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14 Creative Ways To Use Cashews

Cashews in a glass bowl
Cashews in a glass bowl - Fcafotodigital/Getty Images

In the world of nuts, cashews are the king of creamy. The baron of buttery. The raja of richness. The cashew tree is native to South America and was brought to other parts of the world (including Africa and India) by the Spanish and Portuguese centuries ago. The plant subsequently thrived in tropical climates around the globe -- and cashews found their way into countless local cuisines.

The mild flavor of cashews (which aren't technically nuts) adds depth to both sweet and savory dishes. Cashews are also a nutritional powerhouse loaded with various vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, protein, and complex carbs.

Of course, cashews alone make a great snack. But there are numerous ways to incorporate them into various recipes and dishes, such as salads, curries, cakes ... and so much more. If you're vegan, gluten-free, or simply want to try something different, there are plenty of options to find culinary inspiration from the humble cashew. Read on to discover some creative culinary ways to use cashews and make them the star of your next meal.

Read more: 13 Simple Tricks To Pick The Best Fresh Fruit Every Time

Whip Up Vegan Cheese Sauce

Vegan cheese sauce in white bowl
Vegan cheese sauce in white bowl - Fascinadora/Shutterstock

Being vegan means you have to make some difficult sacrifices -- but cheese sauce doesn't have to be one of them. In fact, you can use blended cashews in place of cheese sauce on a variety of foods. These buttery little morsels have a super creamy consistency when soaked and blended. Since this ably mimics the texture of authentic cheese sauce, dishes that feature it -- like nachos, mac n' cheese, and cheese fries -- are still on the table.

Now, keep in mind: your cashew-based cheese sauce won't taste exactly like a standard dairy cheese sauce. To obtain a cheese-adjacent flavor, blend your cashews in a food processor with nutritional yeast and whatever additional spices suit your taste. Soaking your cashews overnight will give you a smoother, creamier sauce, as well.

Try adding jalapeños and cayenne pepper to spice up vegan nachos or keep it more neutral for pasta dishes. Once you try cashew cheese sauce, you may never look at a packet of processed cheese sauce the same way.

Make Vegan Cream Cheese

Bread with vegan cream cheese
Bread with vegan cream cheese - Grandiflora/Getty Images

If you're in the mood for a New York-style breakfast, there's nothing like a bagel and schmear. Of course, if you follow a vegan-based diet or are lactose intolerant, you may think you can no longer indulge in cream cheese. But with a handful of cashews, you can make a dairy-free creamy spread with a similar tangy bite to the beloved food item.

Start by giving your cashews an overnight soak. Then, whiz up your cashews in a food processor with some nutritional yeast for an umami taste and a squeeze of lemon juice for an acidic zing.

Once blended, let your cream cheese sit in the fridge for about an hour until it's roughly the consistency of cream cheese (as you might have guessed). You can spread this healthy, nutty mixture on bagels, on toast, or use it on a baked potato instead of sour cream. If you're a fan of flavored cream cheese, you can try sweetening your cashew cream cheese with some fresh berries or add chives for some oniony funk.

Create Cashew Milk

Cashew milk in a cup
Cashew milk in a cup - George Tsartsianidis/Getty Images

For some people, the notion of drinking the milk of another animal is wholly unpleasant. Still: everybody's got to eat their cereal with something, and cashew milk offers a delicious alternative. Cashew milk has a nutty flavor and a smoother taste than cow's milk and is a similarly nutritious beverage. More than that, cashew milk is rather easy (if somewhat time-consuming) to make at home.

You need a powerful blender to whip up cashew milk. Soaking cashews in water for a few hours before grinding will help soften them up (as we noted earlier). Once soaked, throw them in a blender with water and turn it on high. If your homemade cashew milk is grainy, your blender may not be strong enough or you may need to soak your cashews for longer. Thankfully, gritty cashew milk can be saved by passing the liquid through a fine strainer or cheesecloth to eliminate any chunks.

Blend Up Cashew Butter

Cashew butter on white background
Cashew butter on white background - Ozgur Senergin/Shutterstock

Once upon a time, it seemed like peanut butter was the only nut butter out there. But the king of nut butters has arguably been dethroned by a host of delectable varieties in the 21st century -- including cashew butter. This makes sense, of course, as cashews are naturally full of fat and have a buttery texture -- meaning they're a perfect candidate for the food processor.

The price of cashew butter can be a little steep. Thankfully, it's a relatively simple item to make at home if you're looking to save money. The first step to creating a respectable cashew butter involves soaking the nuts in water before blending them to the desired texture. You can use raw or roasted cashews. However, a roasted variety will likely lead to a creamier end product.

Furthermore, you should add coconut oil when making cashew butter because it acts as an emulsifier. Emulsifiers help keep foods with different properties stay mixed together to create a smoother texture. The coconut flavor also meshes well with cashews and is a surefire way to elevate your recipe.

