Dairy free carbonara is possible, as Vanessa finds out in her How To Cook Healthy For Beginners column this week. She turns to vegan cheese for a recipe from Simply Dairy Free
Cheese is the staple to a whole host of desirably delicious meals. How often do you see a video shared on Facebook of another ‘cheese fondue café opening in London/New York’? People go nuts for cheese, and I would definitely put it up with luxury items such as wine (despite it being very much an everyday essential for some).
Unfortunately for some, life is cruel and lactose intolerance exists (or is it a myth?). I don’t have it, but I have been avoiding cow’s dairy for the past seven weeks. This is because cow’s milk is directly associated with the inflammation of eczema which I suffer from, according to new book, The Good Skin Solution: Natural Healing for Eczema, Psoriasis, Rosacea and Acne (which I am currently trialling). Before this diet, I only used milk in my occasional builder’s brew and cheese a couple of times a week in cooking (as well as the occasional helping for a snack when I’m just craaaavinggg, you know?).
I had a try of a vegan toastie, and was astounded at how yummy it was
Resisting cheese has opened up my eyes to alternatives. This Monday, Healthista had a stand at the Natural and Organic Products Trade show. Whilst wondering around the surprisingly expansive vegan food section, I came across vegan cheeses amongst the vegan chocolate, sweets and… pet food. I had a try of a vegan toastie, and was astounded at how yummy it was. It tasted different, yes, and a cheese guru would slam it. But for someone who is either vegan or lactose intolerant, it may just restore the sparkle in your eye.
With dairy alternatives now so readily available, don’t believe you can never enjoy cheesey food again
So, after having a taste of what I have missed, I set out to try vegan cheese in my own kitchen. I was delighted to see a range of seven Free-From cheeses at Sainsbury’s (other supermarkets do variations), including Cheddar-style coconut and soya protein based, £2.25 for 200g. The coconut oil doesn’t make them any healthier, though, with the product still being high in saturated fats and salts.
Sainsbury’s range of vegan cheese got a spike of attention in October, one month after its release, for reasons which the Healthista office can’t stop laughing about. One Facebook cheese lover was furious they were claiming it to be cheese. In a rant she said ‘Call it Gary or something just don’t call it cheese because it’s not cheese!’
One Facebook cheese lover was furious they were claiming it to be cheese. In a rant she said ‘Call it Gary or something just don’t call it cheese because it’s not cheese!’
Sainsbury’s had the perfect response:
Whether you are partial to a low-dairy diet or a newly turned vegan, you may be looking for some inspiration aside from salads. I had a flick through Deliciously Dairy Free by Lesley Waters, drooling over pastas, pizzas, lasagnes, and even Mac and cheese. With dairy alternatives now so readily available, don’t believe you can never enjoy these foods again. Here is a dairy-free Carbonara recipe, made from scratch for an unprocessed healthy comfort meal:
Spaghetti alla Carbonara
350g (11½oz) dried spaghetti (I used wheat rather than white, simply because I don’t like the texture of white spaghetti. It takes the tiniest bit more time to cook, and that’s the only difference).
2 tablespoons olive oil
125g (4oz) diced pancetta (I used bacon)
2 large garlic cloves, crushed
3 large free-range eggs
85g (3¼oz) dairy-free Cheddar-style cheese, finely grated
50g (2oz) spinach, finely shredded
freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
salt and pepper
- Place a large saucepan of water on to boil and stir in a good pinch of salt. Add the spaghetti and cook for about 10 minutes or until al dente.
- Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large frying pan, add the pancetta and fry for 4–5 minutes until golden and crisp. Remove from the heat and stir in the garlic.
- Beat the eggs together with the cheese in a bowl and season well with salt and pepper.
4. Drain the pasta, reserving some of the cooking liquid. Tip the pasta into the frying pan with the pancetta and garlic, then add 2 tablespoons of the reserved cooking liquid.
5. Place the pan over a medium heat and pour in the egg mixture. Using 2 wooden spoons, toss the spaghetti so that it mixes with the egg mixture and all the spaghetti is coated. Heat through until
thickened, taking care not to overcook it or you will end up with scrambled egg!
6. At the last moment, stir through the spinach and season with plenty of black pepper and nutmeg. Serve straight away.
I secretly gave this to my family without telling them the cheese was vegan. Towards the end of her meal, my mother said ‘oh, I could eat this all over again!’. When I told them, they didn’t have any qualms about difference of taste to normal cheddar, which is re-assuring for families who have a lactose intolerant eater. Alone grated, the cheese isn’t quite the same taste, but I would use it again in cooking.
I believe if you fancy something more indulgent, you can still avoid ‘packet’ foods
It took about 20 minutes to rustle up, and for a first time making carbonara, that really is impressive and easy.
It doesn’t exactly scream fruits and vegetables, apart from the contemporary addition of some spinach which is unnoticeable in terms of flavour. But hey ho, I believe if you fancy something more indulgent, you can still avoid ‘packet’ foods (such as carbonara jar sauces). A fishy version with smoked salmon tossed through would be divine, too.
Buy Simply Dairy Free: Fresh & simple lactose-free recipes for healthy eating every day, Lesley Waters, published by Hamlyn, £9.98 on Amazon.
Vanessa Chalmers is a Food and Lifestyle Writer at Healthista, and enjoys finding new healthy living hacks, especially when it comes to her favourite thing – food. Her column How To Cook Healthy For Beginners is every Friday, for the busy everyday woman who is nothing more than an amateur chef, but loves food and to cook.
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