May 14, 2012
I love cheesecake—madly, deeply, unabashedly. In a perfect world, I could eat an enormous slice of cheesecake every day without becoming obese and developing Type 2 diabetes. But if we Americans have learned anything in the past decade, it’s that cheesecake has consequences. (So does invading a Middle Eastern country on the pretext of eradicating WMD, but the verdict is still out on whether or not we’ve learned that lesson.)
Roughly one out of every three adult Americans is obese. One out of every six American children is obese. Not overweight. Not chubby. Obese. Given this, it’s not surprising that roughly one out of every three adult Americans has prediabetes and one in twelve already has diabetes. In fact, diabetes is currently the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. What’s the number one leading cause of death? Heart disease. And what are some of the major risk factors for heart disease? Diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.
Among the sane of us, however, it is clear that Americans’ eating habits need a major overhaul. There is a wide variety of opinions on how to reverse the obesity epidemic. Michelle Obama is campaigning to tackle the problem of “food deserts”—low-income, urban areas where residents don’t have adequate access to fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. I myself had jumped on the “food desert” bandwagon, until I read about new studies in favor of the existence of “food swamps,” a term coined by Roland Strum from the RAND Corporation to describe low-income, urban areas where every type of food is available—from McDonalds to fresh produce—and obesity rates are still high.
Recently, I’ve begun to see quite a few arguments in favor of promoting surgery and diet pills as weight-loss solutions. But personally, I find these arguments hard to follow: If diets don’t result in sustained weight loss, why would even quicker fixes work? I do see merit in the junk food tax idea that Mark Bittman favors. However, I guess that before we start taxing corn syrup, maybe we should stop subsidizing it.
Whatever we decide do on a national level, we could all make more of an effort as individuals to improve our eating habits. You don’t need to be a housewife with a million dollar income to have enough time and money to cook lentil soup (see my curried lentil soup recipe!). Everyone needs to stop making excuses and start making lifestyle changes—whether big or small—that are possible within their budgetary and scheduling constraints. Every beet salad counts.
That’s why, instead of buying another slice of perfect, creamy cheesecake at Canter’s Deli this week, I decided to make a vegan, and hence cholesterol-free, alternative, which I’ve named Cashewcake.
Now, this may sound weird, but it tastes good, so bear with me. To replace the eggs and cream cheese that constitute the main ingredients in cheesecake, I blended soaked cashews with tofu for texture, coconut oil for moisture, and lemon juice for acidity. I thickened the batter with a small amount of flour and sweetened it with agave nectar. (An aside: I thought agave nectar was healthier than sugar because of its low glycemic index, but that’s apparently a myth. Next time I will use sugar because it’s significantly cheaper.)
In an effort to replicate the tangy sour-cream topping I love so much in Canter’s cheesecake, I reserved some of the cashew-tofu mixture and stirred in a splash of apple cider vinegar. When the cake was almost done baking, I poured this mixture over the top and returned it to the oven to set. I served it with a blueberry sauce, mainly for aesthetic reasons.
So, does my Cashewcake taste like cheesecake? Kind of. On the one hand, it’s tart and creamy like a cheesecake. On the other, doesn’t taste quite like cheesecake (although, it doesn’t taste like cashews and tofu either). Is it as good as Canter’s? No, that would be impossible. But it’s a tasty substitute and one that’s better for my arteries and overall health. Even so, cashewcake is best consumed in moderation, as are all the delicious things in life.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
For the crust: Combine the graham cracker crumbs with the cinnamon, salt, and ginger. Whisk together the coconut oil and agave; combine with the graham crackers. Using the back of a fork, press the graham cracker mixture the bottom of an 11 x 7 inch baking dish. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes until golden brown. Set aside to cool.
Turn the oven temperature down to 325°F.
For the filling: Place the cashews, tofu, and lemon juice in a blender and blend until very smooth. Slowly add the coconut oil with the blender turned on. Reserve 1 ½ cups of the mixture; set aside. Add the rest of the filling ingredients to the blender and blend until just combined. Pour over the pre-baked crust and bake for 50 minutes to an hour, or until the cake is puffed in the center and barely jiggles when moved.
For the topping: Combine all ingredients. Pour over hot cake and return to the oven for 10 minutes. The cake may deflate; don’t worry. Let the cake cool to room temperature and then refrigerate overnight.
For the blueberry sauce: Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and cook over medium-low heat until the blueberries are soft and syrupy but not disintegrating, about 10 minutes. Let cool before serving over the cashewcake.