“Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook” – Innovative, healthy and delicious recipes based on vegetable ingredients
“Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook” by Joe Stepaniak was among the first cookbooks I bought after deciding to go vegan 3 years ago. For those unfamiliar with the term “uncheese,” Stepaniak uses it to describe rich-tasting spreads, dips, sauces, and blocks produced with dairy-free whole foods (mostly beans, nuts, or grains). ).
Cheese lovers be warned: you might be disappointed if you expect tofu to taste like Feta or chickpeas like Havarti. The book’s introduction even acknowledges that “non-cheese will not be like dairy cheese, so please adjust your expectations accordingly.”
Unfortunately, I skipped Stepaniak’s well-meaning intro and dove into the recipes, trying cheeses like Tofu Ricotta, Chicken, Swizz Cheese, Buffalo Mostarella, Brie, Betta Feta, Boursin with white beans, Monterey Jack and port. And while all of them were tasty (my favorite is the Chick Cheez spread – made with Garbanzo beans), they left me somewhat weary and wondering if I could really live without real cheese.
As a result of not immediately finding perfect non-dairy substitutes for my most beloved cheeses, “The Uncheese Cookbook” sat on my shelf for quite some time. Little did I know that I would return to Stepaniak’s book later (several times), finding that it had improved with age. Its most valuable lesson is that it introduces unknown ingredients and uses them and more commonplace items – including raw nuts – in revolutionary ways.
For example, I had never heard of nutritional yeast, an ingredient used in many recipes in the book. Nutritional yeast is a rich source of vitamins and minerals that also has a tangy, cheesy taste. I later learned that Stepaniak is somewhat of an aficionado on the subject of nutritional yeast, having written “The Nutritional Yeast Cookbook”.
Other new (and somewhat difficult to obtain) ingredients included agar and kuzu (both herbal thickening agents used instead of gelatin) and umeboshi plum paste, used to add salt . Chickpea flour (aka Chana Besan), although common in Indian cooking, is also used in many non-cheese dishes.
The Introduction to Uncheese Cookbook provides a detailed and useful reference to all of the aforementioned ingredients as well as others. It also contains a well-documented history of how the dairy industry influenced the evolution of the American diet (echoing T. Scott Campbell’s “The China Study”), and provides detailed nutritional data on the benefits of non-dairy sources of calcium, protein, fat and carbohydrates compared to dairy products.
Moving on to the recipes, I found a lot of the “cheeseless dishes” to be superb. Among my favorites are:
- Chocolate Almond Cheesecake (p170*) with Granola Nut Crust – Everyone who’s tried it is amazed that it tastes more delicious than real cheesecake, without the use of eggs or dairy products (maple syrup is the secret).
- “Besto Pesto” (which imperceptibly substitutes cheese for miso) — How can a vegan diet be considered a sacrifice when you can still enjoy a pan of Geneva pesto linguine?
- Chickpea flour pizza (p128), eaten with vegetable curries – Takes about 5 minutes to prepare, so it’s very convenient too!
- Beannaise (p150) – Used as a substitute for mayonnaise in other recipes, and also on its own, as a dip for vegetables or salad dressing.
*Note: Page numbers refer to the 10th edition of the book.
Other recipes I would recommend include: Parmezano Nuggets (p50), Eggplant Stew with Parmagiano (p80), Spinach and Tofu Manicotti (p117), Zucchini and Chedda Soup (p77) .
Re-reading “The Uncheese Cookbook”, there are still many more dishes I intend to sample, including: Classic Quiche (p102), Lemon Teasecake (p169) – the “Key Lime” variation, Quick and Easy Alfredo Sauce (p63), Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip (p49) and Cheese and Curried Cauliflower Soup (p76).
Other features of the book that you will appreciate are the nutritional value tables for each of the recipes and the lists of food allergens (gluten, soy, nuts, corn). On the other hand, the book only contains 4 pages of photographs, and could definitely benefit from more.
If you already own “The Uncheese Cookbook” but haven’t picked it up in a while, I suggest it’s worth giving it another look. If not, pick up a copy and try its innovative and healthy recipes using plant-based ingredients. Remember to set aside your dairy taste expectations and you won’t be disappointed!