College Cooking: building the basics with DIY food staples

By Joel MacKenzie, Vegan Chef Extraordinaire

Processed cheese on a chocolate bar for dinner again? Post-secondary dining doesn’t have to be about eating trash, spending a lot of money,  or sacrificing health. With a bit of work, you can create healthy, unique, satisfying food for cheap. College Cooking provides recipes, ideas, and healthy eating information to help you do just that.

Did you just blow another paycheque on cashew butter, almond milk, and soy flour?

Okay, I realize that most don’t use as many nut/legume products as I do following a vegan diet. But they are an awesome addition to any diet: nuts are high in protein, fibre, monounsaturated (healthy) fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6 (essential) fatty acids, and many vitamins/minerals, like vitamin E, calcium, iron, zinc, etc.; legumes (simple dried, seed/pod-like fruits, including beans, lentils, peas, etc.) are also rich in these nutrients, but many include complex-carbohydrates in place of fatty acids.

There are many different kinds of delicious and healthy nut/legume products available that can be home-made easily. This reduces costs and allows for control over every element of their creation, including spices, amounts of salt, sugar, or fat, and added vitamins/minerals.

Nut/Soy milk

Nut (such as almond or cashew) and soy milks are very easy to make, delicious, and rich in vitamins and minerals. The process basically involves allowing the nuts or beans to mature in a warm environment for two to three days until they sprout nut udders, then carefully squeezing these until the nut or bean is completely drained.

Sorry, that was nutty. But the process really is quite simple. For nut milk, soak one cup of almonds for at least eight hours in water, and blend them with four cups of water until thoroughly processed. Then, strain through a cheesecloth, keeping the liquid and squeezing the nut pulp in the cheesecloth over it. The milk will be a little fatty, and rich in vitamins and minerals from the nuts. For soy milk, the exact same process may be used, optionally de-husking the beans before blending them; or the entire mixture can be cooked after the blending stage, for about twenty minutes until the foaminess subsides (stirring frequently all the while), before straining. These milks can be fortified with salt, or soluble tablets of vitamin B-12 and D, and calcium.

After making the milk, you will be left with the nut/bean pulp (soy pulp is also known as okara), which is mostly fibre and protein. Check out and for recipes and cooking ideas involving these.

Nut/Soy flour

Nut or soy flour is simply nuts or soy blended into a fine powder. They can be used in place of wheat flour, although their strong flavour, and high fat/protein content makes them a better addition to wheat flour.

For almond flour, blend almonds in a food processor until they form a fine powder. Sift the meal once or twice, re-blending the bigger chunks of almonds to get the meal as fine as possible. Blend to the point that the meal just starts to clump together; but don’t over-blend, or you’ll end up with nut butter (described below).

For soy flour, soak the beans for at least eight hours, drain them, bake them at 350 °F for about 20 minutes, mixing occasionally (just to dry them out, not to roast them), and grind them up!

Nut/Peanut butter

Nut and peanut (which is a legume) butters are so easy to make: they’re just blended nuts/peanuts! The only catch is that making them requires a decent food processor. I used a fairly low-end one to make both almond and peanut butter: a small Cuisinart Smart Stick. I  blend in five-minute increments to prevent the motor from overheating. This took about twenty-five minutes altogether, though this could be much faster with a stronger processor. For a video guide on making almond butter, check out The Other Press’ YouTube page  at

Most commercial nut/peanut butters are made with roasted nuts. To do roast your own, spread the nuts/peanuts on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and roast them in an oven at 350 °F for five to 10 minutes, mixing periodically. They should produce an awesome toasted smell and appear slightly oily when done. Apparently roasting the nuts/peanuts robs them of some of their natural oils, though I have never noticed a difference during blending.

Try adding spices or oil to the butter. A little bit of salt  brings out the flavour of roasted nuts/peanuts in particular, and cinnamon, cloves, or cocoa powder make interesting additions. Adding oil will help the nuts/peanuts blend more easily, and make them smoother. I add 1.5 teaspoons of canola oil (which is almost flavourless, and has vitamin E and monounsaturated fatty acids) for 1.5 cups of almonds.