Not Just for Dessert Anymore

By Chef Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD, CCE

Traditional cheesecakes are usually decadent desserts that combine a graham cracker crust and a filling similar in texture to custard. But why wait until after dinner to dig into a scrumptious slice? Savory cheesecakes can make intriguing appetizers and robust entrées. Creative chefs can find many ways to incorporate cheesecakes into any course of any meal.

Vegan cheesecake is pretty easy to prepare, actually easier than dairy-and-egg cheesecake. Tofu has the perfect texture for baked and no-bake cheesecakes, and it doesn't cause the worries involved with dairy cheese, which may not melt well and might burn. Vegan cheesecake can mean very little work or an afternoon in the kitchen, depending on your time and level of interest.

If you'd like to make cheesecake from scratch, you have lots of options. From the recipes in this article, you can see that tofu, vegan sour cream, and vegan cream cheese all make excellent substitutes for dairy ingredients. If you are a stickler for tradition, authentic cheesecakes contain cream cheese, which is how they got the name 'cheesecake.' However, you'll find that cheesecakes don't always miss the cream cheese.

Don't have the time or inclination to make a cheesecake from scratch? There are no-bake, no-fuss cheesecake mixes available, complete with everything you need to make the crust and the filling. For example, Dixie Diner Dixie Diner sells a vegan cheesecake mix. All you have to do is add vegan margarine to the graham cracker mixture and pat it into a pie pan. The filling mixture, which is like making instant pudding, requires the soy or rice milk of your choice. Add the milk to the mix, stir, pour it into the pie shell, and chill until firm.

If you can't find a vegan mix, purchase a pre-made vegan graham cracker crust pie shell. In a blender, combine soft silken tofu, vegan sour cream, a package of your favorite vegan pudding mix, and a little orange zest. If needed, add some sweetener; orange juice concentrate or maple syrup work well. Process until smooth. Pour the mixture into the pie shell, refrigerate, and allow cheesecake to cool until firm.


When people think of cheesecakes, the sweet varieties usually come to mind. They are available in many different flavors, usually involving fruit, nuts, and sweet tastes. Chocolate and caramel are common additions. Sweet cheesecakes can reflect the season, with puréed pumpkin, cinnamon, and nutmeg for autumn cheesecakes or crushed mint candy for winter cheesecakes. Garnishes of seasonal fruit offer year-round enjoyment.

However, cheesecake lends itself equally well to savory flavors. There are smoky cheesecakes made with soy sauce and vegan 'ground round,' chili cheesecakes, and many others. I have even had a vegan version of Emeril Lagasse's lobster cheesecake.

Savory cheesecakes are prepared just like their sweet counterparts. Served as flavorful entrées, savory cheesecakes start with a tofu 'custard' base, and sautéed or stirfried vegetables, herbs, and/or spice blends are added. Mushrooms, chilies, bell peppers, onions, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, kale, basil, and spinach are popular choices. Vegan sausage; crumbled, flavored seiten or tempeh; smoked tofu; vegan 'ground round'; and Tofurky™ also blend very well into a savory cheesecake.

For a savory cheesecake, you'll want to bake a pie shell and let it cool. Then, you can start on the filling. In a blender or food processor, combine soft silken tofu, vegan sour cream, and a little vegan cream cheese to create your base. If you feel ambitious, mince and sauté a combination of onions, garlic, bell peppers, chilies, sun-dried tomatoes, and fresh herbs. Allow to cool slightly and blend into your tofu mixture. Season the mixture with ground pepper, oregano, thyme, rosemary, or your choice of spices. If you'd like a little more color or 'zing,' blend a small amount of tomato purée into the tofu mixture. You can also add garlic paste, olive paste (finely chopped or puréed olives), or finely chopped parsley or cilantro. Pour your mixture into the pre-baked crust and allow it to set in the refrigerator for approximately 2 hours. This makes a refreshing cold entrée or appetizer.

Serve savory cheesecakes as appetizers or as hot or cold entrées. Savory cheesecakes can be baked and then reheated in an oven or a microwave as needed. They do freeze well, so make them ahead and reheat as needed. Consider a wedge of savory cheesecake, paired with a crisp green salad and poached dried or fresh fruit for a simple yet elegant meal.


Different types of crust may be used for sweet cheesecake to make it more special. Vegan wafers in chocolate or vanilla varieties may be substituted for the graham crackers traditionally used in cheesecake crust, or the crust can be made from crumbled cookies. Ginger snaps also work well.

