Two Vegan Parmesan Substitutes

In my recent plant-powered kids post about picky eaters, I mentioned two toppings that our girls love: “Cheesy Sprinkle” and “Brazil Nut Parm“.  Well, it’s not just our girls that love these sprinkly toppings – the adults in this household do too!

Ok, I love both.  Hubby is not the biggest nooch (ie nutritional yeast) fan, so he doesn’t “get” the Cheesy Sprinkle – but he LOVES the Brazil Nut Parm.  Both recipes are in Let Them Eat Vegan.  And, I decided I would share both recipes with you today.

First, the Cheesy Sprinkle.  This is somewhat like Parma, if you’ve ever tried that product.  I used to order Parma from Vegan Essentials.  But, it became pricey, and also I found the walnut base made my mouth a little sore (walnuts are the only nut that I cannot eat ‘freely’).  I started making it at home, and found that I preferred using a different nut base – being a combo of almonds and cashews.  Not only could I eat it ‘freely’… I enjoy the taste better.  For me, the blend of cashews and almonds is just right – cashews being a little softer/creamier and almonds harder/drier.  This is my favorite blend, but of course if you prefer to use the full amount of either cashews or almonds you certainly can.  Plus, I have a nut-free version for you so this can be used in school lunches (the nut-free version is NOT in my book, I just tested it out and giving it here).  While this type of nutritional yeast-based topping is often touted as a ‘vegan parmesan’, I don’t think it tastes anything like parmesan.  It tastes like a nutty, cheesy, savory sprinkly topping – hence the name “Cheesy Sprinkle”.

Cheesy Sprinkle (from LTEV)

Cheesy Sprinkle gluten-free, soy-free, oil-free  LINK to share/print

This topping, affectionately called Cheesy Sprinkle in our house, will be a favorite for kids big and small. Try it on salads, tossed into pasta, sprinkled on rice and beans, worked into sandwich mixtures, as a pizza topping, or eaten off a spoon (yeah, I’ve done it before)!

1/2 cup nutritional yeast

1/4 cup raw almonds (see note)

1/4 cup raw cashews (or more raw almonds)

1/2 tsp (scant) sea salt (about ¼ + 1/8 tsp)

1/4 tsp lemon zest (optional)

Put all the ingredients into a standing blender and pulse until very fine and crumbly. Don’t overprocess, just pulse several times. That’s it! Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.  Makes about 1 scant cup

Adult-Minded: Try adding 1⁄8 teaspoon of onion or garlic powder.

Kid-Friendly: I make this often for our kiddos, and make it quick and simple using just the nooch, nuts, and salt. You may enjoy added flavor depth from the zest, but it’s not essential.

Savvy Subs and Adds: To make this mixtre nut free, substitute the almonds and cashews with: 3 tbsp hemp seeds, 1 tbsp chia seeds (preferably white chia), and 1 tbsp pumpkin seeds (or sesame or sunflower).  Voila!

Alright, let’s talk about parmesan for a moment!  When I became vegan, parmesan was the last and hardest cheese for me to stop eating.  I even bought rice parmesan for a period of time (which was misleading because it contained casein).  And you know what?  I was hooked on that rice parmesan.  I remember searching town for it once when I ran out.  It wasn’t until later that I realized the casein was the culprit.  As my dynamic and talented friend Julieanna Hever explains in this clip, casein is VERY addictive.  And, as Dr. Colin Campbell outlines in The China Study, casein is particularly bad for the body, and promotes the development of cancer.  Dairy is bad news.  Once I finally kicked the casein – dairy was no longer an issue.  I didn’t crave it, didn’t want it.  No longer did I “need” that parmesan on my pasta or salads.

Still, most of us do like toppings, things that add flavor and texture to a dish.  So, in my quest to deliver a dairy-free parmesan to you, my readers, I came up with my next recipe – Brazil Nut Parmezan.  For me, this is the closest thing to a parmesan topping.  No, it doesn’t taste exactly like parmesan, but it gives you the same pleasurable notes as a parmesan… it is salty, tangy, and a richness from the natural whole-foods fats in the nuts.  Unlike the Cheesy Sprinkle, this delivers a parmesan mouth taste and feel.  And, it’s all from the technique.  It’s the slow, low-heat baking of the sprinkle that allows the tart lemon flavor to infuse into the processed brazil nuts, along with just a hint of cheesy flavor from the nooch that makes magic happen.  I explain more in this video. (Excuse the not-great hair… and the toddler screech at the end! Also this is pre-tripod, vertigo-inclined beware) ;)


And, since I didn’t give you a glimpse of the final product in that clip, here’s the money shot!

Brazil Nut Parmesan (from LTEV)

Brazil Nut Parmezan gluten-free, soy-free, oil-free Link to share/print

There are many versions of vegan Parmesans available, and in fairness, none of them are really like dairy Parmesan. But, we don’t need them to be! What we want is a tangy, salty, rich-tasting sprinkle that we can use for topping salads, pastas, pizza, and more. This topping delivers!

1½ cups brazil nuts (see notes)

½ tsp (little scant) sea salt

1 ½ tbsp nutritional yeast

1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 275°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Process the brazil nuts in a food processor or blender until fine and crumbly. Don’t overprocess, or they will begin to heat and become pasty. Just pulse until finely crumbled.  Spread on the prepared pan. Toss in the salt, nutritional yeast, and lemon juice. Use your fingers to work these ingredients through the crumbled nuts.  Place in the oven and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, being sure to toss three or four times through the baking process (and check during last minutes of baking; the mixture should become dry and maybe a touch golden around the edges, but should not brown). Remove from the oven, let cool, and transfer to a container to refrigerate. Makes about 2 cups.

If This Apron Could Talk: If you cannot eat brazil nuts, I would substitute 1 1/2 cups raw almonds.  You could also try about 1 1/4 cup of almonds along with 1/4 cup of pine nuts.  After trying this for the first time, you might want to double your batch the next time round. It can disappear quickly! It’s one of my husband’s favorites; in fact, he keeps saying, “You should bottle this up and sell it”!

Kid-Friendly: Your little ones might love this just the way it is, but you can try bumping up the nooch another tablespoon to make it a little more cheesy. Also see Cheesy Sprinkle (recipe follows) for a cheesier-tasting topping.

Serving Suggestions: Any tomato-based pasta sauce will welcome this seasoning, as will a very modestly dressed pasta, such as one with olive oil and lemon juice. This topping works wonders on salads, and adds crunch and depth to cooked rice and other grains, as well as simple bean preparations.

Tomato Artichoke Pasta with Brazil Nut Parm (both from LTEV) photo credit: Hannah Kaminsky

We LOVE this parmezan, and think you will too!  Please try both of these recipes, and feel free to share, tweet, etc.

I’d love to hear how you like these toppings!  Have you felt addicted to parmesan? What’s your favorite cheesy topping?

p.s. I have heard from so many of you that are loving LTEV.  If you haven’t shared a review on amazon, I would greatly appreciate if you could add a few words about what you love – even a sentence or two.  (And, upload any food images if you like!)  Thanks. 

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