Cashew Gelato (That Just Happens to be Vegan)


As a heuristic, I tend to avoid foods labeled as “vegan” because, in my limited experience, they tend to be poor imitations of their non-vegan counterparts.  Sure, a tomato is both vegan and delicious, but I’ve never met a vegan pizza that tasted better than the paper on which they print Dave Matthews tickets.  However, at my first visit to the Intellectual Ventures kitchen lab last summer, I ate a bowl of pistachio gelato, which I was later informed was (you guessed it) vegan!  The gelato was smooth and silky, and unquestionably better than any lactose-free ice cream I’ve ever tried.  And although the Modernist Cuisine book doesn’t wander into the realm of desserts, luckily for us, their pistachio recipe is their sole exception.  I’ve substituted cashews for pistachios, but other nuts will work just as well.  I’ve also simplified the emulsifiers called for in the book, which means you can find everything you need to make this recipe at a (finer) grocery store.

Shopping list:

  • 680 g water
  • 210 g cashew butter (available in the nut butters aisle at Whole Foods)
  • 102 g cashew oil
    Note: I haven’t been able to find a bottle of cashew oil, straight up.  Instead, I poured off the oil that had settled at the top of my cashew butter.  Using this amount only yielded 1/5 of the recipe. You can sacrifice 4 more jars, or substitute the remainder with walnut, hazelnut, macadamia, peanut, or even safflower oil – just make sure the oil is unused, or your gelato will taste like french fries.
  • 155 g fine baker’s sugar
  • 22 g salt
  • 2.5 g Xanthan gum
  • 2.5 g Guar gum
    Note: both Xanthan gum and Guar gum are available under the Bob’s Red Mill brand at finer grocery stores.


  1. Combine the water, cashew butter, cashew oil, sugar and salt in a food processor or blender.  Blend until very smooth.
  2. Add the Xanthan gum and Guar gum and blend until combined, about 30 seconds.  The mixture should thicken to the consistency of cream.
  3. If necessary, chill the mixture in the refrigerator for 1 hour.  Churn in an ice cream maker, following the manufacturer’s instructions.  If you don’t have an ice cream maker, break 2.5 lbs of dry ice into 1/2” pieces.  Add the gelato base to a stand mixer with the paddle attachment installed.  Mix on medium, then add the dry ice.  Continue mixing until the dry ice fog has stopped.  Transfer to an airtight container and store in the freezer.

This gelato screams “cashews” and is delightfully salty. Now that you’ve got a reliable recipe for nut-based vegan gelatos, you can finally open that Fremont dessert shop you’ve always dreamed of… bongo drums and all.

I’m Bringing Salty Back


I currently own no fewer than a dozen types of salt, and my collection grows every week.  I adore salt.  I love it on all foods, savory or sweet.  I love the sharp, metallic taste of bare crystals on my tongue.  I love the variety that salt has to offer: shapes, sizes, colors, flavors.  When I come home from work, I make myself a plate of salted olive oil for dipping bread.  When I dress my salad, it isn’t complete without a rough crushing of coarse flake salt over the top.  When I’m cooking proteins or plants, I choose my salt deliberately, as that single ingredient will affect the final flavor of my dish more than any other.

However, salt has become a hopelessly neglected ingredient in everyday cooking.  If you were to ask 100 random people to name as many salts as possible, what do you thin the results would be?  I suspect at least 30 people wouldn’t believe that salt comes in more than one form: table salt.  Perhaps 70/100 might be able to name Morton’s iodized salt.  Maybe 50/80 would mention kosher salt.  I’d be surprised if more than 30/100 thought of rock salt (unless they live somewhere snowy or make a lot of ice cream), and I’d be flabbergasted if more than 10/100 conjured up “sea salt”.  I have little hope that 1/100 could produce any of the adjectives that adorn my salt jars: alderwood smoked, red Hawaiian, Niçoise olive, cyprus flake, Australian pink, Himalayan (the list continues).  It’s these variations that make salt so interesting and exciting to me.  Could you imagine living life only eating one type of cheese or drinking one type of wine?  I’d rather suffer through daily waterboarding with a Mexican Zinfandel than being relegated to plain table salt for the rest of my life.  And in a world where the most obscure artisanal products are only a mouse click away from your doorstep, there’s really no excuse to turn your back on good salt.

salts on a platter

In celebration of this wonderful ingredient, Rachel and I hosted a salt-themed dinner party for our gourmet club last weekend.  Our mission was two-fold: 1) incorporate, worship and evangelize salt as a basic but richly complex ingredient, and 2) get everyone gleefully drunk (in fairness, #2 applies to every meeting of our gourmet club).  We began the evening with a simple introduction to a few of my favorite seasoned salts, plated with olive oil and soft baguette slices.  These salts included Chili Verde, Black Truffle, Chardonnay Oak Smoked, and Niçoise olive.  The table favorite, in this preparation, was the black truffle salt, which has a pronounced aroma and a very fine grain.  I often use only this truffle salt and a little olive oil to season roasted birds, but it’s also great for finishing pastas or sautéed vegetables. 

