Even though I’ve been vegetarian for over 12 years, dairy has always been a staple in my diet. Greek yogurt in the morning, a slice of Swiss cheese with my veggie burger, shaved Parmesan on my salad, and melted mozzarella on my favorite veggie pizza.
It wasn’t until last year that I started to question more about the dairy industry and did some personal research to figure things out for myself. I know that everyone has different comfort levels when it comes to food production so I won’t tell you what I discovered, I can only tell you that I didn’t like it. Plus I always knew that cheese wasn’t exactly a health food. Between both of those realizations I decided it was time to start experimenting with dairy-free options.
I can admit that it feels daunting at first because dairy is everywhere in our traditions and culture. It’s hard to get away from it sometimes. But when it comes to eating at home, it’s not only easy to replace, but incredibly delicious too.
Not only are there amazing dairy-free yogurts and cheeses on the market now, there are also great replacements that are easy to make yourself at home. For example, cashew cream. If I ever see a recipe that calls for a heavy cream, my mind instantly goes to cashews now. To make it, you simply soak raw cashews in hot water for about 30 minutes, drain and rinse, add them to a high speed blender (or a NutriBullet) with seasonings, then puree until a silky cream forms before your eyes.
For this Cajun pasta recipe, we’re using cashew cream in place of the traditional cream sauce, along with hearty shiitake mushrooms tossed in Cajun seasoning to replace the meat. Between the mushrooms and the cashews this dish offers a good deal of protein, but I like to use whole grain pasta to bump it up a little more.
If you don’t have Cajun seasoning on hand I listed an easy DIY version in the notes. It calls for common pantry ingredients and is super simple to make. There’s a good chance that once you try it you may never buy Cajun seasoning again.
- About 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil divided
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 4 green onions white and green parts separated and finely chopped
- 1 cup raw cashews soaked*
- Juice of 2 lemons
- 1/2 cup filtered water
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 8 ounces penne pasta
- 8 ounces shiitake mushrooms stemmed removed and sliced
- 1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning**
- 1 roma tomato finely chopped
- Fresh parsley for serving
- In a skillet, warm 1 teaspoon of olive oil on medium low heat. Add the garlic and white parts of the green onion, and cook for about 3 minutes, until fragrant.
- Drain and rinse the soaked cashews, and then place them into the bowl of a high speed blender. Add the cooked onion and garlic, lemon juice, water and salt. Blend on high until smooth. Add more water as needed to thin.
- Next bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the penne pasta and cook as directed.
- While the pasta cooks, in a medium sized bowl, add the sliced mushrooms and lightly drizzle with olive oil. Add the Cajun seasoning and stir until the mushrooms are evenly coated. Meanwhile add the mushrooms to the skillet used for the garlic and warm over low to medium heat. Cook for about 5 minutes, just until soft.
- Once the pasta is done cooking, drain the excess water while reserving just a few tablespoons. Add the cashew cream to the pot with the pasta and stir until evenly coated, adding some of the reserved pasta water to thin if needed. Transfer the pasta to separate bowls, top with the mushrooms, remaining green onion, tomato, and fresh parsley. Serve warm and enjoy!