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Food is obviously a very important part of peoples lives, it doesn’t matter if you’re a ‘foodie’ or not, everyone has to eat. Since food is essential not only to our survival but also our wellbeing, it only makes sense that many people are passionate about all kinds of foods and what and how they eat. Plant foods have always been popular in the sense humanity has always searched them out and eaten them, and over the centuries people have come up with literally countless different ways to eat and prepare these foods.
The people who are part of making Rancho Vignola happen as a business are enthusiastic and passionate about food, to put it mildly. This means we’re all pretty adventurous eaters who like and encourage each other to try a wide variety of things, and many of us enjoy spending time making and experimenting in the kitchen. Being in the business of some of the most popular plant foods used to make dairy replacements, we’ve tried thousands of different recipes and ways to make these types of recipes and foods.
No, we’re probably never going to exactly replicate actual dairy using nuts and seeds, but we can make some similar alternatives and beyond in our own kitchens using only a couple ingredients. While these recipes are usually searched out and made to replace dairy, which they do a great job of, they should not be overlooked for their own unique benefits and uses. They stand on their own as a nutritious, versatile and useful food choice that not only can do many (most?) of the things dairy can do, but also their own different things as well and with so much flavour. Since so many recipes and foods include dairy, and when you either can’t have it or don’t want it, that leaves people experimenting with alternatives.
You might already have your go-to ways to make these foods, and if it works for you keep doing it! There are many ways to get essentially the same results, and we’ll talk about some of the ones we’ve tried here. Food preferences are also very personal, and I encourage you to tweak anything outlined to better suit yours. I hope this gives you a strong base and a leaping board to launch your own creativity in your kitchen.
What can you make plant based milks and creams from?
Most raw nuts and seeds can be used to make a milk or cream alternative to drink on its own or use in recipes, each one is a bit different of course. These are the nuts and seeds we find ourselves making milks and creams from the most.
Soaking before blending vs. not, and why bother?
We recommend soaking any nut or seed you’re going to be making milk from, we find we end up with a creamer and richer end product and less separation later. Basically it’ll help make the nut or seed stretch further to make more and better milks. Plus it’ll be easier for your blender to process, so if you don’t have a high powered blender don’t skip the soaking step! However soaking isn’t necessary, and we’ve all been known to skip that step in a time pinch.
To soak your nuts or seeds place them in a bowl with enough fresh cool water to cover them by an inch or more. You can leave it on your counter for 8 – 12 hours before blending, if it’s going to be longer then we recommend putting it in your fridge, and we don’t recommend soaking beyond 24 hours even refrigerated. After hours have passed you’ll see the nut or seed has swelled up, and the water is now a bit murky, some will also be quite a bit softer when squeezed. Strain out the water and rinse your nuts or seeds with fresh water before adding them to your blender with the fresh water you’ll be blending with.
Forgot to soak ahead of time but still have some time? You can also do a quick soak with hot water, we haven’t tried this with every nut and seed listed above but have used this often with almonds or cashews and don’t see why it wouldn’t work for others. Put your chosen nut or seed in a heat safe bowl, boil water and pour enough to generously cover the nuts or seeds. Usually within 30 minutes the nut or seed is quite a bit softer and has absorbed some water, but we usually don’t time it and just let it soak until the water has mostly cooled off and is warm and not hot.
The basic recipe and different ways to make plant based milks and creams.
You’ll only need two ingredients, your chosen nut or seed and water. We also recommend adding a small pinch of salt, and if you’re planning on mostly drinking it and not using it in recipes we tend to use dates to sweeten it a bit. However fresh nuts and seeds aren’t going to be bitter like old, stale, and or rancid ones, so even if you like sweets you wont need as much added sweetener to cover up off-putting tastes.
You can also add fun flavourings like cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, or cocoa powder to change and spice things up! For spices start with smaller amounts around 1/4 tsp and work your way up. Spices range in potency quite a bit and you’ll know the spices in your cabinet and your preferences the best! When adding cocoa for chocolate milks unless you don’t want it very chocolaty I’d start with 2 tbsp, though many of us have been known to use more than double that on occasions. Liquid vanilla extract strengths also can vary quite a bit between brands. Since it’s very easy to add more in increments don’t rush in with a full teaspoon to start with, even if you love vanilla.
