The Creamy Ingredient You Need For Unbeatable Vegan Pizza

From faux meats and egg-free eggs to chain restaurants offering plant-based dishes on their menus, vegans have a lot of options these days. But one food that aspiring vegans often find challenging to walk away from is cheese. Whether opting for the dietary switch for health or ethical reasons, the prospect of life beyond gooey, melty cheese can be daunting. When you realize that being vegan also means no more cheese pizza, the choice to give it up becomes a true test of willpower. 

Thankfully, there are some legitimately realistic non-dairy cheeses now available, which can help to make the transition far easier. With brands like Daiya, Follow Your Heart, Violife, Chao, Miyoko's, and Treeline readily available, vegan cheese options have come a long way. By virtue of these and related products, pizza is no longer off-limits. However, while these fake cheeses aren't made with milk, they can get pretty expensive. Prices can range from about $0.60 to over $0.70 per ounce — compared to dairy-based available at just over $0.20 per ounce.

The great thing is that it's super easy to make your own homemade creamy cheesy sauce for unbeatable vegan pizza. The key secret ingredient is cashew nuts; although to be precise, cashews actually aren't a nut at all (they're drupes — the seed of a fruit). Their mild flavor and buttery texture make for a perfect cheese stand-in, especially on adaptable pizza. 

How to make creamy cashew cheese sauce

Cashew-based cheese is excellent on pizza and can be prepared in just a few minutes. You can make it into a saucy cream or a thicker version that more closely resembles melted cheese. It can be made entirely oil-free, gluten-free, soy-free, and with no added sugar. It also makes for a nutritious addition to a vegan diet, with one ounce of raw cashews providing 5.16 grams of protein. 

Basic cashew cream is made with just a few simple ingredients. Along with cashews, all that's needed is lemon juice, water, salt, nutritional yeast, garlic (powdered or freshly minced), and your choice of seasonings like paprika or onion powder. Everything is put into a blender or food processor and blended until smooth, which results in a pourable sauce that can be drizzled on pizza or used as a dip. For a thicker version, add cornstarch, arrowroot, or tapioca starch, and cook it on your stovetop while whisking constantly until thickened. 

One of the best uses for nutritional yeast, also known by its nickname "nooch," is to give foods a cheesy flavor, so it's an ingredient you don't want to skip. Opt for the fortified variety for a boost of vitamin B12, the one nutrient not provided by plant-based foods. Another tip is to soak your cashews beforehand, which will soften them enough to blend up smoothly. You can either soak them overnight or in hot water for an hour, which will speed up the process.

More than just better vegan pizza

Cashew cheese is adaptable to complement whatever you're cooking. Try including some miso paste to bump up the umami flavor. Since cashew nuts are naturally a bit sweet, you may wish to use an acid, like white wine or apple cider vinegar, instead of lemon to adjust the sweetness. You can also add some Italian seasonings into your blend for a pizza-flavored pop, such as oregano, basil, thyme, or fennel seeds.

Of course, this sauce will never be mistaken for real mozzarella cheese, but it's so tasty in its own right that it creates a new way of appreciating pizza. Toppings that go well with it are practically endless, and the cool flavor of cashew cream is a nice balance for spicy soy chorizo, jalapeños and serrano peppers, or crushed red pepper.

You can use this for much more than just pizza too. Have it as a creamy dip for veggies, french fries, or cauliflower buffalo wings ... it's great in lieu of ranch dressing. A similar vegan cashew queso recipe can be made with just a few adjustments that's delightful as a crema for nachos, tacos, and burritos (adding cilantro to your blend gives it a Mexican-style twist). The same idea can also be used to create a classic sauce for vegan mushroom fettuccine alfredo, mac and cheese, lasagna, green bean casserole, and as a creamy base for soups, all without any dairy.

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