Let’s be honest – going dairy-free is tough. At least it was for me. Giving up sour cream was especially challenging. There’s nothing like that creamy, cultured, slightly tangy dollop of goodness on baked potatoes, home fries, tacos, burritos, fajitas, stroganoff, lentil soup, enchiladas……..you get my drift. I honestly thought that I’d never get to enjoy “real” sour cream again. Friends, I was wrong.
The non-dairy sour cream alternatives at the grocery store leave a lot to be desired in terms of flavor and nutrition. The first three ingredients in one popular brand are water, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, and soy protein isolate, followed by a suite of thickening gums including locust bean, guar, xanthan, carrageenan, and more. Not to mention a 12 ounce container sells for $3.75 on average. Not exactly fat wallet friendly. You don’t have to settle for this.
I’m going to share with you a method for making non-dairy sour cream that has fooled hardcore omnivores on several occasions. It involves 15 minutes of active time, 3 ingredients (one of which is optional), and as a bonus, you will also learn how to make non-dairy yogurt in the process. Let’s get started!
Three simple ingredients work together to make creamy and tangy non-dairy yogurt that is the basis for heavenly sour cream. You’ll need unsweetened plain soy milk, raw cashews, and a small amount of non-dairy yogurt.
I want to take a moment here to talk about soy, because I fear I may have already lost some of you. As far as the nutrition experts are concerned, the jury is still out on soy. It seems like every week the opinion changes on whether it’s a super food or a killer food. Let me go on the record now – I am not a nutritionist. However, from what I can gather the suspicious character is soy protein isolate, which is a highly processed derivative of soybeans. In this yogurt, I use Westsoy Organic Unsweetened Soymilk* because it contains two ingredients: Organic soybeans and filtered water. That’s it. I also like it because it doesn’t have a prominent “soy” flavor, which can sometimes turn people off (including yours truly). If you decide not to use soymilk for whatever reason, please note that this method may need some tweaking, as other non-dairy milks don’t have enough protein to thicken the yogurt. I’m working on this! Stay tuned.
Ok, back to the yogurt. Raw cashews are an optional addition, as they help to make the yogurt extra thick and creamy, especially when strained for sour cream. But I have made this yogurt successfully without the cashews, so it’s totally your call. If you include the cashews, I recommend soaking them for a few hours so that they blend more easily. I’ve also included a quick-soak method in the recipe notes. If you have a high-speed blender, such as a Vitamix, no soaking is required.
The final ingredient is prepared non-dairy yogurt, which will be used as a starter. Here’s an important note. To my knowledge, there is no plain unsweetened soy yogurt out on the market right now. Whole Soy & Co. makes one, but due to some issues with their production facility, they are not shipping it right now. So, what’s an aspiring yogurt maker to do? Since you will only be using a small amount as the starter, you can use any unflavored non-dairy yogurt, be it soy, almond, or coconut, as long as it contains live active cultures (it will say so on the packaging). If it contains a bit of sugar, that’s ok, just look for a variety without vanilla or other flavoring.
Beth, make the yogurt already! Ok, ok. Hold your horses.
Blend the cashews (if using) with 2-3 cups of soymilk until smooth and creamy (an immersion blender works too!). Combine the mixture with the remaining soymilk and heat to 115-120 degrees. You can do this on the stovetop, in a slow cooker (on high), or in a rice cooker (the keep warm setting). I’ve tried all three and they all work. The important thing is checking the temperature at regular intervals to make sure the mixture doesn’t go over 120 degrees, because soymilk can become bitter if heated at too high of a temperature. Once you figure out the method that works best for you, it’ll be easy peasy the next time around because you’ll know exactly how long it takes to get to the right temperature. I remember a few rounds of trial and error to get to my preferred method, but if you like to geek out in the kitchen, it’ll be right up your alley. If you don’t, I recommend a yogurt maker. 🙂
Once the mixture reaches 115-120 degrees, add the yogurt/starter. The live cultures will hit the warm soymilk and start to do their important work of eating up all the natural sugars and transforming it into creamy, tart, and tangy yogurt. The mixture needs to stay around 110 degrees until it has set, which can be anywhere from 4-8 hours. You can leave it for up to 24 hours if you want, just be aware that the longer you wait, the tangier it will be. If you heated the mixture on the stove top, put a lid on the pan and wrap it in a large towel and set in the warmest spot in your kitchen (the oven works well!). If you used a crockpot or rice cooker, make sure the heat is turned off and the lid is secure.
