Free me from the shackles of cheese!
February 5, 2012 6:42 AM   Subscribe

Looking for the tastiest, richest vegan spreads or dips you've ever had.

I'm vegan except for the embarrassing amounts of cheese I consume. I'd like to cut this out for various reasons, but am having difficulty finding something that replicates the richness and umami-ness of expensive cheese. I love guacamole and hummus as much as the next person, but am looking for other ideas. For some reason, a lot of the vegan faux-cheese recipes out there kind of gross me out. I made several sauces from the "Uncheese Cookbook" but ended up dumping the leftovers because I wasn't interested in finishing them. I love cashews, nutritional yeast, almond milk, tofu, etc., but mixing them all together makes me feel a little ill.

I would also like to avoid Daiya and most of the faux-cheese products on the market because they use a lot of vegetable oils. If someone has suggestions for a brand that is not omega-6-heavy, I'd be happy to hear it.

I realize this is a tall order, but thanks for any suggestions you may have.
posted by indognito to Food & Drink (31 answers total) 71 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried Baba Ghanoush?

And have you seen this thread?
posted by hazyjane at 7:01 AM on February 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is a self-link, but this is my spinach-artichoke dip. It's not going to fake anyone out, but it hits the right cheesy notes for me.

I have found that mixing in small amounts of white miso into things goes far with helping to give things a bit of "cheesy" tang.
posted by darksong at 7:03 AM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am a huge fan of Martha Stewart's Chickpea, Mint, and Parsley Spread.
posted by nasayre at 7:07 AM on February 5, 2012

I like this eggless egg salad, which uses cashews. I don't really get the link to how it is egg salad, except it is yellow and delicious.
posted by katinka-katinka at 7:10 AM on February 5, 2012

Sesame-miso spread. Miso is the greatest secret weapon, for sure.
posted by BibiRose at 7:25 AM on February 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

canneloni beans, salt, lemon, rosemary, garlic and a dash of hot sauce all in a food processor. Stream in olive oil until you get the consistency that you like.
posted by mmascolino at 7:54 AM on February 5, 2012

This tofu spread/dip is really good on fresh bread, chips, veggies, as a sandwich spread and it is easy to make.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:59 AM on February 5, 2012

Oh, oh: romesco sauce. The sauce shown in the linked photo is a bit chunkier and rougher in texture than I make mine, but you can make it either pleasantly coarse or whipped til it's a mousse like this example. Either way, it's delicious.

Romesco is luscious and flavorful, rich with nuts and olive oil but not heavy, tangy with peppers and tomato, and it can be served in an embarrassing array of ways. I serve it as a dip on its own or as a spread alongside a pile of good toasted bread, next to a dish of tapenade (also a great rich spread you should try) for contrast, or layered over hummus as a two-toned dip. That's especially pretty in a glass dish, and the flavors meld together so beautifully!

Try a spoonful over plain steamed broccoli, tossed with roasted asparagus, or atop a bed of well-seasoned kale. I like it as an accent to starchy dishes, too: dolloped onto polenta, mixed in with rice, or a single scoop dropping onto a bowl of bean soup. Romesco tossed with fried or roasted potatoes is heavenly, and it's just as good spooned into a split baked potato.

It's a tremendously flavorful sandwich spread, worth eating all on its own but excellent accompanying other ingredients. Last summer, I spent several days eating cucumber slices and romesco on homemade French bread --- incredible. I'm hard pressed to think of any vegetable that wouldn't taste good with romesco sauce on good bread, though I suppose there must be some.

I also love this basil-artichoke dip with a tofu base [self-link], which I serve as a dip or use as a sandwich spread. It's especially good with tomatoes or cucumbers. When I serve it as a dip, guests scrape the bowl clean.
posted by Elsa at 8:29 AM on February 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

A friend of mine used to make a Nayonaise-based chipotle potato salad that had that great richness. Knowing this, I'm sure there is a way to translate that to a dip, just not certain what it is. Her method was very simple, something along the lines of add Nayonaise and then add a tblsp of the adobo sauce that comes with canned chipotles, and as much chopped up chipotle as you want (the seeds are the hottest part, so you can control heat). A little adobo goes a long way.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:29 AM on February 5, 2012

The Uncheese Coookbook has some really useful recipes for spreads and other replacements for cheese at times when you are doing something other than just eating cheese. (It is presented as a cheese-replacement cookbook, but it's mostly spreads. )

I also love tapinades and (weirdly) vegan fake caviar, which is (even more weirdly) readily available at IKEA. Adding interesting spice blends to Hummous is also a winner.
posted by Wylla at 8:33 AM on February 5, 2012

