Whoever invented the expression “cold turkey” got it totally wrong. Cold turkey? Pfffft. More like “cold cheese.” Giving up turkey when you go vegan is nothing compared to the difficulty in abandoning that six-letter word that plagues vegans like five-years old in a psych lab are tempted by marshmallows. Maybe I speak only for myself, but when you’re recently vegan and it’s 1:00am on a vodka-fueled Saturday night, you’re not craving a burger. Or steak. Or even spaghetti and meatballs. You’re thinking about gooey mac and cheese. Salivating over the thought of an extra-cheesy slice of pizza. And then salvation arrives in the form of a crispy grilled cheese with thick slabs of tomato wedged between its oozing slices of American and a takeout container of cheese fries and overly-sweetened ketchup.
Then you wake up the next day, feeling a tinge of guilt and flip open a copy of Rachael Ray to distract you, only to have it open to a riff of two favorite cheesy delights: eggplant Parmesan and grilled cheese.
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1. Replicate “cheesiness” with umami.
This savory taste, now known as the “fifth flavor,” is found naturally in a variety of foods. Try adding briny olives, tomato paste, mushrooms or soy sauce to dishes that the old you would have doused in cheese to get that similar fix. It’s amazing what a smudge of hummus (I’m obssessed with Tribe‘s Cocktail Time limited edition horseradishy delicious flavor) on a sandwich can also do. Also, I put umami-rich balsamic vinegar on everything. EVERYTHING (everything bagel with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil? Sure! Rice cakes with balsamic vinegar? Sign me up! Pasta spirals tossed with balsamic and tomatoes? Yes, please).
2. Put nutritional yeast on everything.
No, it won’t replace cheese, but it will make you miss it less. I swear by my “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Parm Sauce” (here’s my super simple recipe). If I’m making pasta and in a pinch, I sprinkle a combination of nutritional yeast and GO Veggie! vegan parm with tomato sauce and merrily continue on my cheese-free but still indulgent way.
3. You’d be surprised what restaurants can do for you.
…And how good your former go-to dishes still taste. See a cheese-reliant item on the menu you’d love to have? Just ask to hold the cheese and if they can load up on extra veggies or whatever else you like in its place. You’d be amazed how good wood-fired pizza with fresh tomato sauce, basil and mushrooms (or whatever your favorite toppings are) tastes. Don’t be afraid to asks! Any awesome chef will view your requests as a fun culinary challenge, and not a “goddamn this nitpicky crazy vegan eater.” And if they do? Tweet up a storm to let them know you’re ticked. (Mario Batali himself responded to me on Twitter once when I was upset by my service at Otto’s, true story).
P.S. The Vegan Buffalo Bites (made from cauliflower!) with “Blue Cheese” Dressing on 86Lemons beats that crummy bottled stuff any day.