minutes until it is thick, hot and ready! In a conventional blender, just blend very, very well, and then cook over medium-high heat for a few minutes, stirring constantly until it thickens. Use this recipe over pasta for a great mac and cheese, roasted vegetables like cauliflower or potatoes to make a great gratin, or in lasagna or vegan pizza!
Nacho Cheese Sauce
Using the same method, you can vary it up a bit and make a cheddar-style sauce to spoon onto tortilla chips like nachos, drizzle over chili, or mix with salsa to make a great dip. Kids sometimes like this version best since it resembles a beloved boxed favorite.
Use the same recipe as above, but add:
a strip of red bell pepper, (or a tsp of paprika)
1 tsp brown sugar
… and blend!
Can’t do nuts?
Follow the same recipe, but just leave out the cashews and use hemp milk, oat milk or whatever unsweetened,non-dairy milk you choose. The result isn’t as creamy, but it’s just as satisfying.
Or...use this simple , but completely nut-free version!
1 sweet potato, steamed or microwaved until very soft, peeled
1 cup oats
1 cup water
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1/2 tsp salt
dash garlic powder
1 tsp lemon juice
Blend, and enjoy!
Parmesan Style Sprinkles
Use this as you would any spaghetti cheese! It’s wonderful over pasta with oil and garlic, on popcorn or garlic toast, or over a Caesar salad!
½ cup raw cashews
¼ cup toasted sesame seeds
¼ cup nutritional yeast flakes
1 tsp salt
Dash of garlic powder
Pulse in a food processor until a fine meal is achieved. Transfer to a jar and store refrigerated for up to 2 weeks…if it lasts that long.
I use this as a filling for lasagna or stuffed portabella caps or shells, in eggplant rollatini, or on a white pizza.
1 cup raw cashews, soaked overnight, then drained, if you can
2 cloves of garlic
3 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
½ tsp salt
Dash of black pepper
1 block of extra-firm tofu, drained
Optional: a few Tbsp fresh herbs like parsley, basil or chives, more if you like more herbs!
Blend all the ingredients well in a blender or food processor until creamy and somewhat smooth, then use in your favorite recipe.
Alternatively: Did you know that if you make your own almond milk? (it’s easy! see how below!) You can use the leftover almond pulp exactly as you would use ricotta!
Use this creamy spread on sandwiches, in salads, slaws, in dips…anywhere you would use regular mayo!
½ cup of cashews, soaked overnight and drained if you can.
2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 clove garlic
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp capers (or one slice of a dill pickle)
¼ cup water, or pickle brine…try it!
Combine in blender or food processor and blend until smooth.
Cashew Sour Cream
1 ½ cups raw cashews
1 cup boiling water
2 Tbsp lemon juice (lime juice is really good here too!)
1 Tbsp cider vinegar
1 tsp nutritional yeast
Dash of salt
Soak everything together in a medium-sized bowl for about half an hour, then blend on high speed for 5-7 minutes until rich and creamy. Chill before serving.
Homemade Nut Milk
For many years I was afraid to make nut milk on my own because I thought it would be difficult and expensive. I was wrong!
1 cup raw almonds
4 cups water
Soak the almonds in water overnight or at least 4 hours. Drain them and then slip the brown skins off of the almonds…once they have been soaked well, they should slip right off. (Confession: recently friends have admitted to me that they never do this and their almond milk comes out just fine…skip this step if you’re so inclined) Place the almonds into a high-speed blender with 4 cups of fresh water and blend well. Strain the mixture through a coffee filter or muslin bag and squeeze the nut pulp well to remove all the milk. Chill and enjoy!
Variation: The leftover pulp is actually delicious and can be salted and used as a substitute for ricotta cheese in stuffed shells or lasagna, or sweetened with jam or maple syrup (with a little vanilla or another flavoring) and used as sweet cheese filling in tarts or buns, or even frozen as ice pops.
And if you can make nut milk, you can now make yourself some delicious yogurt! It's even easier if you have an instant pot!
In my former life as a medical laboratory scientist I grew bacterial and fungal cultures in the lab all the time. All you need is a starter culture and a good medium. Little did I realize that years later, I'd be doing the same thing at home in my own kitchen! Good gut bacteria are essential to good digestion but often come in the form of dairy, like yogurt and kefir. For a fast-friendly version, I just use dairy-free milk, like oat milk!
Take 4 cups of your favorite milk (I use oat for this at our house, but almond is great too)
Stir into it about 1/2 cup of yogurt that has either been commercially prepared (be sure to use a really good source, with live bacteria) or a portion left over from your last batch. Stir it well with a wooden spoon and then portion it into three or four smaller (pint-sized) jars and place them all into your instant pot. Add enough water to the pot so that it comes up high around the jars, then use the yogurt setting! At the end of 8 hours, you have yogurt! Simple!
If you don't have an instant pot, don't fear. Place the jars into a large pot with water (like a water bath) and place the entire thing into your oven with the pilot light on (optimum temp here is about 100 degrees, so do what you can to keep things around that temp) for 8 hours to allow your culture to grow. When it's finished, place lids onto your jars and move them to the refrigerator. Now be sure to remember to keep about 1/2 cup of your yogurt to make the next batch.
Pro Tip: I usually dedicate a special little jar for this purpose when portioning the milk mixture out before putting it into the pot. I never open it until its time to make yogurt so I'm sure to keep my culture pure!