Joe Stepaniak’s “Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook” was among the first cookbooks I bought after deciding to adopt a vegan diet 3 years ago. For those not familiar with the term “uncheese”, Stepaniak uses it to describe rich-tasting spreads, dips, sauces and blocks produced with dairy-free whole foods (primarily beans, nuts, or grains).
Cheese lovers be forewarned: you may be in for some disappointment if you’re expecting tofu to taste like Feta cheese or chickpeas like Havarti. The book’s introduction even acknowledges that “uncheeses are not going to be like dairy cheeses, so please adjust your expectations accordingly. “
Unfortunately I skipped Stepaniak’s well-intentioned introduction and plowed in to the recipes, attempting Tofu Ricotta, Chick Cheez, Swizz Cheez, Buffalo Mostarella, Brie, Betta Feta, White Bean Boursin, Monterey Jack and Port Wine uncheeses. And while all were tasty (my favorite is the sharp Chick Cheez spread–made from Garbanzo Beans) they left me somewhat disillusioned and wondering whether I could actually live without real cheese.
As a result of not immediately finding perfect non-dairy replacements for my most beloved cheeses, “The Uncheese Cookbook” sat dormant on my shelf for some time. Little did I realize that I would come back to Stepaniak’s book later (many times), finding it had improved with age. Its most valuable lesson is that it introduces unfamiliar ingredients, and uses them as well as more commonplace items–including raw nuts–in groundbreaking fashion.
For example, I had never heard of nutritional yeast, an ingredient employed in many of the book’s recipes. Nutritional yeast is a rich source of vitamins and minerals that has a pungent cheesy taste, too. I later learned that Stepaniak is somewhat of an aficionado on the subject of nutritional yeast, having authored “The Nutritional Yeast Cookbook.”
Among other new ingredients (and somewhat challenging to obtain) were agar and kuzu (both plant-based thickening agents used in place of gelatin), and umeboshi plum paste, used for adding saltiness. Chickpea flour (a.k.a. Chana Besan) while common in Indian cuisine, is also employed in many uncheese dishes.
The introduction to Uncheese Cookbook provides a detailed and useful reference to all the aforementioned ingredients as well as others. It also contains a well-documented background of how the dairy industry has 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 vs. dairy products.
Moving on to the recipes, I found many of the “Uncheese Dishes” to be superb. Among my favorites are:
- Chocolate Almond Cheeze Cake (p170*) with Granola Nut Crust–Everyone who’s tasted it are astounded it tastes more delicious than real cheesecake, without using eggs or dairy products (maple syrup is the secret).
- “Besto Pesto” (which imperceptibly substitutes cheese with miso)–How can a vegan diet be considered sacrifice when you can still enjoy a dish of linguine with Genevose pesto sauce?
- Chickpea Flour Pizza (p128), eaten alongside vegetable curries–It takes all of about 5 minutes to prepare, so it’s very convenient, too!
- Beannaise (p150)–Used as mayonnaise substitute within other recipes, and also by itself, 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 Sprinkles (p50), Eggplant Parmagiano Stew (p80), Spinach-Tofu Manicotti (p117), Zucchini Chedda Soup (p77).
Upon re-perusing “The Uncheese Cookbook”, there are still many dishes I plan to sample, including: Classic Quiche (p102), Lemon Teasecake (p169)-the “Key Lime” variation, Quick and Easy Alfredo Sauce (p63), Hot Spinach-Artichoke Dip (p49), and Curried Cauliflower Cheez Soup (p76).
Other features of the book you will appreciate are the charts of nutritional values for each of the recipes, and the listings of food allergens (gluten, soy, nuts, corn). On the other hand, the book contains only 4 pages of photographs, and certainly could benefit from more.
If you already own “The Uncheese Cookbook” but haven’t picked it up for a while, I suggest it’s worth another look. If you don’t, please get a hold of a copy and try its innovative and healthy recipes based on plant-based ingredients. Just remember to put aside your expectations of dairy-cheese taste, and you won’t be disappointed!