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Paleo Mushroom and 'Cheese' Sunflower Seed 'Risotto'

All credit for this inspirational idea of a sunflower seed risotto goes to both Sarah Britton of the amazing 'My New Roots' and also a recipe I stumbled upon, from a chef called Leah Quay, who worked at The Ranch at Live Oak in Malibu. Thank you!

Paleo Mushroom and Cheese Sunflower Seed Risotto
Both the recipes I had seen were for basic vegetable risottos so I wanted to adapt them to create one of my fondest risotto memories - a creamy, cheesy mushroom risotto. In fact, this was one of the first dishes my husband and I made together and our 'Risotto cookbook' (which now lies dormant and dusty) was a trusted friend in our early years together, whether just cooking for the two of us or for entertaining friends.

Obviously, since parmesan, cream, butter and rice are no longer a part of my diet I had firmly committed this dish to a thing of the past, never to be savoured again.

Like so many things in life, I have been proved wrong once more!

Instead of the tried and tested use of blended sunflower seeds to replicate the 'cream' of a risotto base, I have made a cashew cream cheese which I stir in towards the end of cooking. This gives the familiar tang of cheese, plus cashews are much creamier than sunflower seeds. This does, however, mean the recipe is not nut-free so if nuts pose a problem, please substitute with sunflower seeds.

Like all traditional mushroom risotto recipes I have stuck to the use of rehydrating porcini mushrooms (don't forget to reserve the soaking liquid to use as stock!) to give depth of flavour, as well as fresh mushrooms to give a meatier bite to this vegan dish.

For the non-vegetarians, feel free to use bone broth instead of vegetable stock/ broth and it can always be served alongside some grilled meat. Though I have heard strict Italians frown upon the use of risotto as a side dish!

A final indulgent touch is to reserve some of the cashew cream cheese (or make extra and keep in the fridge as a dressing) to drizzle on top when serving.

All of a sudden I am transported in one rushing moment back through the years...

Except this time, without the histamine response from dairy or the bloat from grains; instead it is full of the antioxidant power of vitamin E from sunflower seeds, energy boosting B vitamins from nutritional yeast and bone supporting vitamin D from the mushrooms. Win-win.

Side note: As delicious as this is and nutritionally superior to a traditional grain and dairy based risotto, seeds and nuts are high in phytic acids which bind to minerals and prevent their absorption in the intestines. Though the seeds are soaked I still would recommend moderation in enjoying such dishes with a heavy reliance on seeds/ nuts. Needless to say this theory should be applied to all Paleo-fied reincarnations of standard western diets and baked goods!

Paleo Mushroom and 'Cheese' Sunflower Seed 'Risotto'

Dairy-free, Grain-free, Gluten-free, Sugar-free, Soy-free, Vegan

Serves 2 - 3


For the risotto:
1 cup (150g) raw unsalted sunflower seeds, soaked for 8hrs, drained and rinsed
1 tbsp coconut oil (or ghee, which would taste lovely but I am dairy intolerant)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
10g dried porcini mushrooms
3/4 cup (approx 200ml) boiling water, to soak porcini (reserve this to add to stock)
 3/4 - 1 cups (125 - 250ml) vegetable stock (or bone broth if preferred)
2 cups (225g) chestnut mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
salt and pepper to taste

For the cream:
1/2 cup (75g) raw unsalted cashew nuts, soaked for 4hrs, drained and rinsed
2 tbsp lemon juice (approx juice from half a lemon)
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
1/4 cup (125ml) water
1 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 tsp dijon mustard

1. Soak porcini in 3/4 cup boiling water for 30 minutes while prepping other ingredients.
2. Make the cream by blending together all the listed cream ingredients until smooth. Set aside for later.
3. Drain soaked porcini, squeezing out any extra liquid, making sure to reserve the soaking liquid to add to the stock.
4. Chop drained porcini into roughly 1cm pieces.
5. In a heavy based lidded casserole pan (I use a cast iron Le Creuset), heat coconut oil over medium to high heat.
6. Add onions and sautee for approx 2 minutes until soft and translucent.
7. Add garlic and continue to sautee for another minute.
8. Add mushrooms (porcini and chestnut) and thyme and sautee for approx 5 minutes until softened. Add a splash of water if ingredients start to stick to the pan base.
9. Set aside a small amount of the garlicky mushroom mix for garnish.
10. Add the drained sunflower seeds and approx 1 1/4 cup (325ml) of the vegetable/porcini stock.
11. Bring to a boil then cover with lid and lower the heat to a medium simmer for 30-45minutes.
12. Check periodically and add extra stock if all the liquid has evaporated.
13. 'Rice' is ready when sunflower seeds are tender but still with some bite (like a grain of rice in risotto - please don't allow this to overcook to mush!). If there is still a lot of liquid simmer with lid removed until some has evaporated.
14. Turn heat to very low and add the cashew cream cheese, reserving any required for serving.

15. Stir through gently. Adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
16. Serve topped with reserved mushrooms and cashew cream cheese if using. Perfect with a handful of fresh rocket and watercress on the side to cut through the richness.