Vegan “Parmesan” Sprinkle

When I was vegan, the only things I ever missed were ice cream and cheese. Of all the cheeses, I missed in particular the joy of sprinkling Parmesan over pasta. If you know me well, you know that in my universe noodles are merely vehicles for Parmesan.  That is why I worked extra hard to concoct a sprinkleable substance that is equally satisfying and totally dairy-free. It features nutritional yeast, which some folks use straight up as a Parm replacement, but this simple recipe yields a much more complex flavor. I realize that some readers may think to themselves, “So what exactly IS this mysterious, golden, flakey substance of which you so often speak, you freaky hippie?” Well, ponder no more – I’ve finally done the research, and I am here to explain the phenomenon that is Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

I have a personal rule of thumb not to trust any food or body care product that is packaged with horrendous graphic design and covered in health claims. If the company cannot be bothered to invest in a sound and aesthetically pleasing package, of what quality is the product it contains? But there are two exceptions that I make: Dr. Bronner’s liquid castile soap and Bragg’s Nutritional Yeast.  When it comes to the latter, I just have to believe that the Drs. Bragg feel the need to explain at length why any consumer should be moved to purchase their product. It sounds odd, it looks odd, it smells odd, and the first time you try it, well… it’s delicious, but an unfamiliar flavor. Some describe it as “nutty” or “cheesy.” Like I tell everyone that I lead into a nutritional yeast addiction, it grows on you. Don’t believe me? Try it on popcorn just once.

Nutritional yeast is the same kind of yeast used to raise bread, though it is a different strain.  It is grown on a bed of glucose (usually beet sugar or molasses), washed in liquid form, pasteurized, and then dried on rollers and cut into the flakes in which it is sold at most health food stores. This product is so packed with vitamins and minerals that it definitely reserves the right to use the adjective “nutritional” in its name. The B-vitamins are its claim to fame, and it is also a sodium-free, fat-free, complete protein. This shining star is rarely consumed outside of a vegetarian context, but I think it should be in everyone’s pantry.

Yield: About 1 cup

½ cup walnuts
½ cup pistachios, shelled
2 to 3 Tbsp. nutritional yeast
½ to 1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. garlic powder

Notes: If you use salted nuts, omit the sea salt.  This is one of the only instances in which I actually prefer to use garlic powder over fresh garlic.

1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process on high for about two minutes, or until pleasantly powdery.

3. Keep refrigerated and use as a topping on pastas, salads, roasted veggies, and almost anything else.

For dinner tonight, I drizzled olive oil over ziti and baked kabocha squash, and topped that liberally with vegan parm.