For savory cheesecakes, you may want to use a traditional pie crust. If you'd like to get inventive, you can use crushed matzo (not matzo meal) in place of graham crackers and dried onions (or a dried vegetable mixture) in place of the sugar in a graham cracker crust mix.

If you have the bakeware, you can make individual cheesecakes in muffin tins or in dessert cups. You don't have to use the traditional spring form pan, which is designed specifically for cheesecakes. Cheesecakes will come out just fine in pie pans, oven-proof bowls, and square casseroles.

Recipe Index


(Makes two 8-inch crusts, each serving 8)

Use this recipe to create a casserole, quiche, or entrée 'pie.'

  • 1 ⅔ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup nonhydrogenated vegan margarine
  • 3 Tablespoons ice water
  • ¼ cup soymilk

In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. Cut in margarine, breaking it into the flour with a fork, and mix until crumbly. Add water and soymilk, small amounts at a time, stirring constantly until combined.

Transfer dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll out to a 1 ½-inch thickness. Cut out 2 rounds, approximately 8 inches in diameter. Fold each round in quarters, wrap in waxed paper, and refrigerate until needed. When ready to bake, place one folded round in the middle of a pie pan. Gently unfold so crust drapes entirely over pan. Gently press into pan and crimp edges. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake unfilled crust for approximately 12-15 minutes or until lightly golden.

Total calories per serving: 99 Fat: 6 grams
Carbohydrates: 10 grams Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 135 milligrams Fiber: <1 gram


(Serves 12)

This is a versatile entrée. Use your imagination to change the flavors.

  • 2 cups cooked white or brown rice (Start with ¾ cup uncooked rice.)
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • ¼ cup chopped scallions (white parts only)
  • 1 cup shredded vegan cheddar cheese
  • 1 ½ cups soft silken tofu
  • ¼ cup soymilk or rice milk
  • 2 teaspoons ground white pepper
  • 2 teaspoons hot sauce
  • 1 unbaked Savory Crust

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, combine rice, parsley, scallions, and cheese. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, combine tofu, milk, pepper, and hot sauce until well mixed. Combine rice and tofu mixtures.

Pour into Savory Crust. Bake for approximately 30 minutes or until set. Serve hot.

Note: You can add up to half a cup of fresh chopped vegetables of your choice, including bell peppers, summer squash, mushrooms, or tomatoes. Add up to 2 Tablespoons of different fresh herbs, such as basil, sage, thyme, or rosemary, to the parsley, if desired.

Variation: If you'd like a smooth texture, pour the prepared filling into a blender and process until just smooth. Then, pour into crust and bake.

Total calories per serving: 131 Fat: 5 grams
Carbohydrates: 16 grams Protein: 7 grams
Sodium: 166 milligrams Fiber: <1 gram


(Serves 8)

Enjoy the taste of the Mediterranean in a crust.

  • 1 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes, soaked
  • in just enough water to cover
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons white pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup soft silken tofu
  • 1 ½ cups vegan sour cream
  • 1 cup vegan cream cheese
  • ½ cup chopped scallions
  • 1 unbaked Savory Crust

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a food processor or blender, blend tomatoes (with water), basil, oregano, pepper, and garlic until just combined. Add oil and tofu and blend until combined. Add sour cream and blend until smooth. Add cream cheese and blend. Add scallions and process until well mixed.

Pour into crust. Bake for 20- 30 minutes or until set. Serve hot or cool.

Total calories per serving: 362 Fat: 21 grams
Carbohydrates: 38 grams Protein: 7 grams
Sodium: 679 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram


(Serves 8)

Make this recipe ahead of time. It makes a great appetizer or light entrée.

  • 1 cup vegan cream cheese
  • 2 Tablespoons vegan mayonnaise
  • 1 Tablespoon prepared mustard
  • 1 cup shredded vegan cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup canned crushed pineapple, drained
  • ½ cup chopped scallions
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh mint
  • 1 cup orange marmalade, divided
  • 2 teaspoons fresh orange zest
  • 1 ½ cups chopped pecans or walnuts

In a blender or food processor, combine cream cheese, mayonnaise, and mustard and process until blended. Add cheese, pineapple, scallions, and mint. Process until just combined. Add ½ cup marmalade and orange zest to blender and process until mixed.

Pour mixture into a serving bowl. Top with remaining marmalade and nuts. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Total calories per serving: 516 Fat: 34 grams
Carbohydrates: 53 grams Protein: 11 grams
Sodium: 315 milligrams Fiber: <1 gram


(Makes one 9-inch crust, serving 12)

Use this versatile recipe for any dessert that requires a crust.

