Whether you'd like to believe it or not, I attempt to strictly follow a dairy-free diet these days. Meaning huevos without the cotija, pumpkin pie without the whip, and cheesecake without the... well, cheese.
“Live a little, why don’t you?” Because I’m sure that’s what you’re thinking at this point already.
Trust me, I certainly had my years of dairy indulgence, however after years of battling breakouts, bloat, and shooting stomach pains, I was advised to remove dairy from my diet and monitor its effects. Almost immediately, I began to notice dramatic effects. My skin was clearing up and I hardly ever got those awful shooting stomach pains that had me curled up in the fetal position on the couch. By more proactively adopting a dairy-free diet, I was beginning to experiment with non-dairy ingredients – and with that, I became more self-educated and knowledgeable of various benefits and uses of these new ingredients. I now feel more comfortable with a personal decision to remove something from my diet that’s typically been held on a pedestal as a staple in our diet.
I’ll take your slice of lard laden carrot cake and raise you a coconut oil and cashew cream frosted carrot cake. Blind folded and I can assure you that you wouldn’t know which one was made without dairy! [Visit New York and let me take you to Peacefood Café so that you can personally experience this for yourself.]
I’m finding it easier and much more satisfying to incorporate new ingredients into my diet thanks to the speed at which dairy-free foods are popping up on shelves as well as on menus. From what began with soymilk as the only alternative to now a playground full of options. “Do I want almond, cashew, hemp, or flax milk this time?” There's even greek style coconut milk yogurt now to satisfy that "take me back to Santorini" moment when I was first introduced to the magical pairing of greek yogurt & honey (and began to mysteriously break out).
To that, I give you my usual dairy culprits and the ways in which I myself enjoy it sans dairy or suggest recipes or products that have already perfected it. If you're dairy tolerant, you go right ahead and continue to do your thing. Otherwise, give some of these a try and see if it changes the way you feel or perhaps becomes an alternative when you're looking to switch things up a bit. I think you'll be surprised at how amazing these new options taste.
Coffee & Other Indulgent Sips
This one is pretty easy. I’ll typically add a splash of almond milk because in my opinion, it has the most flavor of all nut milks. Recently, I’ve been experimenting with adding coconut oil into drip coffee when I want to drink it straight. For one, simply due to all of the health benefits of coconut oil but also because it adds a delicious buttery flavor to my morning cup.
OMilk (Brooklyn based) makes delicious almond and cashew based blends and even has a cold-brew coffee almond milk and seasonal pumpkin pie cashew flavor that is to die for.
A more common brand, So Delicious, carries a whole line of dairy-free products including beverages, desserts, yogurts and coffee creamers like a barista style coconut milk based french vanilla! They make it pretty hard to miss the real deal and are 100% plant based and Non-GMO certified so that you don't have to worry about artificial sweeteners, trans-fats, or hydrogenated oils.
A lot of times, dairy is a hidden ingredient in smoothies and you may not even realize that's the case unless you ask whomever is mixing it up. Juice bars will typically already include a non-dairy milk, but just something to be mindful of. When I can, I make my own and by no means am I strict about amounts or ingredient possibilities.
Currently, my favorite fix includes:
Organic Avenue’s Cashew Hemp Mylk (otherwise, any nut milk of choice)
Handful of frozen organic strawberries & blueberries
1 tbsp of raw almond or cashew butter, whatever I currently have on hand
1 tbsp extra virgin coconut oil
1 tsp spirulina
Sprinkle of cinnamon
Throw half of a banana in there too, if you have one handy.
It’s scarily green because of the spirulina (which is tasteless) but extremely healthy, delicious, and satisfying. Any dairy-free milk plus spinach and banana will usually set you up for a perfect smoothie blend.
I absolutely love pesto, therefore I’ll typically make an avocado based pesto for a rich and buttery taste that can be added to any kind of pasta. I fancy this spinach basil pesto pasta in which case I would throw in some tempeh or vegan meatballs to add a bit more density to the dish.
I’m also sure that I have plenty of mac ‘n cheese lovers out there. I myself was known to go to town on some velveeta back in the day. I prefer something like this Thai Mac & Cheez recipe that combines basil, cashews, coconut milk and red curry.
Huevos Rancheros & Eggs Benedict
This is a bit tricky, as these are some of my favorite brunch picks and tend to be loaded with cheese. Instead, I’ll typically ask for extra avocado and drizzle on hot sauce in order to enhance the flavor. The combination of eggs and avocado is excellent for hangovers as well, just so you know... (Note: I categorize eggs separately from all other dairy when it comes to my personal dietary restrictions)
There are some brands like Daiya that offer a line of vegan cheeses, however, I view that in a similar fashion as something like vegan "BBQ wings" made with processed and faux-like ingredients. I feel like it defeats the purpose, however it is still an option!
I am fascinated with carrot cake. Anything carrot cake for that matter. I could create a map of New York City’s best vegan carrot cakes but instead, I’ll simply suggest a few recipes that you can feast your eyes on and hopefully come around to very soon. If you're not a fan of carrot cake, there are plenty of dairy-free alternatives to whatever your favorite "cake" is. Just browse Foodgawker and insert the word "vegan" or "dairy free" in front of it.
Raw Carrot Cake with Cashew Cream Cheese (shown above)
Cranberry Orange Carrot Cake (this is the most beautiful creation that I have ever seen)
I also must give some love to Ellwood Thompson’s vegan carrot cake back in Richmond. They’ve got it together so you Richmonders, please do me a favor and try it - at least a bite or two.
This is one of the hardest to battle, especially in the summer time when everyone, including myself, wants to treat themselves. Also, that time of the month when all you want to do is sit down with a spoon and a full pint of the chocolate chip cookie dough variety. I’ve discovered so many brands that make dairy-free versions that are insanely delicious. You’re like “what?! Ice cream without the dairy?” I get it, it almost doesn’t make sense until you give them a try. My tried and true suggestions for you:
Luna & Larry's Coconut Bliss has flavors like Salted Caramel & Chocolate, Moca Maca Crunch, Ginger Cookie Caramel, and Naked Coconut.
So Delicious Cookie dough (coconut milk based) is hands down one of my favorites, however they also have flavors like Cherry Amaretto, Chocolate Brownie Almond, Cookies & Cream, Green Tea, and Mint Chip.
Raw Ice Cream Company has some of the most basic flavors, however it has got to be some of the most decadent non-dairy ice cream that I've ever had. Their mission is simple. "Where they use cows, we use coconuts & cashews, Where they use sugar, we use agave nectar. While they process their ingredients, we take ours straight from the plant." Vanilla is my absolute favorite.
There are no rules here, I just go for it. I’m human too, you know and sometimes that glazed piece of dough is just calling my name. I'll at least have a brewed coffee with a splash of almond milk to wash it all down. That's fair, right?
Thinking about taking the plunge? Would love to hear your experience!