The basic (and very flexible) recipe we use is:
1 cup of nuts or seeds
3 – 4 cups of water, use less water for a creamer richer milk or more to stretch it further and make it more similar to a lower fat dairy milk. How much water you use will depend on what kind of milk or cream you want to end up with, and different nuts or seeds blended with the same amount of water can be a bit more or less creamy. Cashews and hemp seeds that we don’t bother straining out the pulp will produce a thicker more creamy result with more water than almonds or hazelnuts that are more often strained.
Optional but recommended:
Small pinch of sea salt
Dates for sweetness, how many depends on how sweet you want it. Most people start with 2 pitted medjool dates per cup of nuts used, but if you know you like more sweetness feel free to start with 4 dates. You can also use other sweeteners such as maple syrup, honey, sugars etc, but we all much prefer using dates.
Simply add your hopefully soaked nuts or seeds to a blender with 3 – 4 cups of fresh cool water. Add other ingredients to suit your personal preference. Blend on the highest setting your blender has for 3-5 minutes, most of us let it run until the liquid starts to warm a bit.
Next we recommend straining most nut and seed milks to remove any pulp from the liquid, especially if you’re going to be drinking it as is so you have a silkier beverage to sip on. To strain the mixture you have some options, for best results we use and recommend using our own Rancho Vignola nut milk bags which are made of a very fine nylon mesh, but we’ll go through some alternatives in case you don’t have one yet. When using our nut milk bags simply pour the blended mixture into the bag, we then find it most effective to twist the bag closed overtop of the liquid and then start squeezing downwards to extract all the liquid from the pulp. Once you’ve squeezed out all the liquid you’ll be left with a crumbly damp pulp in the bag, more on that later. Empty the pulp out of the bag, give the bag a thorough rinse and you can then simply throw it in with your next load of kitchen laundry that will be run with cold water, warm water shouldn’t harm the bag but we do recommend washing in cold to increase its longevity over the years, we have not tested it washing with hot water in the washing machine.
If you don’t have a nut milk bag you can try a few other options for the straining step that you might and hopefully already have on hand. The most common recommendation out there is cheesecloth, and use quite a few layers or some pulp will make its way though. We don’t use cheesecloth for two main reasons, the first being it’s impossible to clean after so you have to throw it out after each use, the other being we just haven’t gotten as good results with cheesecloth as we do with our nut milk bags. Another option we’ve heard recommended but haven’t tried ourselves is straining though a clean tightly woven hand or dish towel, preferably something large and without fuzz. We feel this would let though quite a bit more pulp than our nut milk bags do, so maybe try using two towels if you find it’s an issue.
Storage, shelf life, and the remaining pulp
Once in awhile someone makes a batch that doesn’t separate, but we haven’t figured out the golden rules to make this happen consistently without using emulsifiers of some kind, yet. So be prepared that after sitting for awhile you will want to shake up the nut milk before drinking it or using in recipes. Separation in home made nut and seed milks is normal and it does not mean it’s gone off.
Keep your plant based milks in a sealed container in the fridge, we prefer glass jars that can be easily washed and reused over and over again. We generally recommend not keeping it for longer than 4 days, but it’s always better fresher and try to use it up within 3 days. We’ve heard of people storing it longer and it not going off but we don’t recommend it.
Now you have delicious home made nut or seed milk in your fridge, but you’re probably staring at large lump of nut or seed pulp and wondering what to do with this byproduct. In all honesty we’ve tried a lot of different ways to use the pulp and every time we think the recipe would be better off using freshly ground up nuts or seeds, as so much of the good stuff is extracted during the process. There are many recipes out there for ways to use the pulp and it can be added to baked goods, made into crackers, or dried and then ground into a type of flour or meal. If you find a recipe to use the pulp that excites you, please share it with us, we’d love to try it for ourselves! The pulp can also be frozen and collected to deal with larger batches all at once later. Many nuts and seeds are healthy for our animal friends to eat as well, and they don’t seem to mind we’ve extracted much of the delicious parts from the pulp already. Make sure the food is safe for the type of animal you’re potentially giving it to though. Almond pulp can be used to make things like dog or horse cookies, and your animals will love you for it!
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