Israel is not California’s Bay Area, but there’s no question that veganism has become a hot culinary trend in these parts. An increasing number of gourmet restaurants, eateries and cafés offer vegan-friendly menus, and there’s far more media coverage of veganism and animal cruelty issues than ever before.
While some have (reluctantly) adopted veganism for health reasons, the majority, it seems, are thinking about it for humane and ecological reasons. Actor Aki Avni, co-host of the “Seder Yom Hadash” morning show on Channel 10, told me he became a vegan after witnessing a movie secretly shot in a major fur factory, where live foxes were stripped of their fur, thrown into a container with the rest of their skinned brethren, and left to die. He’s been vegan ever since (five months so far).
A good part of vegan awareness in Israel is also due to the efforts of a relatively new organization, Vegan-friendly. It initiated vegan-friendly labeling on food products, and recently brought Yuval Noah Harari, a Hebrew University professor and author of “Animals into Gods: A Brief History of Humankind,” together with American Jewish animal rights activist Gary Yourofsky for a series of lectures.
Whether you’re drawn to going vegan or vegetarian, or are a staunch meat eater, Harari and Yourofsky present compelling evidence for rethinking food choices. It’s not just a matter of what we put on our plate, it’s about the circumstances and consequences of getting it there now, and in the future.
This week, in the spirit of veganism, I want to share an amazing adventure I’m having with almond cheese. I’d been looking for a vegan cheese substitute for an article and cooking workshops, and had just tried a cookbook recipe that turned out to be complicated, truly ersatz and, well, yucky. I wanted something relatively easy to make, and so good that even cheese lovers would adore it.
Then I found a recipe for almond cheese at Vegetarian Times and began experimenting with it. Unbaked, it’s a thick, creamy spread, with a taste that varies between cream cheese and goat cheese. Baking and chilling firms it up. My version below yields an absolutely scrumptious rich-tasting cheese that can be sliced for sandwiches, cut into wedges or crumbled into salad like feta. Personally, I’m addicted.
Basic Almond Cheese
- 1½ cups (145gm) ground blanched almond flour or blanched almonds
- ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil + 3 more tablespoons for the garnish
- 1 large clove garlic, peeled
- 1¼ teaspoons salt
- Small sprig each of fresh thyme or rosemary leaves, or a combination
- 4 black peppercorns
- Red peppercorns to garnish (optional)
- If using whole blanched almonds, place in medium bowl, cover with cold water and soak overnight. Rinse, drain and place in a blender. If using almond flour, just transfer to a blender.
- Add lemon juice, two tablespoons of the oil, garlic, salt, and half a cup of cold water. Purée until the mixture is uniform and creamy, stopping occasionally and wiping down the sides with a rubber spatula.
- Place a large strainer over a bowl, and line with triple layer of cheesecloth or a new (but washed) cloth diaper. Spoon the almond mixture into the bottom of the cheesecloth, bring corners and sides together, and twist the top, forming a rounded ball. Secure with a rubber band, and squeeze gently to extract moisture.
- Return to strainer set over a bowl, and chill 12 hours, or overnight. Discard excess liquid (there won’t be that much anyway).
- Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F) and line baking sheet with parchment paper. Unwrap cheese (it will be soft). Dampen hands, if necessary, and shape the mixture into a Camembert-like shape and transfer to prepared baking sheet.
- Bake 40 minutes, or until top is slightly firm lightly golden. Cool, wrap in plastic wrap and chill until firm.
- Before serving, warm remaining olive oil, herbs and peppercorns together in a small saucepan over low heat for a minute or two. Cool slightly and drizzle oil and herbs over cheese.