Quesadillas, nachos, pizza, grilled cheese, mozzarella sticks, queso, cheese and wine pairings, cheesecake — when it comes to cheese, many of us cannot resist.
When we eat cheese, a dairy protein called casein enters our system. This protein gets broken down into smaller, natural morphine-like substances called casomorphins, which attach themselves to dopamine receptors in our brains.
Every time we eat cheese, dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with happiness, is triggered and released in what neuroscientists call the brain’s “pleasure center.” And so we want more.
But too much cheese — like those individually-wrapped, processed Kraft singles that contain almost 500 mg of sodium per ounce — can compromise your health. Excessive sodium intake leads to high blood pressure, straining both heart and blood vessels. And so, swapping out dairy-based products for vegan cheese can’t hurt.
You might think vegan cheese is incapable of satisfying that creamy taste and dopamine rush that the real stuff offers. Fortunately, nutritional yeast, which some of these vegan cheese recipes call for, is a great non-dairy, gluten-free alternative that mirrors the cheesy flavor we all love. Other vegan cheeses use cashews and other types of nuts, as well as butternut squash, hemp seeds and so on. The possibilities are endless!
You don’t have to go full-on vegan to enjoy these vegan cheeses. It’s worth trying this alternative simply for the sake of your health and the possibility of an interesting experience.
Here are four great vegan cheese recipes to show you how to incorporate vegan cheese into your diet without disappointing your taste buds.
How to Make Vegan Mac and Cheese
Arissa Agnant, whose career is rooted in impact-focused business and investing, is a creative vegan who showcases a variety of recipes on her website, Melanin in the Kitchen. Her overall mission is to raise awareness of plant-based holistic wellness by eating whole foods and developing deeper connections to the mind, body, soul and planet (she also plays a mean bass guitar!). Her recipe for vegan mac and cheese using butternut squash-based cheese sauce — loaded in antioxidants — is a creamy, dreamy work of art. And good news: for those who have a nut allergy, there’s no cashew, pecans or anything else to worry about in this vegan cheese!
- 1 box of small macaroni noodles, cooked according to package directions. Two great gluten-free options high in protein are Banza’s chickpea noodles or Ancient Harvest’s corn and quinoa shells.
- 1/2 cup reserved cooking liquid (from the noodles).
- 1 large butternut squash, peeled and chopped into cubes
Note: You can either make this recipe with raw butternut squash (peeled, seeded and diced into small cubes) or roasted butternut squash (cubes or puree) for added flavor.
- 1/2 large sweet onion, peeled and chopped
- 1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
- 1 jalapeño, seeded and diced
- 1 tsp table salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 4-5 garlic cloves (minced)
- 1/3 cup nutritional yeast
If you like spicy/smoky:
*Dial it back to 1/2 teaspoon for medium, 1/8 teaspoon for mild, or omit.
Step1: Cook butternut squash
There are two methods you can try here: boiling or roasting.
- Add butternut squash and onions to a pot and cover with water by at least an inch or two. Bring to a boil, turn down heat to medium and simmer until vegetables are tender (about 15 minutes or so).
- Reserve 1/2 cup cooking liquid once macaroni noodles are done cooking and before draining. Place noodles back in pot and set aside.
- Preheat oven to 350 and place whole squash in oven for 30 minutes or until tender enough to cut. Cut squash in half, drizzle on olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place back in for ten more minutes. Remove, let cool, and cut into cubes.
Cook macaroni noodles according to package directions. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking liquid once macaroni is done cooking and before draining. Drain macaroni and place back in pot and set aside.
While macaroni noodles are cooking, add tender squash to a high speed blender with black pepper, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, red pepper, nutritional yeast, paprika, cayenne powder, jalapeños, and reserved cooking liquid from either the noodles or the squash. Or combine all in a saucepan and use an immersion blender.
Blend until completely smooth. Use a tamper if necessary to push ingredients to the bottom of the blender. If the cheese sauce is too thick, add more reserved pasta liquid.
Add drained macaroni noodles to butternut squash vegan cheese and stir, making sure every noodle is covered in cheese sauce. Warm through if needed and enjoy this tasty vegan meal!
How to Make Easy Vegan Parmesan Cheese
Those familiar with the world of vegan cheese know that many of these cheese recipes require cashews, which can be difficult for people with nut allergies to cope with. While many vegan parmesan cheese recipes call for cashews, this one uses hemp seeds, a great source of protein that is loaded with calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, sulfur, vitamin E and zinc. It also includes nutritional yeast, a deactivated yeast commonly used to make vegan cheese.
The chewy texture of the hemp seeds and nutritional yeast coupled with the spices work well at mirroring the texture of parmesan cheese. Best of all, no cooking is required! Add this vegan substitute to your pasta, soup, or other dishes!
- ½ cup hemp seeds
- ¼ cup nutritional yeast
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder or garlic and herb powder
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ¼ teaspoon table salt, to taste
- Mix the hemp seeds, nutritional yeast, and other ingredients together in a bowl or jar until they are evenly distributed.
- Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 months.
How to Make Vegan Queso Dip
On the west coast in Los Angeles, Bethany Ugarte (@lilsipper) creates deliciously innovative recipes designed for digestive health. From CBD sea salt Snickers to decadent, vegan chickpea-stuffed chocolate chip cookies, it’s hard not to salivate over her vegan concoctions. She gets the seal of approval from her father, a rugged, bearded man, who can be seen taste-testing her delicacies on her Instagram page. Her vegan queso dip with crispy potato skin scoopers will have you hooked. If you desire, you can also use this cheese sauce for nachos or another cheese recipe you want to recreate.
- Inside of what you scooped out from the potatoes (see below)
- 1 cup butternut squash puree (canned pumpkin will also work)
- ¼ cup organic sunbutter
- 1 tbsp yellow mustard
- 3 tbsp unsweetened ketchup
- ¼ cup carrot baby food
- 2 tbsp coconut oil
- 2 tsp chili seasoning (or to taste)
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup chopped tomatoes
- 1 avocado, sliced
- ½ bag of Trader Joe’s mini yukon potatoes (easier to digest than russet)
For potato skin scoopers:
1. Slice each potato in half, then either air fry or roast until cooked and tender.
2. Scoop out inside of each potato and reserve for cheese sauce above. When ready to serve, crisp the potatoes in the oven for a few minutes.
4. Fill each potato scoop with vegan queso or leave out on a platter for guests to dunk.
1. In a saucepan or crockpot, purée above ingredients (excluding tomato, avocado and uncooked potatoes) until smooth and warm.
2. Stir in ½ cup chopped tomatoes.
How to Make No-Bake Layered Blueberry Vegan Cheesecake
For the past decade, Rachel Conners of Bakerita (@bakeritablog) has been whipping up visually-appealing, wholesome baking recipes “for a happy soul.” This layered vegan no-bake blueberry cheesecake appears among over 100 more other delectable dishes in her cookbook.
For the crust
- ½ cup raw pecans
- ½ cup almond flour
- 2 pitted dates
- 2 tbsp coconut oil
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- ¼ tsp table salt
For the cheesecake
- 2 cups cashews (raw) soaked in cold water for at least four hours or preferably overnight (see Notes)
- ½ cup canned coconut milk shaken
- ¼ cup coconut oil melted and cooled (use refined coconut oil if you want no coconut flavor)
- ⅓ cup pure maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract or ½ teaspoon vanilla bean powder
- ¼ cup freeze-dried blueberries
For the blueberry layer
- 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries thawed, if frozen
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon chia seeds
1. Grease a 6” springform pan with coconut oil, or line a 6” cake pan with strips of parchment paper for easy removal, and grease well with coconut oil. Set aside.
2. Add the pecans, almond flour, pitted dates, coconut oil, cinnamon and salt to a food processor or high-powered blender and pulverize until it comes together into a sort of sticky dough, with small pecan bits remaining. Don’t over process, or it’ll turn into nut butter! Press the pecan date dough evenly along the bottom of the prepared pan.
3. In the same food processor or high-powered blender (no need to wash between; Vitamix works well as do most powerful blenders), combine all of the filling ingredients except for the freeze dried blueberries and blend for about 2 minutes, or until the mixture is silky smooth and creamy. Scrape down the sides as necessary. You may need to add a bit more coconut milk or lemon juice to get it to blend smoothly if your blender isn’t super high-powered.
4. Once it’s smooth, taste the mixture and adjust the sweetness/tartness levels by adding more maple syrup, vanilla or lemon juice, if desired.
5. Pour 2/3 of the filling into the prepared pan over the pecan crust. Smooth out the top and tap the pan hard against the counter a few times to release any air bubbles. Place in the freezer.
6. Add the freeze dried blueberries to the remaining batter and blend to incorporate. Spread over the plain layer. Return to the freezer.
7. Rinse out the blender, and add the fresh blueberries, lemon juice and chia seeds to it. Blend until smooth, and then pour over the other layers.
8. Place in the freezer to set for at least 3 hours or until completely firm before slicing and serving. I recommend running your knife under hot water to warm it up before cutting the vegan cheesecake with the still-hot (dried) knife.
9. Serve frozen or let them thaw at room temperature for 10-15 minutes before serving. Store in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.
You can also cover the cashews in very hot/boiling water and let them sit for about an hour if you want to speed up the process. The consistency won’t be quite as creamy, but it will do the trick!
Limited Dairy, Endless Possibilities
Whether your diet is already rooted in plant-based vegan foods, vegetarianism or you simply want to cut back on your dairy and sodium intake, these easy vegan cheese recipes provide great opportunities to explore your culinary skills. With the wealth of knowledge you’ll develop as you delve into alternatives to your favorite dishes, the possibilities become endless.
Download Our Free Guide to Sustainable Living.
From reducing waste to recycling and upcycling, our e-book shows simple ways to make choices you can feel good about.