Make Your Own Vegan Yogurt

Person placing fruit in yogurt
Person placing fruit in yogurt - Freshsplash/Getty Images

Who says yogurt has to come from an animal? If you've got cashews, you can leave those cows out in the pasture. Although it may not be yogurt in the strictest sense of the word, cashew yogurt can still be fermented and offer a similar dose of probiotics (healthy bacteria that aid in digestion) as what's found in dairy-based yogurt. Thankfully, if you aren't interested in buying premade vegan yogurt every time, you can extend a store-bought variety made with probiotic cultures into large, more customizable batches with cashews.

To start, soak and blend your cashews into a nice, smooth paste. Next, add a tablespoon of store-bought vegan yogurt, stir it into the mixture, and let the bacteria get to work. You can leave the yogurt mixture on your counter overnight if you live in a warm climate. Otherwise, you may want to invest in a yogurt maker and let your cashew yogurt rest in there.

Either way, you're cashew-based vegan yogurt will have the desired consistency and flavor by the next day. You can top it with virtually anything, of course, including fruit and granola for a morning snack. You can also add chopped cucumbers, cilantro, and spices for a plant-based Indian raita to serve alongside spicy curries.

Add Cashews To Your Morning Smoothie

Fruit smoothies in mason jars
Fruit smoothies in mason jars - nblx/Shutterstock

A fruit smoothie is a great way to start the day. It's the perfect avenue to incorporate numerous nutritional elements that can help you stay energized in the morning hours. Now, while fruits are a great way to provide yourself with an immediate burst of energy, your body needs more to keep going -- and that's where cashews come into play. After all, cashews are chockful of healthy fat and protein that can keep your appetite at bay for longer periods of time.

The mild taste of cashews brings a wonderful depth of flavor and their buttery texture lend a thickness that makes smoothies more robust. While you can simply throw some cashews in with your other ingredients (they go particularly well with bananas and berries), if your cashew smoothie is turning out grittier than you want? Try soaking them in water overnight beforehand to soften them (as we've previously mentioned).

Use As A Thickening Agent

Hand holding cashews in liquid
Hand holding cashews in liquid - Knape/Getty Images

If you think you need cream to make your favorite dish, well, creamy? You're mistaken. After all, cashews are an excellent way to thicken the consistency of sauces, soups, and gravies without the need for dairy. Blending cashews with water creates a smooth and creamy paste that can be incorporated into any water-based mixture. This is because many of the compounds in cashews are hydrophilic -- meaning they readily bind with water.

You'll want to use a heavy-duty blender that's capable of crushing your cashews into the smallest bits possible. Smaller particles will have more exposure to the water, thus leading to a smoother mixture. Additionally, since cashews have a mild flavor compared to other popular nuts, you can use them to add texture to a dish if you'd like without throwing its flavor out of whack. Try it out in recipes like this still-custardy vegan quiche -- and you may start to wonder why you continue keeping cream in the fridge.

Roll Up Some Protein Balls

Homemade energy balls in a tin
Homemade energy balls in a tin - Vesnaandjic/Getty Images

When you're snacking in the middle of the day, it's tempting to reach for a bag of chips or a candy bar. However, if you're looking for longer-lasting satisfaction? Try whipping up some protein balls using cashews as your base. Cashews are full of healthy fats and protein (as you may recall), so there's plenty of reason to nosh on these satisfying little nuggets. Plus, there are tons of recipes for protein balls -- and you don't need to be strict about sticking to an exact recipe.

Dried fruits, honey, peanut butter, and protein powder are typical protein ball ingredients given how well each pairs with cashews. But you can customize your cashew protein balls with whatever flavors suit you. To help make shaping no-bake protein balls easier, pop the ingredients in your refrigerator for about an hour before you mix them together. Roll them into balls on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, then put them back in the fridge. Whenever you get a snacky sweet tooth, you can reach for one of these healthy morsels.

Coat Your Fish In A Cashew Crust

Nut crusted fish on plate
Nut crusted fish on plate - Candice Bell/Shutterstock

A soft, flaky whitefish falls apart at the slightest touch of the fork and is the perfect textural counterpart to a crispy crust. That's why whitefish is often battered and fried for a classic English fish and chips. Of course, if you're looking for a healthier, more sophisticated version of battered fish -- one that's also gluten-free and easy to prepare -- you can use cashews to get the job done.

The trick to cashew-crusted fish involves smashing them down to the proper size so they stick to the fish without turning into a paste. You can place them in a plastic bag and crush them up with a rolling pin or pulse a handful of cashews a few times in the food processor. The unimposing flavor of cashews meshes well with a dash of salt, a bit of garlic, and a bright squeeze of lemon juice. You can pan-fry your fish or cook it in the oven. Either way, you'll love the way the cashew-y crunch captivates your palate.

