Dairy-Free Decadence
You'll never know what's missing in these rich and creamy recipes

By Catherine S. Gregory
Photos by Zeva Oelbaum

Rich and creamy foods can be some of life's ultimate indulgences—serving your favorite pasta dish with a thick, luscious cream sauce, sinking your teeth into a hot-off-the-grill cheddar melt or sharing a sinful dessert topped with a scoop of ice cream.

But indulging in dairy foods is hardly a pleasure for those with lactose intolerance. Some 30 million to 50 million Americans suffer from the inability to digest lactose—the predominant sugar of milk—due to a hereditary shortage of the enzyme lactase. Certain ethnic and racial populations are more widely affected than others. In fact, as many as 75 percent of African Americans and Native Americans and 90 percent of Asian Americans are lactose intolerant.

Even if lactose intolerance isn't an issue for you, your overall health may benefit by cutting back on milk products, one of the most common causes of undetected food allergies. A hidden milk allergy or sensitivity can be the culprit behind numerous health problems. Allergy tests conducted by a health care practitioner are the best way to determine your sensitivity to dairy products.

But giving up or cutting back on dairy foods doesn't mean you have to say goodbye to the rich and gratifying flavors you love. There are plenty of dairy-free ingredients to replace traditional milk-based products without sacrificing the taste of your food. Imagine creamy pasta dishes, decadent desserts—even chocolate fondue and ice cream—all made without milk, cream, butter or cheese. Whether you're lactose intolerant or just trying to decrease your dairy intake for other health reasons, you don't have to miss out on rich and creamy foods. Try any of the tempting recipes that follow and you'll never know what's missing.

Roasted Portobello and Mozzarella Melt

Serves 4 / This sandwich is great with gooey soy or rice cheese and juicy, meaty mushrooms, layered between deliciously crispy, toasted bread. Since lactose is often used as a filler in many mainstream bread brands, be sure to choose a bread that is lactose-free.

2 medium portobello mushrooms, stems trimmed, caps rinsed and patted dry
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons pesto (see recipe below)
8 slices spelt or 7-grain, lactose-free bread
6 ounces soy or rice mozzarella, thinly sliced
4 slices ripe tomato
2 teaspoons soy margarine

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Rub mushrooms with olive oil and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Place mushrooms flesh side down on a baking tray and roast for 10-12 minutes, or until soft. Thinly slice mushrooms once cooled. Do not turn off oven.

3. Spread pesto on all 8 pieces of bread. Divide mozzarella on 4 pieces of bread. Put tomato slices on top of cheese. Place portobello slices on top of tomato and put remaining 4 slices of bread on top to complete sandwiches.

4. Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Melt margarine. Add sandwiches, two at a time, and cook until browned on one side (place a heavy object on each sandwich to help it brown evenly). Turn over and brown the other side. Each side should take 2-3 minutes to brown. Place sandwiches on a baking sheet and finish cooking in the oven for 5 minutes.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 307 calories Fat: 14g % fat calories: 41% Cholesterol: 0mg Carbohydrate: 32g Protein: 16g

Spirals with Tomato Chipotle "Cream" Sauce

Serves 6 / This sauce is so rich in flavor, you'll swear there is cream in it. "Chipotle peppers in adobo" are smoky jalapeño peppers in a tomato sauce and can be found in small cans in most food markets. Leftover peppers will keep for three weeks in a plastic container in the refrigerator.

5 quarts water
2 teaspoons sea salt, plus additional for seasoning
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup fresh basil, julienned
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1 28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes, drained and lightly crushed
2 teaspoons chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped
1 cup fresh tomatoes, peeled and diced (or one 14.5-ounce can)
1 cup plain soy milk
12 ounces spiral-shaped pasta
Cilantro leaves, for garnish

1. In stockpot, boil 5 quarts water with 2 teaspoons salt and 1 tablespoon olive oil.

2. Meanwhile, heat remaining olive oil in nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and onion and cook, stirring, until onions are translucent, about 3 minutes. Toss in basil, cilantro and plum tomatoes. Cook, stirring, 3-4 minutes. Add chipotle peppers and diced tomatoes. Cook an additional 3 minutes. Add salt to taste.

3. Transfer contents of skillet to a food processor and purée with soy milk.

4. Add pasta to boiling water and cook until al denté, 7-8 minutes. Drain; toss pasta with sauce. Serve in bowls garnished with fresh cilantro leaves.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 283 calories Fat: 6g % fat calories: 19% Cholesterol: 0mg Carbohydrate: 50g Protein: 10g

Healthier Chocolate Sauce

Makes eight 2-ounce servings / This is a surprisingly rich sauce with a variety of uses. Serve it warm as a dipping sauce for fresh fruit and berries, using fondue skewers; or it's a great topping for dairy-free frozen desserts made with soy or rice milk, which come in a variety of tasty flavors.

1 cup sucanat sugar
1 cup low-fat vanilla soy milk
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 tablespoon arrowroot

1. In a small, heavy-duty saucepan, combine the sucanat, soy milk and cocoa and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 4-5 minutes, stirring with a wire whip to avoid burning. Mix the arrowroot with 1 tablespoon water, add to cocoa mixture and continue to cook for 2-3 minutes.

2. Serve heated or at room temperature. Store in refrigerator for up to two weeks in an airtight container.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 114 calories Fat: 1g % fat calories: 8% Cholesterol: 0mg Carbohydrate: 25g Protein: 2g

Linguine with Pumpkin Seed Pesto

Serves 4 / This is extremely simple, especially if you've prepared the pesto in advance and want to throw together a quick and tasty, dairy-free pasta dish.

5 quarts water
2 teaspoons sea salt, plus additional for seasoning
1 tablespoon olive oil
12 ounces linguine
1/4 cup pesto (see recipe below)
Soy parmesan, to taste
Fresh basil leaves, to garnish

1. In a medium stockpot, bring to boil 5 quarts water with 2 teaspoons salt and 1 tablespoon olive oil.

2. Add pasta to boiling water and cook until al denté, 7-8 minutes. Drain, then toss pasta with pesto. Serve in bowls, sprinkled with soy parmesan and garnished with fresh basil leaves.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 352 calories Fat: 6g % fat calories: 14% Cholesterol: 0mg Carbohydrate: 65g Protein: 13g

Pumpkin Seed, Basil and Miso Pesto

Makes 1-1/4 cups / This versatile pesto can be served as a sandwich spread, dolloped onto pasta or added to a sauté of your favorite seasonal vegetables.

2 tablespoons shelled pumpkin seeds
2 cups basil leaves, tightly packed
2 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons chickpea miso or regular miso
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons water

1. Preheat oven to 325°. Toast pumpkin seeds for 5 minutes.

2. Place seeds and all remaining ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to five days.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving (2 Tbsp.): Calories: 22 calories Fat: 3g % fat calories: 58% Cholesterol: 0mg Carbohydrate: 2g Protein: 1g