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I'm mastering my vegetable curry recipe and while it is spectacular in its current form using heavy whipping cream, I have some wild notion that the recipe would be more appreciated if I could manage to replace the heavy cream with a vegan option. I tried coconut cream but that has far too distinct a flavor, plus one member of the family hates coconuts and can detect it easily.

So I am looking for a substitute for heavy cream that's not coconut based, and ideally not soy, but I'll try just about anything.

I am also ok with having to concoct something from a variety of sources. So if I have to use almond milk, but thicken it with an almond butter or some other ingredient then I can handle that.

I'm not 100% sure why the heavy cream benefits the recipe. To me heavy cream has no flavor. So maybe what I'm looking for is to create a cream of similar viscosity that is vegan and has as little to no flavor as possible... or I guess it could be the heavy cream uses the other flavors in the curry as a catalyst.

The goal is to make my 100% organic vegetable curry to be vegan without hurting the flavor.

I see some pointers here but I'm wondering if there's a more specific technique others know of meeting the requirements here.

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I've had good luck substituting cashew cream for heavy cream in soups and curries. I've had a lot of people actually prefer it!

To make it, you follow the basic procedure for making nut milk, but skip most of the steps. Soak cashews in enough water to cover them for at least an hour or two, then puree in a blender until it's as smooth as you can get it. Add a little more water until it's the thickness of cream, throw in a pinch of salt, and you're done.

It's good for things where you need the richness of cream, but don't want other characteristics like sweetness or tanginess that other substitutes might have. I've even seen it used as the base for cheesecakes, and vegan cheeses and cheese sauces.

  • That is likely to be very authentic, even - cooked/roasted and blended cashew/peanut/sesame/almond... pastes feature in a lot of recipes from indian authors... – rackandboneman Nov 3 '15 at 11:15
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I would use a vegan plain yogurt thinned with vegan milk** of your choice to replace the heavy cream, and with an addition of some ground cashews (soak first in some of the vegan milk, then grind to a paste). Many North Indian recipes use ground cashew (or to a lesser extent, ground almond) as a thickener and it makes the gravy richer. (See recipes for Malai Kofte for examples.) This will give you a fairly neutral flavor and stays reasonably authentic.

I think heavy cream is probably being used in your recipe to make a richer recipe (both in cost and texture), the type of thing that might be served at a fancy meal for a party or feast day but not for every day, and a more "every day" style of sauce might have had less cream added or just plain milk or yogurt.

I realize that you're trying to perfect one specific recipe, but I wanted to mention that there are also plenty of Indian curries which don't use any milk products at all to begin with, so if you're catering to a vegan crowd or just trying to reduce use of animal fats, you do have a lot of options that don't start with a cream-based sauce.

And, I know you already said you want to avoid coconut, but apart from that, replacing cream/milk/yogurt with coconut milk is quite common in South Indian cooking but might seem out of place in North Indian food. If you want to try to keep your curry reasonably authentic (or be able to produce multiple styles of curries) you may want to consider developing one recipe with more of a North Indian slant made with, say, almond-milk + almond-milk-yogurt + ground cashew, and a second recipe with more of a South Indian style made with coconut milk for the times when that particular person won't be at the table. :-)

**Most US grocery stores these days have a large selection of alternatives to dairy products, although this does vary regionally. For example, in San Francisco where I work you'll find a lot more options than in Bountiful, UT where my parents live. You may find some shelf-stable milk replacement products near the baking aisle, but most of the ones that are more pleasant for drinking plain or cooking with will be near the regular dairy products.

There is a lot of variation in flavor and quality of different brands, and you may find that soy and coconut based products are the closest to dairy milk. Almond and rice products tend to be thinner. There will usually be some "original" flavor and some vanilla or even chocolate. For cooking you will want "original" flavor, of course. It will not taste identical to dairy milk. In my opinion, coconut-based milk replacements are usually the most neutral and often have a better texture. In my opinion, they don't really taste much like coconut in this form.

  • I'll have to look into what a "vegan milk" is. I've never really looked into those things in part because I have this idea that packaged foods targeting vegans will be unnecessarily more expensive. But I like the idea of almond milk and almond milk yogurt. I'm not trying to be authentic at all. I just threw a bunch of things in a pot with curry powder one day and everyone loved it so I kept progressively making it better, looking into recipes, etc. It's been requested at school pot lucks and things and a lot of them are vegans. Thought I would try to cater to everyone. Thanks! – Kai Qing Aug 6 '15 at 18:10
  • Catering to everyone can definitely throw some interesting challenges in. :-) – NadjaCS Aug 6 '15 at 23:26
  • Yeah no kidding but people get a swift kick when they tell me something I made is one of the most delicious things they've had and I then tell them it's all organic and vegan. Like knowing ahead of time automatically makes them assume it's all going to taste like dirt, so it might sway their opinion. I'm not even vegan or even vegetarian per say. I just like the challenge. - PS I'll mark this as accepted when I use the suggestions successfully, then I'll update the question with the recipe. Thanks again – Kai Qing Aug 6 '15 at 23:40
  • I get the same response from my husband if I tell him I made something gluten free (catering to SF coworkers) or eggless (catering to his mom). If he eats it before he knows, all well and good. If he knows first he won't touch it. – NadjaCS Aug 7 '15 at 3:49

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