Cheesy Vegan Risotto
Risotto! An Italian staple, a classic dish to carry the creamy balance of flavors served along with rich meats. I LOVE RISOTTO. It comes in all varieties, colors and with a multitude of add-on ingredients. The cornerstone of risotto is creaminess. Risotto (derived from the word ris, meaning rice) is made with aborio rice. Aborio rice is key to this dish, and it is very starchy, and when slowly cooked, the starch is released into the dish naturally thickening it without any additives. So how do you make a cream and butter based wonder without dairy? Cashews! Soaked cashews provide that heavy creamy feel when blended with the starches released from the aborio rice, it develops a thickened texture which is more than convincing for a cleaned up version of this traditional course. Aborio rice can be found in the rice or pasta aisle at any regular old grocery store; look for it in a vacuum sealed package or box instead of a bag!
The cheesy sauce recipe is inspired by one found on detoxinista.com for vegan mac and cheese. It was sent by a friend and I said I'd give it a try! I first made the vegan cheese sauce, thinking I was going to serve it over broccoli, but as soon as I tasted it, I thought - RISOTTO. It tastes cheesy from the addition of nutritional yeast. Anyone that has cooked with nutritional yeast knows, you can get a VERY cheesy flavor, completely vegan, by using it. Nutritional yeast is just deactivated yeast, rich in Vitamin B and full of a nutty, savory flavor. It's an instant richness added to any meal and is low in calories. The dish is simple, but any risotto is a bit labor intensive, as you MUST add in your liquids slowly, and stir the entire time. I repeat, you must add your liquid in batches, let it be absorbed, and stir the entire time! This is how you release the starches properly; if you just throw in your liquid, cover and let it simmer untouched, you will get regular old rice! Give it a try!
Clean Cheesy Vegan Risotto
- 2 cups raw cashews, soaked in boiling water for at least 2 hours
- 4 tbsp lemon juice
- 3/4 cup water
- 1/3 cup nutritional yeast
- 1/2 tsp chili powder
- 1/2 tsp pureed garlic or garlic powder
- 1/8 tsp turmeric
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 12 cups vegetable stock (or chicken stock if you don't observe vegan and want a fuller flavor)
- 1 1/2 cup aborio rice
The cashews need to be soak for a few hours, so plan ahead. Place your raw cashews in a large bowl, and cover with boiling water from a kettle. Allow to soak on the counter; once finished, drain thoroughly and place in a food processor. Add in lemon juice, water, spices, mustard and yeast. Process on high for 2 minutes; stop to scrap down sides as needed. Once completely smooth, place in bowl and set aside.
Pour all of the broth into a large pot, and bring it up to temperature without boiling on the stove. Once heated, turn down without allowing it to lose temperature but to avoid boiling. In a large soup pot, pour the dry aborio rice into the bottom and place on stove over medium heat. Pour three ladles of broth over rice and stir with a wooden spoon (specifically wooden said my Nona, no idea why!) constantly. Turn heat down a touch if sticking to the bottom. You need to stir the WHOLE time! Once all broth is absorbed, add 2 more ladle fulls of broth; continue to repeat this process until you are happy with the consistency of the rice. Again, stir the WHOLE TIME. You will notice the liquid in the rice will become murky and white; this is the starch releasing from the rice and creating that thickening effect you want.
Once your rice is fully cooked ( a good indicator other than tasting is to scrape the bottom of the pot with the spoon and ensure the rice stays parted, showing the bottom of the pot), remove from heat. Don't over cook the rice, or it will be gluey. Stir in the cashew cheese sauce until fully combined. Serve immediately while hot to preserve the texture.