I’ve had a number of people ask recently about plant-based cooking without peanuts and tree nuts. I typically rely heavily on soaked walnuts, cashews and almonds as whole, versatile means of adding meatiness and creaminess to dishes- not to mention as healthy sources of of fat and protein- and I use peanut butter and almond milk like there’s no tomorrow. So secretly, I used to get really stumped and panicky when I couldn’t use those tools. It turns out, though, that there are a lot of options when it comes to accommodating for these allergies.
Of course, if you’re only allergic to one or a couple kinds of nuts, feegl free to rely on the ones you can eat (including unconventional kinds like brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, etc.) But if you can’t have any at all, here’s a handy guide to the alternatives, with lots of links to great vegan and nut-free recipes.
Coconut milk (from a can)/coconut cream/coconut meat*– Great for sauces, puddings, soups, curries and desserts. It does carry a slight coconutty flavor, but not to an overpowering degree.
Avocado– Great for dressings, puddings and to blend with cilantro, salt and lime and drizzle over tacos. Google “vegan avocado dressing” for delicious ideas. Just note that that avocado has a very short shelf life, so anything you use it in will need to be consumed within a few days.
Unsweetened soy or coconut yogurt– A versatile and creamy base for dressings, sauces, curries and desserts. You can make it yourself out of just two ingredients with this method.
Hemp seeds (aka hemp hearts)– So healthy and so good for blending into pesto, dressings and sauces.
Nutritional Yeast– This stuff is an amazing source of vitamin B-12 and lends a wonderful cheesy flavor to sauces and dressings.
Olive Oil– While not the healthiest option on the list, oil can add creaminess to sauces and even ice cream (vegan chef superstar and cookbook author Isa Chandra Moskowitz uses olive oil for her restaurants’ ice cream recipes.)
Tahini (sesame seed paste)– Tahini is a little bitter but very creamy and otherwise fairly neutral-flavored. The bitterness can easily be cut with an acid like lemon juice and/or a little bit of sweetness, then combined with other flavors and ingredients. It’s great for thick, creamy sauces and dressings (and even baked goods!) Most affordably found at Trader Joe’s.
Sunbutter (like peanut butter but made from sunflower seeds)– This stuff is cheaper than almond butter and has a nice neutral flavor and creaminess that works very well in sauces (this one too) and baked goods.
Silken tofu– If your digestive system can get down with processed soy (no shame if that’s the case!), you can blend this into creamy sauces, dressings and baked goods (omit the almond extract on this last recipe obviously.) It works well as a binder and thickener. Just to make sure to use lots of seasonings and other ingredients to cover up its blandness.
Aquafaba (chickpea brine)– This is seriously just the liquid you strain from a can of chickpeas, and it’s shockingly great for puddings, mousses, meringues, dressings and sauces. It’s neutral-flavored and can add an element of thickness or an element of fluffiness when whipped.
Chao Cheese– This nut-free store-bought vegan cheese (most commonly found in slices) is convenient, and I always hear that it’s actually good.
Great for chili, tacos, stuffed veggies, burgers, pasta sauces, lasagna fillings, etc.
Soaked raw sunflower seeds and/or soaked raw pumpkin seeds– these are pretty interchangeable except for the fact that you’ll need to soak the pumpkin seeds a little longer than the sunflower seeds. You can substitute either or both of these for just about any recipe that uses walnuts as a meaty element (typically in “ground beef” contexts.) Soak them for a few hours or overnight, rinse them, pulse them in a food processor, then season and use them however you like. Raw, paleo, protein-rich and hearty. Check out this sunflower seed cheese recipe!
Lentils– I typically use a combination of soaked walnuts and cooked green/brown lentils to grind up as a substitute for ground beef. However, it’s fine to either substitute the walnuts with sunflower or pumpkin seeds or just use lentils. Cook them up with some veggie broth, pulse them in the food processor once they’re cool, then season and use them however you like. Or make this fantastic, easy taco recipe.
Each of these has a different flavor and different ideal usage, so try out multiple if you can and see which work best for you
Coconut milk*– this comes in can form and carton form. The carton version is watered down and homogenized, making it better for things like pouring over cereal, adding into smoothies and drinking straight from the glass (or the carton, if you’re me at 3am.) Coconut milk in a can is thicker and creamier with all that good natural fat from the coconut cream (although there are ‘lite’ versions as well), so it’s best for curries, sauces and puddings.
Oat milk– Not easy to find in stores, but very easy and cheap to make at home. Here are some recipes.
Rice milk– Fairly thin and watery (though maybe the homemade versions aren’t?), but can be really nice for horchata, cereal and smoothies. Rice Dream is the popular commercial brand.
Soy milk– If your body doesn’t do well with processed soy this isn’t the option for you, but some people do just fine with it and love the flavor. It’s moderately thick and creamy despite not having a high fat content, so it’s especially good in coffee and espresso drinks. It’s also the most common non-dairy milk to find in stores.
Flax milk– Rich in omegas and also easy to make at home
Quinoa milk– Go figure, you can make a protein-rich non-dairy milk out of quinoa.
Hemp milk– This omega-3 powerhouse can actually be found in some stores, but you can make it at home too.
Sunflower milk– I didn’t even know this was a thing, but lo and behold, sunflower milk is packed with selenium, magnesium and vitamin E.
*Technically coconut is a tree nut, but it’s very rare that people with nut allergies are allergic to coconut as well
For more info, check out this article and/or comment with your questions!