Christmas is behind us and a New Year is looming. The days between Christmas and the New Year are ones of leftovers for my family. We consume relish trays, leftover roasts (meatless, in my case), and the potatoes and gravy that are my personal favorite. It’s also a time of snacking and cheese and crackers have a starring role in our home. I didn’t realize how much dairy I consumed until I purged it from my diet and cheese balls, while too rich and destructive to my heath, were difficult for me to stop eating. But, stop I did, until my mother purchased “The Part Time Vegan” by Cherise Grifoni. There, on page 210, is a recipe for a vegan cheese ball. Imagine my delight.
This is one of the easiest recipes I’ve ever followed. The prep time is quick; if I discount the hour of chilling time in the refrigerator. Shred an 8oz block of vegan cheddar, mash it in a bowl with a container of vegan cream cheese, garlic powder, hot sauce, and salt, chill for an hour, and then sprinkle with paprika, form into a log, and roll in chopped walnuts. The result is a yummy cheese ball that is suitable for vegans or lactose intolerant holiday celebrators. It isn’t as rich as the commercial cheese balls but is just as satisfying and full of flavor. My non-vegan mother and step-father like it.
I try to exactly follow a recipe’s directions the first time I make it. That way, I have an idea of how the cookbook author intended it to taste. Rarely do I exactly follow a recipe again. What’s the fun of cooking if I can’t make my own substitutions? I made my cheese ball a little different for this session of holiday snacking. I used cheddar (Follow Your Heart Gourmet Cheese Shreds) and the cream cheese, along with the garlic powder and salt. I mashed the paprika into the cheese mixture to add the smoked flavor I love and did a substitution for the hot sauce, the ‘Tingle’ to which the title of this post refers. I still used hot sauce, just one I was a little frightened of.
My step-sister is another one who does a great deal of experimentation in the kitchen. Her latest kitchen obsession has been peppers; specifically, hot peppers. She belongs to two pepper groups. I’ve never heard of pepper groups but, apparently, the members grow their own peppers and then exchange them at meetings; a brilliant idea. Well, my step-sister’s son complained her salsa wasn’t hot enough so my step-sister purchased ghost pepper seeds and grows these death peppers in her garden.
I had never heard of ghost peppers before my step-sister began using them. Wikipedia tells me the ghost pepper, or Bhut Jolokia, is the third hottest pepper in the world; second to the Carolina Reaper and the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion. I believe it. I put one drop in the tip of my tongue and experienced the intense burn for myself. My entire tongue didn’t light up, just a narrow stream of fire that ran both on the top and bottom of my tongue from the tip to the back of my throat and then continued down to my stomach. I could tolerate the burn but a second drop of this sauce would have made me weep with agony. I think the peppers are called ghost peppers because, if I ate too much, I would believe I had shuffled off this mortal coil and my consciousness had merely to catch up. Why do I eat things this hot? I don’t know but the sauce is tasty as long as it’s used one drop at a time. My step-sister gifted me with a bottle and I’m sure this bottle is going to last me the next thirty years.
It had been a while since I’d made Ms. Grifoni’s cheese ball and, when I saw the recipe called for hot sauce, I asked my parents what they thought of using the ghost pepper sauce. Both looked at me like I’d lost my mind but, ever supportive, told me to do whatever I liked. I erred on the side of caution and used exactly one drop. I tasted my concoction before putting it in the refrigerator and found it pleasantly spicy. I wondered if I could get away with a second drop of the hot sauce but, as it still had to chill, decided against it. Once the cheese ball had chilled, I rolled it in chopped walnuts, surrounded it with multi-grain rice crackers, and eyed it for a moment before digging in.
The result? Amazing. Much better than any commercial cheese ball. I could have gotten away with a second drop of the hot sauce: the cheese ball isn’t quite spicy enough for me but I still feel the tingle from the pepper and I have no desire to kill my family. Next time, I’ll make Kate’s private cheese ball and eat it all myself, tears of-joy? agony?-streaming down my face.