If you're interested in premade items as well as recipes, I highly recommend Faux Gras, which is not a cheese-like dip but is loaded with that savory umami experience. I can't keep tubs of it in the house, as I will go through the whole thing in a day.
posted by tigerbelly at 8:46 AM on February 5, 2012

Muhammara is a mix of ground roasted red peppers, pomegranate molasses and walnuts - all super savory umami foods. I think you can tinker with the proportions however you like.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:05 AM on February 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Greek Yellow Split Pea Puree. (NYT) Om nom nom nom.
posted by oflinkey at 9:17 AM on February 5, 2012

Elsa I must be doing it wrong because I don't see an actual recipe for basil-artichoke dip with a tofu base at your self-link. Could you post the recipe here?
posted by headnsouth at 9:20 AM on February 5, 2012

headnsouth, thanks for the heads-up; somehow the blockquote of Mimi Smartypants' recipe (also linked to in the entry) got stripped out of that old post. I've replaced the blockquote in the entry; it was
Take a can of (unmarinated) artichoke hearts and drain those puppies. (Oh sorry. Not puppies. I forgot this was addressed to vegans.) Add 8-10 oz of drained soft tofu, two tablespoons lemon juice, one tablespoon olive oil, some chopped fresh basil, a garlic clove, and some salt. WHIRL! PULSE! PROCESS! EAT WITH CRACKERS! It makes a lot. Be warned.
I chop up the artichokes with a knife or scissors first (or you might get those odd fibrous artichoke hairs, which no one will know is the artichoke's and not the chef's); add plenty of hot sauce. There are serving suggestions at my link, but to sum up: good with crackers, good as a sandwich, good with tomatoes, GOOD.
posted by Elsa at 9:32 AM on February 5, 2012

I like this white bean, sun-dried tomato, and rosemary spread on warm toasted pita triangles or substituting for hummus in a sandwich. I imagine you could up the olive oil a little bit for more richness.

Also, a good olive tapenade can be wonderfully oily and salty and delicious. I was going to recommend this one but I see that, alas, it's not vegan (contains anchovies). If you have a food processor it's easy to experiment with homemade tapenades. They can be made with green or black olives. Additions besides olives might include extra olive oil, capers, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, cracked black pepper, fresh parsley or basil or other herbs, vinegars of various sorts, sherry, cornichons, lemon zest, preserved lemons, pickled garlic, fresh garlic, roasted garlic, mustard, etc.
posted by Orinda at 9:53 AM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's a wonderful Creamy Walnut and Pomegranate Sauce in The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean. The author (Paula Wolfert) has a similar-but-not-quite-the-same recipe on her website here (the one I'm thinking of doesn't use red peppers--but I bet they're both delicious!).

I've made this roasted carrot harrissa to positive reviews a few times now-- just leave off the creme fraiche and you're good.

Generally I'd suggest not trying to veganize by substituting non-dairy/non-egg replacements-- that is often tough to do well. However, it can work when the item you're swapping is a small portion at the overall ingredients. For example, I've not yet tried this, but I think this mushroom pate recipe could be veganed-up by subbing blended soft tofu for the Neufchatel cheese. It's mostly roasted mushrooms, so I think that would provide enough richness to hide the cheese-removal.

Look for recipes with nuts and roasted vegetables, and don't be shy about adding garlic, miso, soy sauce, and other umami-bombs as desired to punch it up.
posted by Kpele at 10:30 AM on February 5, 2012

I had this amazing "sour cream" at a vegan place once. Sadly I don't have the recipe, but the main ingredient was whipped cashews. I'm pretty sure there was also garlic and lemon juice in there ... maybe you could try experimenting? (And report back, 'cuz oh man would I love to have that recipe!)
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico at 11:04 AM on February 5, 2012

Baklazhanovaya Ikra (poor man's caviar) - made in many Russian and Ukrainian homes. My family calls it Ikra (ee-krah) for short. It's an addicting eggplant spread that is good on anything. I think it has a better flavor than baba ghanoush.