Whip Up A Cheesecake

Cashew cheesecake with coconut flakes
Cashew cheesecake with coconut flakes - Arx0nt/Getty Images

A vegan cheesecake may sound like an oxymoron, but with the power of cashews? You can make a vegan cheesecake that would make any New Yorker beg for a second slice. In a standard New York cheesecake, cream cheese provides the dense, tangy base along with cream, eggs, and sugar. While this time-tested recipe is undeniably delicious, it's heavy and full of dairy products that won't fly if you're vegan (or just looking to indulge in a healthier dessert).

Because of their buttery creaminess, cashews are a fantastic substitute in a vegan cheesecake. More than that, blended cashews nicely mimic the texture and slightly tart taste of cream cheese when mixed with a little lemon juice. Another advantage to a cashew cheesecake is that no baking is involved. Once you've mixed up your ingredients and poured them into the crust, simply let the cheesecake sit in your fridge for a few hours until firm.

Drizzle Cashew Dressing Over Your Salad

Creamy dressing in a dish
Creamy dressing in a dish - Bhofack2/Getty Images

Salads are often relegated to starter status, but there are plenty of ways to turn a pile of greens into a main course. And (as you may have guessed) cashews can be the key to this transformation. Using cashews in salad dressing can turn a thin, flat product into a thick, bountiful source of calories. In fact, while many thicker salad dressings involve mayonnaise or cream of some sort, you can achieve a similar textural result (that's also less nutritionally detrimental) if you use cashews.

To start, your cashews need a good soak so they're nice and soft. This ensures they'll disintegrate easily in the blender when making the cashew cream that forms the base of your dressing. Letting them sit in water overnight should do the trick.

From there, it's time to get creative. If you like ranch dressing, use parsley, dill, onion powder, and paprika. If you're looking for the creamy, sweet, funky flavor of Thousand Island, use pickled relish, white onion, and dried mustard. There are plenty of other great ways to use cashew cream in cooking, but salad dressing has to be one of the best.

Make Cashew Curry

Cashew curry with rice
Cashew curry with rice - johnlck/Shutterstock

Cashews originated in South America, but they quickly made their way into other cuisines around the world. In Sri Lanka, cashews are used in a popular dish called kaju maluwa (or cashew curry). The spices in kaju maluwa are relatively mild, which gives the (not) nut's flavor room to shine among coconut milk, onion, and tomatoes.

Now, you're likely used to crunchy cashews. However, in this dish, they're soft and fall apart easily in your mouth when you take a bite. To achieve this texture, it's important to soak the cashews for a couple of hours before you begin cooking them. You can make this dish with chicken, as well, but if you prefer to keep it vegan? The cashews add enough protein to make it a well-rounded meal.

Additionally, it's not uncommon to see raw cashews used in other curry recipes, such as butter chicken. In this instance, you would cook raw cashews before blending them with other ingredients in the sauce.

Bake Sweets With Cashews

Cupcakes with chocolate frosting
Cupcakes with chocolate frosting - Nataliya Arzamasova/Shutterstock

Being gluten-free involves some sacrifices. Thankfully, cakes don't have to be on the do-not-fly list. Of all the gluten-free ingredients out there, cashews are particularly well-suited for baking. These oily little delights are packed with monounsaturated fats that give your baked goods a boost of moisture and a mild nuttiness that combines well with a variety of sweet flavors. Be aware, however, that the high moisture content may make your cake denser than regular flour would.

You can buy cashew flour at the store or make it at home by mixing raw cashews and sugar together in a food processor. And the gluten-free fun doesn't stop there. If you want to top off your baked treat with a sweet layer of frosting (who doesn't?), blend up some cashew cream and add your favorite flavors like lemon, strawberry, or blueberry to make a delicious topping. If you're crazy for confections, cashews may just be your new best friend.

Roast Your Cashews In The Oven

Pile of roasted cashews
Pile of roasted cashews - Jr images/Shutterstock

There are so many unexpected ways to take advantage of the cashew's creamy texture, nutty flavor, and nutritional benefits. But sometimes, simplicity is the key. Simply roasting cashews and keeping them around as a snack to munch on when you feel a pang of hunger is a great way to keep yourself from indulging in lesser snacks.

Roasted cashews provide a delicious, slightly smoky, deeply satisfying crunch. More than that, roasting cashews is the key for the best texture results with an incomparable crunch -- and making roasted cashews at home is as easy as it gets. Place your cashews on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and pop them into an oven heated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit for up 7-10 minutes.

You can add some salt, or (if you're feeling creative) customize your cashews with other ingredients that you love. Drizzle a bit of maple syrup over them before they hit the oven for a sugary boost or dust them with curry powder for a unique flavor finish. Roasted cashews will keep for a couple of weeks, so set them out and get snacking!

Read the original article on Tasting Table.