So I have a bit of a weird fetish. I’m always interested in experimenting with different diets.
Mainly because I’m curious to understand how changing what I eat changes the way I feel. But also because I want to understand what it’s like for people with allergies who have no choice in the matter.
When Fergal was first born, like most new mothers I was super vigilant in observing his every move. So when I noticed he was having a bit of reflux, I did some research.
One suggested solution was to try eliminating dairy from the mothers diet. So I decided to have ‘dairy-free week’.
While I love cheese way too much to ever voluntarily avoid dairy long term, it wasn’t too difficult just for the week. It didn’t really seem to make a difference to little Fergal. But on the upside I made some great discoveries…
12 Clever Ideas for Eating Dairy-free
1. Grated nuts as ‘Parmesan’
Finely grating Brazil nuts with a microplane has been my ‘go-to’ dairy-free option for ages. While it looks the part, the flavour isn’t as good as real parmesan. But recently I’ve discovered an alternative. See below for the recipe!
2. Whipped Coconut Cream
Desserts are easily the most difficult area to go dairy free. My favourite whipped cream alternative is to chill a can of coconut cream (the higher the fat content the better) then spoon the solid cream into a bowl and leave any watery liquid in the can. Whisk until thick just like regular whipping cream.
3. Roasted pine nuts instead of goats cheese
Where you have a cheese being used as a flavour highlight, for example in a salad of roast beets and goats cheese, roasted pinenuts or other nuts can work as a replacement by providing richness and visual interest.
4. Cashew ‘Sour Cream’
You need a super high-powered blender for this to work. Soak cashews in water for a few hours, then drain and keep the soaking water. Whizz cashews in your blender adding in a little water as you go. Add lemon juice until you’re happy with the taste and keep adding water until you’re happy with the consistency. You can use a food processor but it won’t end up as creamy.
5. Cashew ‘cream cheese’ or ‘ricotta’
As above but skip the lemon juice.
And keep the water to a minimum so it’s nice and thick.
6. Coconut Yoghurt
See the recipe over here.
7. Nut milks
Home made almond milk is easy and really delicious. But it’s a bit too time consuming for me on an everyday basis.
There are some pretty tasty almond milks on the market. Some are very sweet though so you might need to try a few brands. Skip any sweetened with agave as this is almost pure fructose ( and if you’re wondering why this is a bad thing see here)
8. Nut butters in sauces
I recently made a butter chicken (aka chicken tikka marsala). The recipe called for cashew butter to finish the sauce. It was amazing the difference the cashew butter made to the curry adding lovely nutty complexity. So I’m planning on experimenting with using other nut butters in sauces. Think sate and beyond.
My supermarket stocks cashew, peanut, and almond butters in the health food section. All are worth playing with.
9. Coconut oil or
copha in sweet baking
It’s hard to go past real butter in baked goods. The next best option is coconut oil or
copha. But these make everything taste coconutty so be warned!
UPDATE: thanks to QB for alerting me to the fact that copha is hydrogenated and actually not a healthy choice. Stick to coconut oil please!
10. Vegetable or nut oils in baking
When a coconutty flavour isn’t an option just sub in a neutral flavoured oil like rice bran oil or peanut oil.
If the recipe instructs you to cream butter and sugar the oil won’t cream up and trap as much air as butter would. So add a little extra baking powder to make up for it. 1/2 teaspoon should do in most cases.
11. Clarified butter or ghee
Most dairy dietary problems are a reaction to the sugars or proteins in milk products. Clarified butter or ghee has had these removed so can be fine for most allergy situations. To make your own just melt butter in a saucepan. Skim off and remove any white foam from the top. Keep the lovely buttery oil in the middle and discard the white solids from the bottom.
This also makes the ghee or butter oil more stable so great for cooking at higher temps.
12. Coconut sorbet
My go to ice cream replacement. When I used to have an ice cream maker I would just churn a can of coconut cream with a little icing sugar for sweetness. I’m afraid I haven’t cracked a good coconut sorbet recipe that doesn’t require a machine. Watch this space though!
Brazil Nut ‘Parmesan’
I was going to call this ‘I can’t believe it’s not Parmesan’ but of course you won’t mistake this topping for freshly grated parmesan.
The good news is, even though it tastes different, it’s actually really delicious and even though I’m back to eating dairy, I often reach for this topping to give crunch and extra depth of flavour to salads and other dishes.
Nutritional yeast and onion powder are two new ingredients for me. They’re actually wonderful ways to add savoury or ‘umami’ flavours to foods without adding animal based ingredients. And I’ll let you in on a secret: they’re often used in commercial salty snacks for that very reason
Nutritional yeast is also a great source of B group vitamins.
Enough for about a cup.
1 cup brazil nuts
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon sea salt flakes
1. Whizz everything together in the food processor. Store in an airtight jar in the fridge.
short on time / yeast & onion-free – just grate whole brazil nuts with a microplane.
nut-free – use real parmesan :) or try with sunflower seeds.
Different nuts – also great with pine nuts or almonds or cashews.