1 large eggplant
1 large onion - finely minced
3 cloves garlic - minced
2 large tomatoes - de-seeded and finely chopped

cut eggplant in half, score flesh and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper - roast in 400 deg oven (~45 minutes-hour)

saute onion and garlic in a generous amount of olive oil until soft
take off heat and add tomatoes - set aside

when the eggplant is done, scoop the flesh out of the skins (discard skins) and chop the eggplant. It's pretty soft at this point, but chop it very well. The texture created should resemble larger fish roe

put chopped eggplant into the pan with your sauteed onions and garlic, and the tomatoes. Mix and cook together for 20 minutes, adding more olive oil if needed. Add salt, pepper to taste. I also add cayenne pepper because I like some heat. Finish with a squeeze of lemon or a dash of balsamic vinegar. Spread and scoop to your heart's content! It's a simple recipe, but something magical happens during the cooking process.
posted by quince at 11:57 AM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Cashew Queso is amazing:PPK
posted by sugarbomb at 11:58 AM on February 5, 2012

Response by poster: Om nom nom! Thanks for your responses! I'm making my shopping list now.

hazyjane: doh! I did not see that thread, but it looks awesome! I included the word "cheese" in my pre-question search, which must have filtered it out.
posted by indognito at 12:41 PM on February 5, 2012

You like nutritional yeast? And almonds? You need Yumm Sauce. Cafe Yumm is located in Oregon and they make this INCREDIBLE vegan sauce. There are lots of reproduction recipes around the web; this is the one I've been meaning to try. Garbanzo beans, almonds, nutritional yeast,'s really, really good.

I also love the various Toby's tofu patés, if you're looking for something to buy instead of make.
posted by linettasky at 1:49 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Although I've never made it, this is a sample recipe for Skordalia, which is basically mashed potatoes and garlic and vinegar and oil and oh, my god, it is so good. There's a place in DC (Zorba's!) which will sell it to you by the tub, where it sits in your fridge until you realize you didn't need to talk to anyone for the next week, anyway, so why not have just another spoonful or so... Liking garlic is pretty much a prerequisite, though, but the vinegar and oil do make it more complex than just licking starchy cloves.

But I also second anything with roasted eggplants and/or pomegranate molasses. Black bean dips might be another thing you consider, which definitely don't need cheese, but do love adobe sauce and brown sugar.
posted by jetlagaddict at 2:55 PM on February 5, 2012

This recipe won't help if you are looking for a cheese substitute like Daiya (think and stringy) but I would recommend it for making faux-grilled cheese. I think the recipe is very good but you shouldn't come in expecting it to taste like cheese at all, more like another type of cashew spread.
posted by Revort at 4:30 PM on February 5, 2012

Another useful "secret ingredient" besides miso: good olives.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:45 PM on February 5, 2012

You want Tartex. Seriously, ridiculously delicious. I buy it from Vegan Essentials. Really, try it.
posted by biscotti at 6:43 PM on February 5, 2012

Peel a half-dozen or a dozen heads of garlic, leaving only the single layer of skin on each clove. rub down with a little cheap olive oil. Put each head into a cup of a muffin pan, and then cover the pan with foil (doesn't have to be airtight; don't get too worried about this part). Then toss it all in the oven for 35 or 40 minutes at 210°C or so.

After they've cooled to the point where you can safely handle them, break off the cloves (the woody bits at the bottom will generally stick to the root end of the bulb, simplifying that bit) and squeeze them out into a jar or something, adding salt and olive oil to taste in order to give it a good, smooth texture.

Spread on bread, toast in toaster oven, and repeat until the damn garlic's all gone again I just made a batch LAST WEEKEND I mean COME ON
posted by DoctorFedora at 7:16 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Try searching for Indian chutneys - coconut, coriander, tomatoes, ginger, lentils, peanuts all can be made into dips/spreads individually (or in some combination) with some salt and spices. Keep them in the fridge and reheat as required. Yummy!
posted by theobserver at 9:42 PM on February 5, 2012

There is a recipe for a "pate" in How it All Vegan which has been a hit at every party I've served it, among carnivores and vegans alike. It's basically raw shredded potato, ground sunflower seeds, sauteed mushrooms, spices, nutritional yeast and soy sauce mixed together and baked. It's awesome.
posted by pixiecrinkle at 8:07 AM on February 6, 2012

My wife makes sour cream and onion dip with this tofu sour cream substitute Sour Supreme and I couldn't tell the difference between that and the real thing... I mean, side by side, sure, but I ate half a bowl of the stuff at a friends house before they told me it wasn't sour cream. Just add a packet of dry french onion soup mix to the sour supreme.

But it's also useful as a base for other vegan dips.
posted by j03 at 9:07 AM on February 6, 2012

I came in to recommend romesco sauce and see that it was already called out by Elsa. I agree, I can't imagine anything it's not good with. I started eating it in a chickpea and potato stew, and from there put it on everything from broccoli to crackers.
posted by garlic at 12:36 PM on February 6, 2012

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