The loss of curd is perhaps the worst nemesis for most vegans in India.
Curd in the West, usually means coagulated dairy milk, made by addition of rennet, vinegar or lemon (an acidic medium) to dairy milk causing it to separate. The coagulated milk is then hung to separate the curd from the whey.
Yogurt as known in the West is closer to curd we use in India. But we neither flavour nor sweeten it. We set it with a natural starter, which is nothing but old curd. This is the kind of curd I refer to in my post. Only, mine is made with a natural starter used in some villages in India, and the curd itself is dairy-free.
I had written a post a couple of years ago on how to set cashew and peanut curd. I did not think it was necessary to give temperatures when I wrote it. The feedback on the post was mixed. Some people, like my friends Lata, and Rithika, and a few readers tried and found the cashew curd easy and could not detect any difference. Some wrote back saying that the instructions were not clear and the cashew paste simply got spoilt. Hence this updated post. There is a fine line between setting and spoilage, and I hope this post clarifies the procedure.
When I wrote crowns, I meant the stems (picture on the right)
Over the years, I have also found that a thinner mixture makes better curd. When it is Summer I use water heated between 50 and 60 deg. C. In Winters I use boiling hot water and wrap my curd-setting pot with a thick towel to retain heat. During Monsoons I am afraid the curd does not set well and sometimes gets spoilt. I think humidity plays a major role.
Good cashew curd is easy to mix. It will look like buttermilk, and taste similar, though not as sour. Please note that cashew curd tastes like ‘just set dairy milk curd’. It does not ferment beyond a point. You will have to lemon juice in order to bring it to the same level of sourness as dairy milk curd. The curd will not break further when lemon juice is added.
Cashew milk topped with pepper crowns and kept for fermentation
Spoilt cashew curd turns sticky and stringy when stirred. It happens when the water added is not heated enough. I have noticed that cashew-curd often spoils in Monsoons, and I suspect that it is because of the humidity.
In this update I have diluted the cashew milk further as compared to the earlier method I posted.
Recipe: Vegan kitchen basics – An update on making cashewnut curd – Vegan|Dairy-free
Cashewnuts (without skin) – 1 cup, soaked for 4-5 hours or till softened
Water – 2-3 cups
Stems (crowns) from about 8-10 green chillis
Juice from one lemon (if needed)
Rinse the soaked cashews in clean water and drain.
Heat water to about 60 deg. Celsius (140 deg. Fahrenheit).
Place cashews in a blender, adding enough of the water and blend to form a smooth paste, stopping in the middle to scrape down the sides if needed. Do not add all the water as it is hot, and can cause burns if it splashes.
Remove the paste into the bowl in which you need to set the curd. Add the rest of the water and stir to bring to uniform consistency.
Wash green chillies, remove the crowns (stems) and place drop into the curd. There is no need to stir.
In Indian Summer, it takes about 6-7 hours for the curd to ferment. The first photograph in this post shows the curd as it will look once it has set. The top layer should be thick as compared to the bottom but should not separate, or break. Stir to check that it is not stringy. This indicates that the curd has set well.
Cashew curd after it has set well, and not yet been stirred
If it tastes milky leave it out for 2-3 hours to let it sour. Unlike dairy curd, cashew curd sours only mildly. After 2-3 hours, add enough lemon juice to sour it according to your taste.
The first batch might carry the flavour of chilli. I use the first batch as a starter for the next batch. Unlike dairy-curd, I find that the amount of starter needed is high, about 3 teaspoons of starter for one cup of cashew curd.
This is the starter I used
The texture of cashew curd will be liquid as thick as the amount of water added by you. It will not set as firm as dairy curd.
The science behind the process of fermentation using stems/crowns of chilli peppers:
The fermentation is caused by air-borne wild yeast. The underside of stems of chilli peppers have the property to attract wild yeast frotm the surroundings, and this helps in fermentation. Wild yeast are attracted only at certain temperatures, around 25 to 30 deg. C. Below that the fermentation may not take place, and above that temperature, sourness (in this case splitting) might occur
Since the fermenting agent is wild yeast, one should preferably use filtered tap water, and non-chlorinated water. Hard water does not allow wild yeast to grow.
Wild yeast are less available in cold regions or air-conditioned areas hence it is advisable to keep the curd in an airy, sunny area with a lid on.
I use fresh, green chillies of the spicy variant, as I find these good. You can also use stems from dried red chillies. Use boiling hot water in Winters, and wrap vessel with a towel.
As a vegetarian too, I never liked my thayir chaadam (curd rice) sour, so the vegan cashew curd with its mild sourness suits me. If you like yours sour, add lemon juice as per taste. I assure you that the curries made with curd are the same as dairy curd. There is absolutely no difference in taste or texture. It is ideal for any kind of kadhi, morkootan, aviyal etc. Just substitute dairy curd with cashew curd.
This method of setting curd is being followed in India since ages and I just happen to be the first to apply it to non-dairy milk. This is an original recipe and if you make it and it works for you, please let me know. I would like it if you link my post to yours if you modify it or use the method on your site/blog.