Michael Symon’s 3 Tips for Making Dairy-Free Comfort Food

In his Food Network Kitchen classes, Symon shares his dairy-free cooking secrets, including how to make the creamiest dairy-free mac and cheese in the universe.

February 07, 2020

Photo by: Kerri Brewer

Kerri Brewer

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While there are a million-and-a-half recipes for vegan treats, there’s a remarkable dearth of dairy-free specific content on the Internet. Seriously. Try Googling "vegan pie" and then "dairy-free pie;" the results differ enormously. I’m sure the rationale behind this is simple: if a recipe developer is making an allergy-friendly recipe, why stop at dairy-free? Might as well make it as inclusive as possible and go all the way vegan. Or at least go in for a double whammy and make it dairy-free and gluten-free. Ahh, the rationale of someone who doesn’t have any allergies.

Not wanting to eat dairy doesn’t always go hand in hand with veganism or gluten-intolerance. Maybe you have a dairy allergy or sensitivity, or simply are trying to limit your intake. Yep, you could just make a vegan recipe — but eggs can make a really big difference in a dish’s structure. I have many friends with dairy allergies, and frankly, I’ve often wanted more tips on how to swap dairy milks for non-dairy milks in recipes, plus any insight on which of the plethora of non-dairy milks are the best for cooking and baking.

That’s why I was so excited to see chef Michael Symon teach a series of classes on dairy-free comfort foods (everything from mac and cheese to creamy mushroom soup) on the Food Network Kitchen app. Symon mentions that dairy is one of his trigger foods, but he loves it so much that he can’t avoid it unless he creates fantastic dairy-free recipes. At last, someone who "sees" me!

Photo by: Kerri Brewer

Kerri Brewer

Although you’ll have to head over to the app to soak up all of his dairy-free-related wisdom, here are our three favorite tips and tricks.

1: Oat milk is the best milk-alternative for cooking.

Compared to other milk alternatives, which Symon finds to be rather thin and grainy, oat milk closely mimics the full fat body of regular milk. Although he encourages everyone to try the full spectrum of milk alternatives because everyone’s palate is different, why not trust Symon’s well-trained taste buds and save yourself some money?

2: Make bechamel (or Thanksgiving gravy!) with olive oil instead of butter.

When Symon whips up a batch of dairy-free mac and cheese, he makes a roux (the floury mixture that thickens the sauce) with olive oil instead of butter. Although people equate butter with French techniques like roux-making, you can totally use any fat. Later, he adds oat milk instead of whole milk and whisks the mixture until it’s thickened. Let me tell you, the results looked creamier than any regular dairy-full mac and cheese I’ve ever seen. Keep these substitutions in mind when making creamy sauces like bechamel or Thanksgiving gravy.

3: Always have a big batch of vegan "Parm" on hand.

Do as Michael does: pulse raw cashews, nutritional yeast, garlic powder and a pinch of salt in your food processor until the mixture resembles Parmesan cheese. Cashews contribute the fatty, rich mouthfeel we’re used to in Parm; nutritional yeast lends a nutty umami blast and garlic powder punches up the flavor. According to Symon, vegan Parm lasts for a month or more in the fridge and is just the secret ingredient you need for adding cheesy flavor to foods like pasta, popcorn, potatoes or French fries.

Anyone else feel like mac and cheese for some reason? Weird.

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