Introduction: How to Thrive Without Dairy

About: A caterer and adventurer looking for things to do! I like to crochet, cook, build stuff with wood, garden, do art projects etc. I also just bought my first house, so there's LOTS of projects to do!

So you've been told (or you suspect) that you can no longer eat dairy.  You might be allergic to a milk protein like casein, or just intolerant to milk sugar (Lactose).  Either way you are far from alone, the majority of the human population can not digest lactose, the main sugar in milk.  This means we've had to find alternatives like Soy and nut milks, goat cheese and nondairy creamer.  

So if you're cutting out dairy for your health or as an eating preference, this simple guide will help you adapt.  I've included some of my favorite dairy substitute recipes to help you out!  May you not struggle as I did to find replacements for my favorite foods.

This is, of course, not intended to replace information from your doctor or nutritionist, as I am neither.

For those of you who are also allergic to soy or nuts, the recipes I include can be adapted for use with most any milk substitute unless it says otherwise.

Step 1: Remove!

Editing your food intake:
First, lets talk about what you will need to remove from your diet.

If you're lactose intolerant, you may be able to have some, or lots of dairy before you have a reaction, you may also be able to take a pill containing an enzyme called lactase that will digest the milk sugars for you.  If, like me, you are very lactose intolerant, you may not be able to eat any milk products at all.  Some lactose challenged people still enjoy the following foods:
Goats milk and cheese, ice cream, hard cow cheeses, yogurts.  Generally the more fat something has, the less lactose it has so butter and cream are more easily tolerated.  If you still choose to eat milk products, read the label to be sure extra lactose has not been added.  Whey, for instance, is often at least 75% lactose!

 If you're allergic, you will need to remove all dairy from your diet unless your physician says otherwise.  Reading every package will help, look for sneaky milk ingredients like: lactose (a milk sugar and additive to cheap chocolate), whey, casein, lactalbumin, etc.  Look particularly for things that start with 'lact' or 'casei' as these often indicate milk ingredients and they may not even be listed under the 'allergens' section of the nutrition label.  

Step 2: Replace

So now that I've told you not to eat Ice-cream anymore you may feel a bit depressed, but never fear, here are ways to replace tons of the dairy products you used to eat with really yummy alternatives!

Removed: Yogurt
Replace with: Coconut yogurt  is a creamy, delicious alternative to dairy yogurts!  Soy yogurt is also good, though it can have a beany flavor that some find unpleasant.  If you like soy-milk you will probably like soy yogurt.  Rice, and other non-dairy yogurts are available.

Removed: Butter
Replace with: a non-dairy margarine, or plain shortening.  What you use depends on what you are making, or eating.  Be careful when purchasing margarine, as many brands still contain whey or other diary ingredients.  Smart Balance, in its non 'light' formula, contains diary, for instance.  For baked goods shortening often works better than margarine. 
Margarine has a high water content which can make your baked goods too runny.  Shortening has a slightly higher fat content than butter, but you can generally replace with it 1:1 in recipes.
For your toast, of course, you'll want a margarine.  

Removed: Ice Cream
Replace with: Sorbet, Granita, Soy ice cream, coconut ice cream, fruit bars etc.  Tons of options here, available even at major grocery chains, just check the frozen section.  Again, Coconut ice-cream reigns supreme due to fat content.  

Removed: Cheese
Replace with: Nondairy cheeses!  Be aware that some of these will have milk ingredients. If you are allergic, look out for casein as a melting agent in many non-dairy cheeses.  Fortunately, there are other options, like Daiya and pure soy cheeses for those who are allergic to milk.  

For a parmesan replacement recipe see step 5, for nacho cheese see step 6

Removed: Milk
See the next step for replacing milk, it's big enough to get its own guide!

Step 3: The Milk Chapter

Replacing milk itself might be the biggest challenge in eating dairy free.
Most of us grew up having milk on our cereal or oatmeal, having a glass of milk with lunch or dinner and using milk in our cooking and baking.

You might have to adjust your recipes a bit, but you definitely don't have to give up drinking or cooking with milk.

For most recipes you can replace milk with non-dairy milk at a 1:1 ratio.  The only case in which this does not work are recipes that use a chemical reaction with milk to create something new.  Dulce de Leche, a milk caramel, just will not work with something that is not milk.  Whipped cream is also impossible with non-dairy milks, though there are non-dairy whipped cream type things out there that are passable substitutes (MimicCreme makes a good series of non-dairy substitutes for heavy cream).

Often, non-dairy milks are flavored and sweetened to make them more palatable.  While this might be good in a glass, or on your cereal these really throw off flavors in cooking, especially for savory dishes.  Buy unsweetened and unflavored if you can and your cooking will be the better for it.

Here are the types of non-dairy milk I've tried, and what each is good for.

Soy Milk:  It's easy to find, and nutritionally (when fortified) a pretty good sub for milk.  Unfortunately, it tastes like beans, though this becomes less noticeable as you get used to it.  Soy milk can curdle when added to some particularly acidic things.

Rice Milk:  Nearly as easy to find as soy, tastes very good, mild.  Probably the best flavor for coming close to milk.  It's far too thin in consistency, though, to actually replace milk and doesn't have enough fat to bother cooking with it.

Almond Milk:  By far my favorite for replacing dairy.  Can be found in unflavored and unsweetened varieties pretty easily.  Blue Diamond and Whole Foods both make good unflavored almond milks.  The fat content subs for milk nicely and the flavor is mild and milk-like without being too nutty.  Unfortunately, not all markets carry this, especially the unflavored type.

