Parmigiano reggiano is not vegetarian (hello, rennet), but that doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the savory, nutty flavor it brings. Whip up a batch of plant-based vegan parm in just minutes, and enjoy the cheezy goodness!
Transitioning to a new way of eating is always challenging, but especially so when you have to give up something you adore. For many new vegans and strict vegetarians, that challenge is cheese.
We know, of course, that cheese is made from dairy (which vegans don’t consume), but what’s not so obvious is that many cheeses are also made using actual animal parts, in the form of rennet (enzymes extracted from the stomach lining of calves or other young ruminant animals). There is, however, vegetarian or microbial rennet, and many cheesemakers are perfecting their craft using vegetarian resources, so that lacto-ovo vegetarians (read, dairy-consumin’ vegetarians) can have their cheese, and eat it, too.
But, certain aged cheeses, including Parmigiano reggiano, are almost always made with traditional processes that include animal rennet, which then excludes these cheeses from the diets of all vegetarians.
And it’s that sad state of affairs makes cheese-abstaining cheese lovers seek out plant-based substitutes to satisfy those cheesy cravings.
Indeed, clever artisans have been putting their hearts and souls into creating vegan cheeses, and I’ve tasted some versions that I not only like, but actually seek out. Miyoko’s Creamery is one such brand. Their cashew-based products are right up my flavor palette, and my daily veggie-heavy salad topped with small cubes of their Sharp Farmhouse — which mimics sharp cheddar — is the highlight of lunch. Seriously, it is.
But, I’ll skip right to the end of the story and just get it out there that certain cheese substitutes are difficult to pull off, including parm. There’s a crumbly texture and irresistible savory, nuttiness that’s nearly impossible to duplicate — as we know and appreciate cheese — in plant form.
The closest version I’ve encountered is more “seasoning” than cheese, and is the subject of today’s recipe.
Fortunately, parm is often used more for its flavor than texture in cooking — think, parm sprinkled on your spaghetti vs. the melty creaminess of cheddar mac and cheese — so this vegan parm is a welcome substitute for those of us missing parm’s unique flavor in our dishes.
Cashews, nutritional yeast (nooch!), and certain spices create a lovely seasoning blend that can be sprinkled over salads, stirred into soups and stews, and tossed with your favorite roasted veggies.
Why omnivores will like Vegan Parm Seasoning:
- Cashews and nooch have surprisingly cheesy flavors, which you don’t expect from either nuts or yeast. In fact, you can make a super simple vegan cheese sauce from cashews and nooch.
- Other spices, including garlic powder, curry powder, and salt, boost the flavoring power of this seasoning blend. I add curry powder to my vegan parm because just a pinch is enough to add some savory complexity that complements the cheesy goodness of the nooch.
- It’s healthier than cheese, which your omnivore peeps might not fully appreciate, but cashews contain healthier fats than artery-clogging cheese.
- It’s more versatile than a wedge of parm. I can’t say I’ve ever been compelled to grate parm over my salads, but tossing this spice blend into my greens is a thing of beauty.
- One last word: popcorn! Vegan parm makes your popcorn absolutely irresistible.
Although this is super easy to blend up on demand, I always keep a small jar on hand in the fridge, for those cheese craving emergencies.
Vegan Parm Seasoning
- 1/2 cup raw cashews whole or pieces
- 2-3 heaping tablespoons nutritional yeast*
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/8 teaspoon mild yellow curry powder
- If using whole cashews, add to blender or processor first and buzz a few times to break them up into smaller pieces. Add the remaining ingredients and pulse in short bursts until blended into a coarse powder. Don't overblend or walk away while the unit is running, because the nuts' oils will begin to break down and create a nut butter.
- Store in an airtight container in the fridge.
- Optional: sift the powder through a wide-mesh sieve to sift out any pieces of cashews that did not fully blend.