Developing and improving upon the taste and texture of homemade vegan cheeses is all hinged around finding the perfect balance between the right fat and acid, then figuring out the right kinds and ratios of thickeners to mimic the texture and stretch of cheese. Working off of this principle, I’ve combined full-fat coconut milk with champagne vinegar (a new-to-me ingredient I discovered yesterday), then used agar powder and tapioca flour for bulk and stretch. After adding in some pureed roasted red pepper, the result was a cheese that looked a bit like the pimento cheese I ate while growing up in the southern part of the United States, but tasted more like a very mild queso dip rather than the southern staple I used to consume. Whether this is melted by itself between two pieces of bread—or made even to be even heartier by adding vegan bacon and fresh tomato slices—this cheese tastes fabulous and is also a breeze to make.
VEGAN GRILLED CHEESE WITH SHIITAKE BACON AND TOMATO
Yield 2-3 sandwiches
for the cheese
- 3.5 oz prepared roasted red pepper
- 1/2 can (13.66 fl. oz.) coconut milk, unsweetened (I used Thai Kitchen brand)
- 1 tsp champagne vinegar
- 3/4 tsp agar powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 TB tapioca flour, whisked in 1 TB cold water
- 1 TB nutritional yeast
- 1 tsp liquid lecithin
for the shiitake bacon
- 6-8 shiitake caps, sliced
- 2 TB sesame oil
- 2 TB olive oil
- few dashes of liquid smoke OR oven-prepared shiitake bacon
- your favorite bread, for toasting (I used focaccia)
- olive oil, for the bread
- fresh tomato slices, for serving
- Place the roasted red pepper into a small food processor and puree well. Leave it in the processor and set aside.
- Place the coconut milk, vinegar, agar and salt into a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat until a small boil is achieved, whisking continuously the entire time. Remove from the heat and whisk in the tapioca/water mixture, nooch and lecithin. Now, pour a bit of the mixture into the food processor with the roasted red pepper, then puree again until combined. Then, scrape all of the contents back into the pan, and stir again to combine. Transfer to a container, cover, then place in the refrigerator to slightly gel overnight.
- When you are ready to make the sandwiches, toss the sliced shiitake in the oils and liquid smoke, and allow to marinate for 15-20 minutes.
- Heat a flat skillet over medium heat. Place the shiitake into the pan, making sure all shiitakes make contact with the bottom of the pan with no overlapping. Allow to slightly brown for about 2 minutes, flip, then allow to brown on the other side for 2 more minutes. Transfer to a paper towel, to slightly drain and crisp up.
- Return to your pan. Apply a little olive oil to your bread, then place oil side down. If you are using thin sandwich bread, slice the cheese thinly, then place onto the bread. If you are using thicker bread like focaccia, you can just melt some of the cheese separately in the microwave or small pan, then pour onto the bread once it is browned and removed from the pan.
- Arrange the shiitake bacon and sliced tomato onto the sandwich. Serve immediately.
This recipe will make enough cheese for 3 sandwiches with some leftover for other applications later.