As we have established many times, I am in no way a vegan. But when I was teaching cookery, we once ran a Mexican class that consisted mainly of vegetarians with a few vegans in the mix, and my boss experimented with this recipe for vegan feta cheese. I’ve always been a bit wary of substituting a ‘free-from’ version of something for the real deal, because setting up the comparison often results in disappointment. But I literally could not stop eating this stuff when it was presented to me. Then I forgot about it, because I have no real need for vegan cheese substitutes on a day-to-day basis.
But, over a year later, I was throwing a vegan dinner party, and remembered the existence of this almond feta. I decided to give it a go. It was just as tasty as I remembered. Everyone else seemed to love it too, and I’ve made it a couple of times since.
I’m not going to pretend this is a like-for-like substitute for feta, because obviously it tastes different, being made from almonds rather than dairy. But it does have the same salty, savoury, addictive joy about it. It’s wonderfully crumbly and versatile. The almonds, when broken down like this, are surprisingly creamy. Here, I’ve shown it crumbled on top of a salad (because just photographed in its little dish it would look a little uninspiring, just as photographing an untouched lump of real feta would). But you can use it just as you would the regular cheese: it’s great with all sorts of salads, or roasted vegetables, or sprinkled over eggs, or baked into a frittata. You can make up a dish of it and keep it in your fridge happily for a couple of weeks, pulling it out whenever you need it.
This recipe is adapted from the version we used when I was teaching, but I’m afraid I have no idea where that was from originally. Do shout if you know!
This does take a bit of time, but it’s largely completely passive time, where you can happily leave the nuts to do their thing and go and get on with your life.
200g blanched almonds
90 ml lemon juice
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus a little extra for the baking dish
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1½ teaspoons salt
125 ml water
- First, soak the almonds. Place them in a bowl and pour over boiling water. Leave to soak for an hour.
- Drain the almonds, throwing away the water. Pop them into a food processor of other blender with the lemon juice, oil, garlic, salt, and 125ml water. Blitz thoroughly until you have a relatively smooth paste.
- Line a sieve with muslin, a clean tea towel, or a coffee filter. Put the almond paste into the lined sieve and leave to drain for at least three hours (or leave it overnight if you like).
- Preheat your oven to 180C/160C fan/ gas 3. Lightly oil a small baking dish or tin. Pop the almond mixture in, smooth the surface, and lightly smear a little more olive oil over the top. Bake for around 25 minutes, or until starting to turn golden. You can use the almond feta warm or cold from the fridge, as you wish.