Milk and cheese are quite different from one another in consistency and flavor, but they come from the same main ingredient: milk. And in a vegan kitchen, one item can make an excellent replacement for some of those dairy products: cashew cream.

This cream doesn’t taste like roasted, salted cashews you might eat in a mixed nut bowl at a holiday party. It uses raw cashews to achieve a smooth texture and delicate flavor. Plus, cashews are high in heart-healthy oleic acid, which has been shown to lower cholesterol levels and slow development of heart disease.

I first discovered cashew cream a couple years ago, adding it to my dinner and dessert crepe bar one evening. It seemed like everyone who came to the table asked what it was, and every one of them went back to it throughout the meal. I had intended for the cream to be part of the dinner crepe selection — alongside steamed broccoli, fried vegan sausage, sauteed mushrooms and so on — but one housemate tried it with the dessert fruit selection and found it equally as fitting.

My favorite use of cashew cream is in crepes, which is my go-to meal to impress those who doubt the tastiness of vegan food. But cashew cream can also be made thick and used as a vegan ricotta, or made thin and used like heavy cream in a soup.

In addition, the delicate base recipe easily takes on other flavors. Add a little lemon and herbs for a pasta or pizza sauce, or a teaspoon of maple syrup for a dessert topping. The versatility, I tell you!

Cashews, in general, are pretty darn versatile. My mother-in-law made a cashew loaf for Christmas, and there are numerous recipes for raw cashew cheeses. I haven’t delved into the vast world of making my own cheeses yet, but it’s been on my to-do list for a while now. If you have any tips or recipes, please pass them along.

Lisa Wardle has been vegan for seven years. She enjoys creating a wide range of foods, but is particularly fond of baked goods, reinvented American classics and Asian cuisine. Email her at lwardle@cumberlink.com.

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