Probably like a lot of vegetarians, dairy was the last frontier between me and an entirely vegan diet. So, a number of years ago when I made the switch, I found that, much to my surprise, cheese had been masking the essential flavors of the vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes I had intended to enhance. So, while there are many vegan “cheeses” available commercially, I virtually always opt for homemade varieties because I find that I can play with their tastes and textures to complement, rather than overpower, other ingredients. Joanne Stepaniak pioneered homemade vegan “cheese” in The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook. Once one learns the lessons that she teaches so well about the basic ingredients and what they contribute to the finished product, it is fun to let loose, mixing, matching and supplementing to create an exciting array of custom-made vegan “cheeses” to suit a wide range of applications from spreads to sandwiches fillings to pizza toppings. One day when I was doing just that, I began thinking that there had to be something that would lend to my “cheese” more of an aged flavor when a light bulb suddenly went off: beer! It is the extra “something” that I think makes my vegan “cheeses” just a little special. Keep in mind, though, that animal products, e.g. isinglass, gelatin and more, are used in the creation of some brands of beer. Check out Barnivore.com for more information on which beers are and are not considered vegan. Though my go-to “cheese” spread has a cashew base, for this crostini topping, I wanted to experiment with something a tiny bit sweeter to provide an even more pronounced contrast with the chutney. I experienced a “Eureka” moment in the market when I spied some macadamia nuts. They are incredibly sweet, but they are also incredibly “dear.” So as not to break the bank, I created this “cheese” with a combination of both lightly roasted macadamias and cashews to achieve just the flavor notes I was after. The creamy “cheese” is delicious on its own, but even more so when set-off by the tangy-sweet and pulpy chutney. Leading to my current chutney-making craze has been a combination of gorgeous produce at our local farm markets and a British ex-pat friend in the cardiac hospital desperately seeking low-salt chutneys to spice up the rather bland food. I can’t seem to get enough: they are so beautiful, bursting with seasonal flavors and colors. The need to keep the salt to just a pinch has led to lots of experimentation with vinegars, herbs and spices. For this particular chutney, I decided to play up the golden color with turmeric and curry powder, adding a bit of mellowness with cumin and a little sweet aromatic depth with smoked paprika and a bare hint of ground cloves. Because of the carefully balanced flavors, the creaminess of the “cheese,” and the soft texture of the chutney, I wanted the base to contribute mostly crunch, so whole grain Melba toast turned out to be perfect. As a garnish, fresh-picked Pineapple Sage sprigs are exactly right, as the slight tropical fruitiness perfectly complements the other flavors, especially the macadamia nuts and the curry powder. But plenty of herbs, like other varieties of sage, chives, and the like, would be lovely too.
Crostini With Macadamia Cheese, Curried Fig, and Grape Tomato Chutney [Vegan]
- Crackers, Toasts or Cucumbers, sliced 1/4-inch thick
- Creamy Macadamia “Cheese” Spread (recipe follows)
- Fresh Curried Fig and Golden Grape Tomato Chutney (recipe follows)
- Optional Garnish: sprigs of fresh pineapple sage or other compatible herbs
- 1 cup lightly roasted, preferably unsalted/lightly salted, shelled macadamia nuts
- 1 cup lightly roasted, preferably unsalted/lightly salted, cashew pieces
- 2/3 cup vegan beer
- 1 teaspoon light miso
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, or to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon onion powder, or to taste
- Pinch of sea salt
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 small onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice (approximately 1 cup)
- Pinch sea salt
- 1 large clove garlic, minced
- 2 cups Golden Grape Tomatoes, left whole
- 2 cup fresh figs, stemmed and quartered (if figs are large, cut into 1/2-inch pieces)
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
- 6 tablespoons natural sugar
- 1 teaspoon curry powder
- 1/4 teaspoon cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Spread crackers, toasts, or cucumber slices generously with the macadamia nut “cheese,” top with a healthy dollop of chutney, garnish as desired, and serve.
- Alternatively, you may serve the “cheese” and “chutney” separately and allow guests to spread their own.
- Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process until quite smooth, about 3 to 5 minutes, scraping down the bowl as necessary.
- Refrigerate in an airtight container.
- Heat olive oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high.
- Add onion and sauté, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes or until onion is softened and barely golden.
- Lower the heat at any point in this recipe, if necessary, to prevent scorching.
- Add garlic and salt and sauté, still stirring, for 30 seconds.
- Add tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.
- Add figs, and do the same.
- Add vinegar, sugar, and all remaining ingredients, and cook, stirring occasionally, for an additional 10 minutes or until the mixture is thick, pulpy, and much of the moisture has cooked off.
- Use the back of a wooden spoon to “pop” any tomatoes that have not burst open.
- Scrape chutney into an airtight container or a serving bowl and allow to cool.
- Serve slightly warm, room temperature, or chilled. Store any leftovers, covered, in the refrigerator.