5 delicious dairy-free delights

5 delicious dairy-free recipes

Living dairy-free is one of the best choices for me when it comes to maintaining optimal health. When I was a kid, I used to suffer from a few digestive issues and regularly experienced skin sensitivities, such as itching and rashes. Right into my thirties, I would often break out but, to be honest, I’d never really identified why this was happening.

In fact, until I started eating in a paleo way a few years ago, I assumed any of my skin and digestive issues were a result of external factors. Yet when I eliminated refined sugars and removed inflammatory foods — such as dairy — within just a few months I noticed significant changes. My skin cleared up and my digestive issues simply disappeared.

I absolutely love the thick ’n’ creamy texture of coconut yoghurt and the best bit is it’s pretty easy and cost-efficient to make your own.

During this time, I also took tests for dairy sensitivities. It’s no surprise that each of these tests confirmed how sensitive I am to bovine casein protein found in milk … and I’m not alone.

With a practice in Sydney, Nourish-Ed naturopath Helen Padarin — with whom I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating on our most recent book The Complete Gut Health Cookbook — confirms dairy is one of the top two food sensitivities she sees at her clinic. “These sensitivities reveal themselves in smaller ways, such as clearing the throat due to a post-nasal drip through to debilitating issues that cause gut pain, wind and diarrhoea.”

For me, having lots of energy and avoiding skin and digestive issues are just two of the massive bonuses of not consuming conventional dairy products. Plus, there are so many other delights of a dairy-free life.

Delicious alternatives

I love the fact that ditching milk, cream and butter has led me to a new appreciation of other ingredients and the opportunity to experiment and discover the comfort of tried-and-true favourites. It’s why these days I’m pretty nuts for coconuts and a whole lot of other nuts because they make an awesome base from which to create a wide variety of pantry staples.

For example, I absolutely love the thick ’n’ creamy texture of coconut yoghurt and the best bit is it’s pretty easy and cost-efficient to make your own. You just need to find a good spot to buy young coconuts — try your local Asian grocer or healthfood store. The reason you need young coconuts is they are harvested at five to seven months old and their flesh is really soft. To make coconut yoghurt, you simply pour the water in the blender, scoop out the flesh, crack in some probiotic capsules and a bit of maple syrup for sweetener, then whiz together and let it ferment at room temperature for 6–12 hours (see full recipe below).

Fermented liquids like this are so good because they are rich in probiotics and are absorbed directly into the gut. Probiotics work by introducing good microbes, which inhabit the digestive tract and contribute to healthy intestinal flora. Scientific studies have also proven probiotics support wellbeing by preventing the overgrowth of pathogens, helping to synthesise vitamin K, maintaining the pH of the gut and keeping the immune system properly challenged without being overwhelmed.

Nuts [make] an awesome base from which to create a wide variety of pantry staples.

That’s why increasing the amount of both probiotic and prebiotic foods (these help create a beneficial environment for good bacteria that already exist in the large bowel and colon — more on this in a later column) we eat is one of the best ways to support the estimated 100 trillion bacteria that live on and inside our bodies.

Along with fermenting my own coconut yoghurt, one of the other ways I love to create dairy-free dishes is to make sure I’ve always got a few homemade basics on hand, such as broths, sauces, marinades and dressings.

Mayo magic

Once a week, I allocate a bit of time (usually a Sunday afternoon — waves permitting!) to prepare a collection of basics to use throughout the week. It’s a quick, easy way to add a burst of nutrients and flavour to whatever high-quality protein you’re serving.

One of my go-to basics right now is a quick stick-blender version of mayo that takes about 30 seconds to prep and tastes so, so good. I use free-range organic eggs, Dijon mustard, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice and olive oil or macadamia oil. That’s it — just five simple ingredients and you’re good to go (see recipe below). The other cool thing is this mayo stores in the fridge for 5–7 days.

Nutty options

I also reckon to really indulge in dairy-free delights you’ve got to try experimenting with homemade nut milks, butters, cheeses and creams. Far more nutrient-dense than their dairy equivalents, many are also creamier.

Plus, nut milks, butters and cheeses are really simply to make. You literally take one or two cups of nuts, soak overnight, add liquid and blend. The key is to activate the nuts, which basically means they’ve been soaked and rehydrated. Nuts are a great source of healthy fats but they contain nutritional inhibitors and toxic substances that protect them while growing, both from sprouting prematurely and also from predators.

These are enzyme inhibitors, phytates (phytic acid), polyphenols (tannins) and goitrogens and, once harvested, these chemicals are indigestible and must be broken down for consumption. The most indigestible is phytic acid, which when consumed binds to minerals such as iron, zinc, calcium, potassium and magnesium so they can’t be as readily absorbed by the body.

Activating nuts and seeds through the simple process of soaking releases these chemicals, helping you to better absorb the essential minerals and nutrients in your food. Additionally, soaking the nuts helps to enhance their flavour.

I prefer to use soft nuts, such as macadamias and cashews, which only need soaking for 4–6 hours. You then rinse the nuts under running water and place on a baking tray at 50°C in the oven or on a dehydrator to dry out. This can take 6–24 hours, depending on the temperature. They can then be stored in an airtight container in the pantry for up to three months.

Right now, I’m also really enjoying the earthy taste of in-season beetroots and one of my all-time favourite ways to eat this antioxidant-rich vegetable is in a soup simmered with marrow bones and accompanied by a nut cream. See my delicious recipe below for borscht with macadamia cream and dill.

Animal welfare

In living a dairy-free life, I also want to use my consumer power (ie what products I buy in my weekly shop) to protect animals and support sustainable farming practices.

According to Australian animal protection unit Voiceless, a comparison of a dairy cow’s milk production in 1979–1980 to 2012–13 shows factory farming has had a significant impact on the conventional dairy industry over the past four decades. In 2013, the average annual milk production per cow was 5525 litres, while in 1979-80 the average annual milk production per cow was just 2848 litres. My major concern is that the way this is achieved causes much stress to the animal.

Whether it’s using my consumer power to create a better world, or relishing all the cool ingredients I can use when creating dairy-free alternatives, or knowing that I’m not putting my body into an inflammatory state, there are so many reasons I’m thankful for living a dairy-free life.

Cook with love and laughter,

Pete

Coconut Yoghurt

Makes: 1.3L

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Macadamia Milk

Makes: 1L

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Mayonnaise

Makes: about 500g

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Borscht with Macadamia Cream & Dill

Serves: 4–6

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Chia & Apple Bircher

Serves: 2

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Pete Evans

Pete Evans

Pete Evans is an internationally renowned chef, restaurateur, author and TV presenter. His passion for food and a healthy lifestyle inspires individuals and families around the world. Pete is a certified health coach with qualifications from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and promotes the Paleo approach to heal the gut.

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