george and rachel

Next, we tried something completely novel but totally fun: salt slab tableside cooking!  I ordered a Himalayan salt slab (also available from Sur La Table and Dean & Deluca) which is literally a solid salt brick cut from deposits deep beneath the Himalayan mountains.  The slab is a beautiful shade of translucent pink with light veins and a coarse texture.  Following some tips I read online, I heated the slab gradually for 30 minutes on my stovetop, then brought it to the table and set it atop a rack (my fondue rack, actually).  Unfortunately, we barely got a sizzle, even though the block felt quite hot.  About 10 minutes on broil in the toaster oven helped, as did the Sterno fondue flame I lit beneath the brick.  (Note: I never read anywhere that you’re supposed to place the salt over a Sterno flame, so if you try it and disaster ensues, tough nuggies.  However, it worked pretty well for me, with no obvious resulting structural damage.  Plus, the salt conducted the flame’s heat pretty well, giving us 10-15 minutes of usable cook time at the table.) 

seared beef on salt slab

We seared thin slices of marinated hanger steak with a peanut dipping sauce.  Even though the marinade was (intentionally) not very salty, the beef picked up great salt flavor from the brick.  If you try this recipe (which I’ll post soon) be aware that the marinade tends to drip off the side of the block, so you may want to take precautions to protect your table and linens.  After we ran out of beef, we gave a go at frying an egg on the salt brick.  The result was a very salty, but incredibly delicious, umami-flavored egg.  Yum!  I could get quite used to cooking on the salt block, as everything it touches turns to salty gold. 

salt baked salmo

Next up was the main course: a whole sockeye salmon baked in a crust of Himalayan rock salt.  Since the salmon is cooked intact and with the skin on, the resulting flesh doesn’t end up particularly salty.  However, because the crust provides an insulating layer that heats the fish evenly and traps steam in, you do end up with tender, succulent fish, plus an awesome presentation.  Before entombing the salmon, the salt is mixed with egg whites and a little water to form a slush, not unlike wet sand.  As the dish bakes, the salt crust hardens into a tough shell.  Once the dish is cooked and rested, you can tap the crust with a kitchen knife (or chisel, if necessary) to remove it in (hopefully) big chunks. 

I stuffed the inside of the salmon with lemon slices and oregano, which lent a light fragrance to the baked fish.  Once cooked and removed from the salt, we served pieces of the fillet atop fennel and onion confit with a sweet olive jam. 

rosemary ice cream

Finally, after seven bottles of wine and two hours of eating, we arrived at dessert – the course I had been waiting for all evening.  I served a homemade rosemary and vanilla bean ice cream topped with olive oil and sea salt.  The combination of savory flavors with ice cream may sound bizarre, but when these ingredients get together, they make funky, sexy love to my mouth.  You can use any salt you like to top this ice cream (I’d recommend a flake sea salt or a gray salt), but be sure to use an olive oil that will compliment the sweetness dessert.  I chose Villa Manodori ($24 at DeLaurentis, also available online) , which is mild and thin, but has a distinctly fresh olive taste and a spicy bite as it finishes.  My every-day extra virgin olive oil would been a little too thick and greasy, so this dish was a good excuse to spring for a nice bottle. 

Recipe: Rosemary, Olive Oil and Sea Salt Sundae

Throughout the meal, we watered our salty tongues with bites of fresh Tuscan Canteloupe and glasses of light, fruity wines like Sangiovese, Gewurztraminer and Soave.  The melon was a surprisingly effective palate cleanser – I’d recommend having it on the table if you plan on throwing your own salt party.  And in addition to the wine, offering a glass of Port or Muscat as an accompaniment to your dessert, or a store-bought salted chocolate, helps illuminate how salty flavors can enhance sweet ones. 

I feel like we’re at the doorstep of a new renaissance for salt.  With artisanal salt makers like SaltWorks and Secret Stash Salts popping up in grocery stores and farmers markets, and products like Himalayan salt blocks appearing in mainstream catalogs, salt has a good shot at grabbing the spotlight.  And after 8000 years of cooking with this simple, amazing ingredient, isn’t about time we gave salt the recognition it deserves?

Blood Orange Sorbet with Vanilla, Almond and Lavender Infusion

When flu season comes around, it’s important to soothe your aching throat with something healthy and delicious.  Yes, of course you’ll have plenty of tea and honey, but why not try a cold treat to numb away your woes? 

Makes: 1 prescription quart
Total kitchen time: 20 minutes plus freezing time

Shopping List:

  • 6 blood oranges (you can cheat and buy blood orange juice – about 1.5 cups)
  • 1 cup Muscat (dessert wine; you can drink the rest)
  • 1/2 cup blue agave nectar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger, finely grated
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla almond tea (loose tea in an infuser, or about 4 tea bags)
  • 1 tsp. lavender (in an infuser, or find lavender tea, about 2 bags)
  • 2 cups water
  1. Juice the blood oranges through a fine mesh screen to remove any pulp or seeds.  I used my potato ricer to get the oranges squozen.  
  2. Combine the blood orange juice, Muscat, agave nectar, vanilla bean (including the pod) and ginger in a medium pot.  Bring the liquid just to a boil, then remove from heat.
  3. Add the tea and lavender in an infuser or in loose tea bags.  Let the mixture steep for 10 minutes.  Remove and discard the tea.
  4. Add the water and refrigerate the mixture overnight or until cold.  Then, freeze according to your ice cream maker’s instructions.

If you don’t have an ice cream maker, you can still-freeze this recipe in a large, shallow baking dish.  Pour in the mixture and put it in the coldest part of your freezer.  Every 20 minutes or so, scrape the sorbet with the tines of a fork to break up the ice crystals.  You’ll end up with more of a granita than a sorbet, but it will still be delicious.