On the 11th Day of Christmas…My “Bestive” Vegan Cheese Ball

Vegan Cheese Ball with Smoked Almonds, Scallions and OlivesI must have been on quite a Christmas roll in 2009, as both The Big White Cake and this delectable, non-vegan-approved “Cheese” Ball come from that year.

To the uninitiated, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas down South without a big globe of creamy deliciousness surrounded by crackers.  All kinds of goodies, both vegan and not, are typically held together by a mixture of cream cheese and shredded harder cheeses.  My version is made from tofu and, though I love tofu in all its guises, those who don’t will be none the wiser.

In early December of 2009, we were visited by our good friends Marc and Julianne Curvin on the same weekend we brought home our then 1 year old old Great Dane, Minnie, from the SPCA.  They were the perfect house guests to calm our nerves as this new dog found her place in the pack, a fact that Huff the Great Dane was none to happy about and remained poised for attack for a good 36 hours.  The Curvins had both had Schutzhund (“protection dog”) training with their glorious German Shepherds and were the perfect calming and commanding presence.

That Saturday night, we were all invited to a holiday gathering hosted by Becky Bump and Reese Lusk at their magical lakeside cabin.  I was delighted to go for many reasons–mainly the great food and conversation–but also to be able to put dear Minnie in her big crate and take a break from dog monitoring, as it wasn’t until about mid-day on Sunday that Huff went down into the play position and all was well in our Peaceable Kingdom.

Though Becky and Reese provided every other course of a beautiful and delicious Asian-inspired meal, I brought this appetizer and it was all but devoured by carnivorous guests before we sat down to the feast.

I think you too will love my cheese ball as a starter course for your Christmas meal or holiday party.

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Vegan Cheese Ball with Chipped “Beef,” Mushrooms, Green Onions and Black Olives–A Great Holiday or Super Bowl Snack

Yield: 1 Cheese Ball

This is one of those treats I remember from childhood. It was always a favorite and it always signaled the Christmas holidays. Of course, I haven’t eaten it in MANY, MANY years, but this Christmas when I was home, we stopped over to visit the Crumbleys, some family friends–our parents have known each other since college–and Ann and her chef son, James, had actually made this particular cheese ball. I was filled with nostalgia and determined to clean it up vegan style. It’s a little late for Christmas, but it’s just in time for the Super Bowl!

1-14 ounce box extra firm tofu, drained
juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon Amino Acids
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon light miso
1 tablespoon vegan mayonnaise
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon pickling or “corning” spice (grind or crush if some of the spices are whole)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
Season Salt to taste
coarse sea or kosher salt to taste
1 cup toasted chopped pecans
2-4 green onions, thinly sliced
1 small or medium can mushrooms, drained (ordinarily, I would NEVER use canned mushrooms, but they are a key ingredient)–I prefer the medium size can
1 small or medium can sliced black olives (ditto about the canned product)–I prefer the medium size can

Garnish: 1 small bag pecan chips

Puree first 13 ingredients in food processor until smooth, stopping and scraping down bowl as necessary. Transfer to a medium mixing bowl and stir in remaining ingredients, except pecan chips, by hand.

Line a medium sized bowl–as half-spherical in shape as you can find–with plastic wrap. Spoon and press “cheese” mixture firmly into bowl; smooth top. Fold ends of plastic wrap over to cover. Refrigerate several hours or up to a couple of days to allow “cheese” to set and flavors to marry. Fold plastic wrap back from top surface of “cheese” ball, place a serving platter on top, and invert ball onto platter. You may have to tug gently on corners of plastic wrap to help it release. Remove plastic wrap, gently press pecan chips into the surface, and serve with crackers or small toasts.

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Vegan “Cheese” Ball with Smoked Almonds, Scallions and Olives

Yield: 1 “cheese” ball

Born in Texas, raised in Mississippi, I am a deeply south’ren girl. I subscribe to Southern Living magazine (it’s been updated if you haven’t seen it lately), Magnolias are one of my favorite trees, and Eudora Welty is one of my favorite authors. BUT, I like my collard greens without fat back and my tea without sugar, thank you very much.

For entertaining, we southerners love our cheese balls and we make them a million different ways. However, when I became vegan, I thought I’d tasted my last. Now that the holiday season is here, I found myself craving one in the worst way, both for the taste and the festive appearance. Though there is vegan cream and block cheeses on the market, I wanted one even more low fat. So I decided to limit myself to tofu and see what I could come up with.

If the non-vegan guests at a party I took it to last night are any indication, this is a winner. I think it’s safe to say that it was “set upon.”

Smoked almonds replaced the bacon which I decided to combine with pimento-stuffed green olives both for their briny pungency and their holiday color scheme. Mixed with the sweet scallions and a few other ingredients like nutritional yeast and miso to make the tofu taste “cheesy,” the combination of flavors transported me back to all the best parts of the Deep South.

14 ounces (drained weight) firm tofu (you may use extra firm, if you want the ball stiffer)
4 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon miso
1 tablespoon vegan mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Amino Acids
2 teaspoons mustard
pinch paprika
coarse sea or kosher salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 cup smoked almonds, finely chopped
5 ounce jar of pitted green olives (you could use black if you prefer), drained and finely chopped

Garnish: pecan halves, finely chopped pecans, finely chopped parsley, and/or paprika

Puree first nine ingredients in food processor until smooth, stopping and scraping down bowl as necessary. Transfer to a medium mixing bowl and stir in last three ingredients by hand.

Line a medium sized bowl–as half-spherical in shape as you can find–with plastic wrap. Spoon and press “cheese” mixture firmly into bowl; smooth top. Fold ends of plastic wrap over to cover. Refrigerate at least overnight. (I like to refrigerate it for a couple of days to really allow the flavors to marry.) Fold plastic wrap back from top surface of “cheese” ball, place a serving platter on top, and invert ball onto platter. You may have to tug gently on corners of plastic wrap to help it release. Remove plastic wrap, garnish as desired, and serve with crackers or small toasts.

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