Years ago, I was making red pepper hummus at my parents’ house when my mother asked for a taste. “Hmmm,” she said. “It’s sort of like pimento cheese.” Now, I don’t know if that was a good thing to her or not; we’d never had pimento cheese in the house when I was growing up, so I assume it wasn’t one of her favorites. But I kept that comparison tucked away in the back pocket of my mind with the goal of someday working on a vegan pimento cheese recipe. It took randomly spotting a pimento cheese photo on Pinterest to remind me to do some experimenting.
For the uninitiated, pimento cheese is a common filling for sandwiches and spread for crackers in the Southern U.S. It’s made by grating various cheeses and mixing them with mayo (or cream cheese), seasonings, and pimentos–you know, those little red peppers stuffed into green olives. (Here in the South, at least, you can buy jars of pimentos in the same section of the grocery store as olives, but if they’re not available, you can substitute minced roasted red peppers, which I find actually have more flavor.) It’s the kind of old-fashioned Southern dish that always seems to show up at potlucks and picnics. I developed a fondness for it in college, where a deli container of the lumpy, orange spread and a loaf of bread were all I needed to get me through the penniless days before my work-study check came in.
Pimento cheese has the amazing ability to be two textures at the same time. The mayo or cream cheese base provides smoothness, but the cheese itself is not melted or blended so that its texture remains, well, lumpy. To give my pimento cheese-style hummus a similar texture, I decided to use silken tofu for the smoothness and blend it in two stages–once to puree the tofu and half the chickpeas and cashews and then again in just short pulses of the processor to break the remaining chickpeas and cashews into al dente bits. I added nutritional yeast and plenty of seasonings to give it that cheesy flavor, and then I refrigerated it for a while to allow the flavors to blend.
- 1/3 cup raw cashews
- 1 1/2 cups cooked, drained chickpeas, divided
- 3 ounces silken tofu (1/4 package MoriNu brand)
- 6 tablespoons pimentos (about 4 ounces), drained well, divided
- 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 teaspoon spicy brown mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon granulated onion
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne (red) pepper (or to taste)
- 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste (use less if chickpeas are salted)
- Place the cashews in a small bowl and cover them with water. Allow them to soak at least 2 hours and up to overnight.
- Drain the cashews. Put half of them into the food processor along with half of the chickpeas, the silken tofu, 4 tablespoons pimentos, and all remaining ingredients. Process until it’s as smooth as you can get it. Then add the remaining cashews and chickpeas and pulse about 10 times until chickpeas and cashews are broken but not completely smooth.
- Check seasonings and add more red pepper and salt to taste. Transfer into a serving bowl and stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of pimentos. Refrigerate for at least an hour to allow flavors to blend.
Silken Tofu Tip:
A Facebook follower recently asked me what I do with the partial boxes of silken tofu left over from recipes like this. I’ve solved the problem of having leftovers by throwing them into scrambled tofu. I like the smooth texture silken tofu adds to scrambles, and I find that it can be added to any of my scrambled tofu recipes (I usually increase the seasoning a little). Also, when I have more than a half a box leftover, I often use it to make my Tofu-Cashew Mayo. So don’t let that extra tofu sit around turning pink (which is what it does in my fridge if left too long). Plan to make some scrambled tofu or mayo with the leftovers!