If this seems like a lot of effort, it really isn’t. Once you’ve found the the method that works for you, the amount of time you’ll actively spend making the yogurt is 15 minutes or less. I’ve created a little diagram to illustrate this for you visual learners.
Here are some ideas for how to spend your inactive time:
– Take a nap
– Watch a tv marathon on Netflix
– Take a nap
– Play on the swings at the park
– Take a nap
After four hours (or after you wake up from your nap), check the yogurt. When you lift up the lid, there is a moment of anticipation – did the yogurt set? I have to admit to a bit of a thrill every time this happens.
Isn’t that awesome? I’ve done this a bunch of times and it’s still exciting. Congratulations, you just made yogurt! At this point, you can bask in your yogurt-making prowess and put up your yogurt. I use mason jars and a canning funnel/ladle to make it easy on myself.
And now, my friends, you can make SOUR CREAM.
REAL DEAL SOUR CREAM
Making the sour cream is super duper easy. The only thing it requires is patience. But as Alton Brown always says, your patience will be rewarded.
Line a strainer with two to three layers of cheesecloth and place it over a bowl. Fill the strainer to the brim with yogurt (I can usually fit a quart or a bit more). Cover with the extra cheesecloth or a tea towel, and set in a warm place to culture for 24 hours.
24 hours later, you will see that the liquid has drained into the bowl and you are left with thick, dreamy, cultured sour cream.
As you can see, the volume has decreased by about half and the liquid has drained into the bottom of the bowl. You can use the liquid to water your plants or as a replacement for some of the water in bread dough. Or you can chuck it – I won’t tell anyone. A quart of yogurt will yield about 2 1/2 cups of sour cream.
You did it! You made homemade non-dairy yogurt AND sour cream! You’re a DIY rockstar! Go celebrate with the biggest baked potato you can find and for goodness’ sake be generous with the sour cream. You deserve it. And puh-leese tell me if you made it, or if you need any help troubleshooting the process. I want to help!
Now go get your culture on.
- 3 32 oz. boxes of WestSoy Unsweetened Plain Soymilk
- 1 cup raw cashews, soaked for at least 2 hours (see notes for quick soak method) - optional
- ⅓ cup non-dairy yogurt, plain unsweetened
- If using, blend cashews with 2-3 cups of soymilk in a blender until creamy and smooth. If not using a high speed blender, pour the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any cashew pieces that did not get pureed.
- Add the remaining soymilk to the cashew/soymilk mixture in a large saucepan, crockpot, or rice cooker. Heat the mixture to 115-120 degrees.
- Once the mixture reaches 115-120 degrees, turn off the heat and stir in the yogurt.
- Cover the cooking vessel with a tight lid and place in a warm spot until the yogurt is set, 4-8 hours. Makes 3½ quarts of yogurt.
- When the yogurt is set, transfer 2 quarts of yogurt to clean containers with tight-fitting lids and refrigerate. Use the remaining yogurt to make the sour cream.
- Line a strainer with 2-3 layers of cheesecloth and set over a bowl. Fill the strainer to the brim with yogurt, and cover with remaining cheesecloth or a tea towel.
- Set aside in a warm place to culture for 24 hours.
- Transfer the drained sour cream to a well-cleaned container with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate before serving.
*Westsoy has no idea who I am and didn’t pay me to promote their product (although, ahem, I wouldn’t turn them down if they offered). I just really love this soymilk and wanted to share it with you.