Coconut milk:  While not a good everyday milk substitute, coconut milk is great in things where cream might be called for.  Cream based soups and desserts work very well with full-fat coconut milk.  Avoid 'light' coconut milk for these, as the creamy flavor just won't be there.  Light coconut milk is good for curries, and smoothies and other times when the fat isn't needed.  See step 7 for good soup recipes.

Other alternatives: Hemp and other nut grain and seed milks are out there, but can be hard to find, and many don't taste like milk.  I've heard good things about oat milk, but have never tried it.  If you have other milk alternatives I should write up just message me!

Step 4: Rejoice!

Rejoice!  You still get to eat dessert, and some of them are more delicious than dairy desserts...
If you have an ice-cream maker, you can easily whip up non-dairy ice creams.  The one pictured is Pina Colada ice cream with 'butter' rum caramel sauce.

There are other options too, pudding adapts well to non-dairy milks...

Here is an awesome recipe for non-dairy pudding that gets accolades from dairy eaters...
Adapted from a John Scharffenberger recipe via Smitten Kitchen

Serves 6, if you don't eat it all first.

1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 cups almond milk or soy milk (other milks may work but I have not tested them)
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped.  The darker the chocolate the better, 62% or 70% is good.  Don't skimp here if you can help it.  The nicer the chocolate the better the pudding will taste, it's also a good way to use up accidentally melted chocolate.
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

 Combine the cornstarch, sugar and salt in a pan, or if you're prone to burning stuff, a double boiler. Slowly whisk in the almond milk, scraping the bottom and sides with a heatproof spatula to incorporate the dry ingredients. Place over medium low heat and stir occasionally, scraping the bottom and sides. Use a whisk as necessary should lumps begin to form. After 15 to 20 minutes, when the mixture begins to thicken and coats the back of the spoon, add the chocolate. Continue stirring for about 2 to 4 minutes, or until the pudding is smooth and thickened. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.

Eat it hot or let it cool.  It will thicken more as it cools, but not much.  Serve it in a big bowl, or use little cups or jars for personal servings.  Keep in the fridge for up to a week, but mine never lasts long enough to make it to the fridge again.

Adapted partially from this post:

Step 5: Parmesan

1 Cup Nutritional Yeast
1/2 cup Walnuts
1T Salt (use less or more depending on how much salt you are used to eating)
Optional: italian spice blend.  Can be nice with pasta, but a tiny bit goes a long way.

Blend ingredients in a food processor, or possibly blender.  Shake onto bagels, pasta, popcorn, etc.

Step 6: Nacho Dip

This is junk food at its very best.  My absolute favorite 'un-cheese' recipe.  This one will almost fool dairy eaters, and even if they realize it's not dairy, they still love it.
It came from a blog called 'Shmooed Food' a couple years ago, but I've made quite a few changes.

2 cups water
1/3 cup raw cashews
1/4 cup piquillo or other mild red pepper from a jar, drained. (I think the original recipe called for pimientos, but Trader Joe's has Piquillo peppers in a jar)
1 cup nutritional yeast flakes
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 ½ teaspoons salt, or to taste
Total one t onion and garlic powder  (I have omitted the onion and garlic before, it doesn't hurt it much)
1 teaspoon cumin  Whatever you do, don't omit the cumin!  It really makes this work.

Soak the cashews in the water for a couple hours, it's not necessary, but it helps the whole thing go more smoothly.  Then add all the ingredients to your blender and blend until it's as smooth as you can get it.  Even with my ancient Oster I can get this creamy if I soak the cashews.
Pour the mixture into a saucepan and cook it over med heat while whisking or stirring.  Don't let it burn!  Once it's thick, serve with tortilla chips, veggies, tacos, a casserole, whatever you like!
Guaranteed to satisfy disgusting nacho cheese cravings.

Step 7: Creamy Soups

These soups are an awesome alternative to cream-based soups... They rely on Coconut milk as an alternative, but this should not affect the flavor, or make them too sweet since other ingredients mask the sweet flavor of coconut.

Creamy tomato soup:  This one is disgustingly fast and simple:
2 cans smooth tomato sauce (organic is usually better for some reason, a riper flavor I think)
1 can coconut milk
1.5-2 cans worth of broth or stock
Onion and garlic powder to taste

Pour ingredients into a pot, and heat it up.  The better quality the broth and tomato sauce, the nicer this soup will be.  You may need between 1 and 2 cups of broth depending on the thickness of your canned tomato sauce.  Just water it down to the preferred consistency.  
Eat with a grilled un-cheese sandwich, and a nice green salad.

Creamy Thai Pumpkin Soup:
This soup takes a bit more effort than the tomato, but is really worth it! 
1 cooking pumpkin, or other squash, cut in half and seeded.  (You could use canned, but I've never tried it)
1 Can coconut milk
2 cups stock or broth
Half an onion
2 cloves garlic
A few slices Galangal or about 1T ginger if you can't get galangal
2T Lemongrass, dried works just fine, and keeps longer.  You can order it online or buy it in an Asian grocery.
2-3 T of lime juice
Sugar if needed, depending on how sweet your pumpkin is
Salt to taste

Roast the pumpkin cut sides down in a 365 degree oven for about an hour, or until it's very soft inside.  Meanwhile, chop and sauté the onion and garlic.  Put the lemongrass and galangal into a tea strainer, a bit of cloth, teabag or coffee filter tied closed.  Put all of the wet ingredients into your pot.  Scoop out the delicious pumpkin and put it into your pot.  Hang the bundle of spices in the soup and simmer for at least 20 minutes, longer is good.  Remove the tea bag of spices, then either use an immersion blender to puree the soup, or blend in batches in your regular blender.  A food mill could also be used.    Once the soup is pureed, taste and finish with extra lime juice, salt, sugar etc. to get the balance you want.  For a spicy soup, add some jalapeno, or a spicy dried pepper to the spice bundle.

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