Eating seasonally is pretty simple when you live in San Francisco, even if it does seem a little incongruous to bite into a perfectly ripe and juicy cherry tomato while blanketed in a fog that borders on drizzle. What better place to be a vegan, a vegetarian, or at least incorporate more vegan foods into one’s life?

While I had planned on making a gazpacho today, the damp and drizzly weather left me wanting something more substantial and warming. Tomatoes were still on my mind, and a cake I’d recently made, which played on a cream cheese and tomato sandwich, left me thinking that I could do a vegan version of that classic combo.

I’ve mentioned before in this column that soy is a trigger for migraines for me, so most store-bought vegan cream cheese is off the table. Besides, the ingredient lists on those little plastic tubs can be kind of scary. Luckily, it’s super-easy to make cashew cream cheese, and there’s the added benefit of flavoring it however you like and saving lots of dough.

I couldn’t just make a plain ol’ sandwich for you, so I decided bruschetta might be fun — but of course bruschetta with a twist. Since the amazing Viola Buitoni is Mission Local’s resident expert on Italian cooking, I figured I’d take this simple and adaptable appetizer in a slightly different direction. The addition of cilantro, serrano chilies and red onion bring a Latin flavor to this bruschetta, and it’s a combination that is really working for me. I hope you’ll enjoy it as well.

Ingredients: Vegan Cream Cheese

  • 2 cups raw cashews soaked in 4 cups of water for at least 4 hours, then drained
  • juice of 1 large or 2 small lemons
  • ¼ cup cold water (more as needed)
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 heaping tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1½ teaspoons coarse sea salt
  • 2 serrano chilies

Ingredients: Crostini

  • 1 baguette cut into ½-inch slices
  • olive oil for brushing
  • 1 clove garlic cut in half

Ingredients: Salsa Cruda

  • 1 pint basket cherry tomatoes
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • ¼ red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic roughly chopped
  • handful of cilantro leaves
  • salt and black pepper to taste

Instructions for the Vegan Cream Cheese

  • Add half the cashews, the water, lemon juice, vinegar, salt and yeast to a blender and blend on high for at least three minutes. Turn the blender off and use a spatula to move the mixture around if it gets stuck.
  • Add more water if you have you, but only a tablespoon at a time. Add the rest of the cashews in four batches. The goal is for this mixture to be as thick as cream cheese.
  • Once all the nuts are added, blend for at least five minutes until mixture is totally smooth and creamy. It should be very thick. Add the serrano chilies and blend for about 30 seconds or until just incorporated. Taste, and add salt and pepper and blend once more. Repeat until desired seasoning level is reached.
  • Place the cream cheese in the refrigerator and allow to set for at least four hours — but overnight will be best.
  • Right before serving you can stir in some fresh herbs; in this case, I added a bit of fresh parsley and cilantro.

For the Salsa Cruda

  • Halve the cherry tomatoes and mix with olive oil, vinegar, onion, garlic and cilantro. Add salt and pepper to taste and marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes to one hour.

For the Crostini

  • Preheat oven to 350º.
  • Rub sliced bread with cut garlic cloves and brush with olive oil. Set slices on a baking sheet and bake for 6.5 to 7 minutes.
  • Remove from oven and allow to cool.

To assemble: Spoon a half-teaspoon of the cream cheese onto a slice of crostini and top with about one tablespoon of the marinated tomatoes and cilantro. Be careful not to give anyone a big hunk of garlic or raw onion unless, of course, this is just for you and you’re not planning on kissing anyone later. In that case, go for it.

Sabrina Modelle

Sabrina Modelle is the girl behind The Tomato Tart (www.thetomatotart.com). A web designer by day and a food writer by night, she lives, eats, and loves in El Corazon- right off the 24th Street corridor....

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