Cashews, pimentos, and nutritional yeast turn ordinary hummus into a delicious vegan pimento cheese.
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.
And…success! I liked it, and it was definitely reminiscent of the pimento cheese of my youth.
But I was worried a little when daughter E wanted to try it. She’s never tasted pimento cheese and generally doesn’t like it when I tinker with foods she likes, like hummus. She came in at the end of my photo shoot and asked to try it on one of the pieces of French bread I’d been using in the shot.
One piece turned into two, and then she had the idea to make a little Vine video of the disappearing hummus. Somehow that 6-second video took several takes to shoot, and she wound up eating every piece of French bread. So I would say this recipe is an unqualified kid-friendly success.
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!
Pimento Cheese-Style Hummus
- 1/3 cup raw cashews (about 1 1/2 ounces)
- 1 1/2 cups cooked drained chickpeas divided
- 3 ounces lite firm or extra-firm 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 pepper or to taste
- 1 teaspoon salt use less if chickpeas are salted, or to taste
- 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.
Nutritional info is approximate.
Debbie NealOctober 22, 2014 at 4:36 pm
I have made several different types of hummus but this one is my all time favorite. I just love it and so does everyone else. I can’t say enough positive about it!
BeccaDecember 28, 2014 at 6:00 pm
Being raised in Texas, pimento cheese was a school lunchbox staple at our house. I haven’t had pimento cheese in more than 15 years because I’m now allergic to dairy. I just whipped up a batch and it does taste very much like the pimento cheese I remember from my childhood. Thanks!
Joseph Chance WatkinsJanuary 27, 2015 at 3:01 pm
Wow this recipe is so Goof and creative. Thanks very much for sharing it with us; Jesus Chrisf Bless you! 🙂
LiseFebruary 5, 2015 at 2:09 pm
I made this and LOVED it!!!! Thanks so much for this awesomeness!!!!!!
JoJune 24, 2015 at 7:55 am
Could we steam the cashews to soften them and use them straight away rather than soaking them, or would this spoil the dish? Thanks, Jo 🙂
Susan VoisinJune 24, 2015 at 8:52 am
I don’t see why not!
LauraJuly 26, 2015 at 9:34 am
What took me so long to make this?! Delicious! Need something to bring to an event? Make this. Your omni friends will thank you. It’s been awhile since I have had pimento cheese, but I dare say this is better. Does not leave that cheesy oily mouth feel!
AliceJuly 27, 2015 at 8:08 am
Are the cashews raw or roasted. Can’t wait to try this— love pimento cheese
Susan VoisinJuly 27, 2015 at 8:54 am
The cashews are raw. Hope you enjoy it!
LainaSeptember 27, 2015 at 11:50 am
I was wondering if the brown mustard is a necessary component? I’m guessing yes, but the reason I ask is because I have other mustards in the fridge, but not brown. I’ll happily go and buy some if you think a sub would change the pimento cheese flavor.
Thanks so much!
Susan VoisinSeptember 27, 2015 at 12:33 pm
I think other mustards would work just fine. Just add less if you’re using a particularly strong mustard and it should come out great.
MariaApril 6, 2017 at 2:45 pm
I just absolutely adore your recipes. Thank you so much!!!
JeannineJune 15, 2017 at 1:26 pm
This sounds great! I am confused by the extra firm silken tofu. Here in Maine I find those to be two very different products. Extra firm tofu or silken tofu?
Susan VoisinJune 15, 2017 at 8:08 pm
Extra firm silken tofu. Here’s what it looks like: http://amzn.to/2syuu32
Amiee GibsonJune 25, 2017 at 10:15 am
This and your olive hummus are truly delicious! Thank you so much for the fabulous fat free recipes…you have quite a few that i come back to over and over again!
HillyNovember 11, 2018 at 8:21 am
Hello! I live in Norfolk, England and I was just searching for a low fat sandwich filling that wasn’t just hummus and your page popped up! I’ve just made this and it’s TASTY! It reminds me a bit of the ‘savoury sandwiches’ my Mom used to make for Sunday tea sometimes when I was little. It was grated cheddar cheese, spring onion & mayo, which as a vegan I no longer eat, of course. This has taken me back, so thank you! I look forward to more of your recipes. Hilly 🍃
MaggieMay 1, 2019 at 2:57 pm
I just made a half-recipe of this — and WOW!!!! The flavor is fantastic! I used my own soft, pressure cooked chickpeas (with a little Kombu chopped up in them from cooking), and added a just few squirts of Bragg’s Aminos in place of all the table salt.. I hand-mashed the chickpeas into the cashew/tofu cream so that I’d have a slightly chunkier version. This stuff is AMAZING in a whole grain wrap with fresh greens, shredded carrots and purple cabbage. I wish I hadn’t cut the recipe in half now. Must make more!!!!
Have you ever tried adding a bit of white miso for saltiness/umami instead of table salt? I thought of it after I was already done today and wish I’d thought of it earlier. It seems like it might work here, and add a little fermented nutritional bonus in place of the table salt. The How Not to Die Cookbook got me thinking about that swap…
Amber DuntenJuly 4, 2019 at 1:08 pm
Question 1: I see your soy-free adaptation just uses a plant milk instead of tofu. Do you find this version to give a texture that just as good? I don’t mind using tofu, but if I can get good results with plant milk I already have in the fridge, it will save me an item from the grocery store.
Question 2: I haven’t really incorporated silken tofu into my cooking yet, and if your answer to Question 1 is that it’s definitely better with tofu, I’m wondering what I ought to do with the other 3/4 package of tofu. Any suggestions?
Susan VoisinJuly 4, 2019 at 4:50 pm
I would say it’s definitely better with tofu—-thicker and creamier—and if you don’t have a problem with soy, I would use that. As for the leftover silken tofu, I love to add it to regular tofu in tofu scrambles. It adds a creaminess. I usually use about 1/2 package silken tofu to one package regular. You can also add it to smoothies and use it to make my tofu-cashew mayo.
LindsayAugust 8, 2019 at 11:06 am
I am really excited to try this but need to stay away from nuts/oil. What would you suggest I do in exchange for the cashews?
MaggieApril 30, 2020 at 9:38 pm
I’ve made this several times and absolutely love it. I have started adding 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric, for the color. It’s not enough for turmeric flavor, but it’s just enough to give a pale orange coloring….because the pimento cheese of my youth was always orange! For anyone who is “pandemic cooking” with whatever is in the pantry: I’ve made this with regular extra firm tofu, and it’s fine! It will be less creamy, and you may have to process a bit longer to get the graininess out, but it’s still completely delicious. When necessary, I’ve substituted dijon for spicy mustard (works fine!). I’ve also forgotten to soak my cashews overnight and “quick soaked” by pouring boiling water over them and letting it cool for about 30 minutes. Just make this stuff and don’t fret about needing a substitution here and there during these times when it’s tough to make a grocery run for just one missing item!
As far as I’m concerned, the leftover tofu is a perfect excuse to make the “Fatfree & Fabulous Fudgy Brownies” on this site! 😀
KimJune 6, 2020 at 3:26 pm
Genius Susan, pure genius
DonnaOctober 29, 2020 at 9:15 am
I went to make this yesterday and realized no cashews in the cupboards. But there was exactly 1/3 cup of peanuts. I took that as a sign. I didn’t soak them and I added a few drops of sesame oil to cancel a bit of the peanutty flavor. It is surprisingly good.