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Vegan sandwich spreads
By FAYE LEVY
09/06/2012
Free of all animal products, plant-based food can go a long way.
 
Last week, at the Los Angeles Epicurean Festival, there were sausages made from exotic meats and a variety of sweet treats – but what I enjoyed most were several simple but tasty sandwich spreads.

Organic almond, pecan and other nut butters were presented by Living Tree Community Foods, which also makes seed butters such as black sesame tahini.

At another booth there were tasty cashew butters in several flavors: dill, garlic, roasted red pepper and strawberry-banana.

Joanna Fiore of La Dolce Vita Gourmet, who made the spreads, told me that she also makes cashew butter in other flavors ranging from wasabi to Sicilian coffee. As a vegan chef, Fiore’s food is entirely plant-based – free of all animal products, including eggs, dairy foods and honey. Fiore suggests using cashew butter in sandwiches like peanut butter, in dips and even on pizza.

My friend Susan Hermann Loomis, author of Nuts in the Kitchen, offers three tips for preparing homemade nut butter: Toast the nuts, and while they are still hot, grind them in a food processor. During processing, even if the nut butter doesn’t seem smooth, don’t be tempted to add oil. Most of all, have patience – making nut butter can take up to 15 minutes of processing.

Celine Steen and Tamasin Noyes, authors of Vegan Sandwiches Save the Day!, make a sweet pistachio spread with agave nectar and non-dairy milk. They spread it on whole-grain bread slices and top with strawberries or other fruit to serve for breakfast, as after-school snacks, or cut into canapés for entertaining.

Cashews can even be transformed into a vegan version of French Hollandaise sauce, which is classically composed of butter and eggs. Steen and Noyes make the sauce, which they call “hollandaze,” by blending soaked cashews with non-dairy milk and several flavorings, including sauerkraut, olive oil, Dijon mustard, lemon juice and nutritional yeast. For an elegant sandwich, they serve the sauce with asparagus and tomato slices on lightly toasted bread.

There are many ways to make vegan cheese at home, and Miyoko Schinner, author of Artisan Vegan Cheese, presents a variety of them. Some of the fastest homemade vegan cheeses are made from nuts. Her nut Parmesan takes very little time to make – it’s composed of pine nuts, almonds or walnuts whirled in a food processor with salt and nutritional yeast flakes until the mixture has a granular texture.

To make macadamia ricotta, Schinner processes soaked macadamia nuts with a little water in a blender and lets the cheese stand in a covered glass container for about 12 hours to culture it. Even easier is almond ricotta, which is made from blanched almonds and doesn’t need to be cultured.

You can turn nuts into lower-calorie spreads by combining them with other ingredients. At a friend’s dinner party I tasted a spread that is perfect for light and healthy sandwiches – a sun-dried tomato spread that gains its body from tofu and is enriched with a small amount of walnuts. The flavorful spread was served on cucumber slices as a refreshing appetizer. As soon as I tasted it, I knew I would like it in my sandwiches.

Faye Levy is the author of Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home.

SUN-DRIED TOMATO TOFU SPREAD
This recipe is from The Nut Gourmet. Author Zel Allen writes, “The definitive flavor of sun-dried tomatoes contributes a lively tang to this spread, while the walnuts lend toothy texture. Enjoy this savory spread as a topping for baked potatoes or polenta at dinner, or as a sandwich filling for lunch.”

Allen makes the spread from dry-packed tomatoes, which she plumps briefly in hot water. She prefers firm or extra-firm tofu; You can use any tofu available at your market. To flavor the spread, she recommends using white miso – the mildest kind. If you don’t have it, substitute whatever miso you have; start with less and taste before adding more.

Stored in a covered container in the refrigerator, the spread will keep for one week.

Makes 2 cups
3⁄4 cup sun-dried tomatoes
(45 gr. or 1.5 ounces) 450 gr. (1 pound) firm or extra-firm tofu, rinsed and drained
1⁄2 cup coarsely ground walnuts
1 Tbsp. white miso
1 tsp. salt 1 large garlic clove 1
⁄4 tsp freshly ground pepper Place the sun-dried tomatoes in a heat-proof bowl and pour boiling water over them to cover.

Let rest for about 5 minutes to soften. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the tomatoes to the food processor.

Add the remaining ingredients and process until almost smooth, leaving small bits of the sundried tomatoes for texture. Stop the machine occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Spoon the spread into an attractive serving bowl. Serve immediately or thoroughly chilled.

ALMOND RICOTTA
This recipe is from Artisan Vegan Cheese.
Author Miyoko Schinner writes that it “looks amazingly like dairy ricotta and has a similar texture to boot: fluffy with a slight graininess.” It’s good in pasta dishes like lasagne and in desserts, as a spread for toast with a bit of jam, or even on its own.

Store in a covered container in the refrigerator, almond ricotta will keep for about 1 week.

Makes about 4 cups cups blanched almonds (see Note below), soaked in water for 8 to 12 hours and drained 1 cup water Salt Put the almonds, water and a pinch of salt in a blender. Process until light, fluffy and fairly creamy but not perfectly smooth, occasionally stopping to scrape down the blender jar and move the mixture toward the blades. Taste and stir in more salt if desired.

Note: You can also use raw almonds with skins.

After soaking, their skins should slip off easily.

Simply squeeze one almond at time between your thumb and index finger. If the skins don’t come off easily, pour boiling water over the almonds to cover, let soak for 1 to 2 minutes, then drain. As soon as they’re cool enough to handle, it will be easy to skin them.

GRILLED PORTOBELLO MUSHROOM SANDWICH WITH HERBED TEHINA
Grilled vegetables with herb-flavored tehina and Israeli salad make a delicious sandwich in a pita. With their meaty texture, portobello mushrooms make a satisfying sandwich. You can also make this sandwich with grilled, broiled or roasted eggplant slices.

Makes 4 servings
Herbed Tehina Sauce (see Note below)
1 cup shredded romaine lettuce
1 green onion, chopped
1⁄2 small cucumber, diced
2 large ripe tomatoes, diced small
4 large portobello mushrooms
2 tsp olive oil salt and freshly ground pepper
4 fresh or warmed pita breads s’hug (Yemenite hot pepper-garlic relish) or bottled hot sauce, to taste Prepare sauce. Mix lettuce, onion, cucumber and tomatoes.

Clean mushrooms with a damp towel. Heat a ridged stove-top grill pan over medium-high heat. Rub mushrooms with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides.

Set mushrooms on hot grill. Grill about 3 minutes per side or until browned and done to your taste.

Cut mushrooms in thick slices. Cut a strip from top of each pita so it opens. Put mushroom slices inside and moisten with a spoonful of tehina sauce. Add vegetable salad and spoon a little more sauce over it. Serve more sauce and s’hug on the side.

HERBED TEHINA SAUCE:
Combine 1⁄3 cup well-stirred tehina paste and 1⁄3 cup water in blender.

Add salt to taste, 11⁄2 Tbsp lemon juice, 2 minced garlic cloves, about 3 Tbsp. small parsley sprigs and 1 or 2 Tbsp. coarsely chopped cilantro (fresh coriander). Blend until smooth and herbs are finely chopped. If sauce is too thick, gradually stir in more water. Season to taste with cayenne, and more salt or lemon juice if needed.
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