  • 1 ½ cups crushed vegan graham crackers
  • ¼ cup sugar (Use your favorite vegan variety.)
  • 5 Tablespoons nonhydrogenated vegan margarine

In a large bowl, combine the graham crackers and sugar until well mixed. Add margarine and combine with fork until thoroughly moistened. You should be able to press some of the mixture and it should hold together. If it is too moist or runny, add more graham crackers. If it is too dry, add more margarine.

Press mixture into the bottom and up a third of the sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Refrigerate for 1 hour before baking.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove crust from the refrigerator and place in oven. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until crust is just firm. Remove from oven and allow to completely cool before filling.

Notes: If you don't have a springform pan, you can use a 9-inch metal or glass pie plate. You can make this crust a day ahead and store in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it. Don't freeze.

Variation: In place of graham crackers, you can use chocolateor vanilla wafers or ginger snaps, or you can use a combination for a different color and taste.

Total calories per serving: 102 Fat: 6 grams
Carbohydrates: 12 grams Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 114 milligrams Fiber: <1 gram


(Serves 12)

This dessert is both sweet and tangy.

    1 ¼ cups pineapple juice
  • 1 ¼ cups pineapple juice
  • 1 Tablespoon agar-agar powder
  • 1 pound (2 cups) soft silken tofu
  • 5 Tablespoons maple syrup
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1 baked and cooled Crust for Sweet Fillings

Place the pineapple juice in a medium-sized pot and bring to a fast boil. Immediately turn down the heat so that juice is at a simmer. Gradually whisk in the agar-agar and whisk and simmer until it is dissolved, approximately 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow mixture to cool for 15 minutes.

Place the tofu, syrup, lemon juice, zest, and ginger in the canister of a blender or food processor and process until well combined. Add the pineapple juice mixture and process for 1 minute or until smooth.

Pour into the cooled Crust for Sweet Fillings. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.

Note: Agar-agar powder can be purchased in large grocery stores, in natural foods stores, and online.

Total calories per serving: 161 Fat: 7 grams
Carbohydrates: 23 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 117 milligrams Fiber: <1 gram


(Serves 12)

Pair this recipe with a selection of fresh fruit to create a dessert bar for your friends and family.

  • 2 cups firm silken tofu
  • 1 cup vegan cream cheese (Tofutti's Better Than Cream Cheese™ works well.)
  • ½ cup sugar (Use your favorite vegan variety.)
  • ¼ cup orange juice
  • 2 Tablespoons orange juice concentrate
  • 2 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 unbaked Crust for Sweet Fillings

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place tofu and cream cheese in the canister of a food processor or blender and process for 1 minute. Add sugar and process mixture until smooth. Set canister aside.

In a small bowl, place orange juice and concentrate and mix until combined. Whisk in cornstarch. Add cornstarch mixture to the mixture in the food processor and process until smooth.

Pour into the Crust for Sweet Fillings and bake for 40 minutes or until set. Allow to cool for at least 4 hours before serving.

Total calories per serving: 222 Fat: 10 grams
Carbohydrates: 30 grams Protein: 4 grams
Sodium: 223 milligrams Fiber: <1 gram


(Serves 12)

*Pictured on the cover. Espresso works particularly well in this dessert.

  • ⅔ cup vegan chocolate or mocha chips
  • 2 ½ cups vegan cream cheese
  • ½ cup sugar (Use your favorite vegan variety.)
  • 1 ½ cups soft silken tofu, divided
  • ½ cup plain or vanilla soymilk
  • ⅓ cup brewed or instant, prepared strong coffee
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 unbaked Crust for Sweet Fillings

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt chips in a small pot, stirring constantly, or in the microwave. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese and the sugar until light and fluffy. Add ½ cup tofu to the cream cheese mixture, a small amount at a time, beating to combine well.

In a bowl, blend ½ cup tofu and soymilk until well combined. Add this and the remaining tofu to the cream cheese mixture. Pour the chocolate slowly into the cream cheese mixture and add the coffee and vanilla. Blend completely. Pour the mixture into the Crust for Sweet Fillings and bake for approximately 45 minutes oruntil set. Remove from the oven and allow cheesecake to cool for at least 2 hours before serving.

Total calories per serving: 327 Fat: 17 grams
Carbohydrates: 41 grams Protein: 5 grams
Sodium: 387 milligrams Fiber: <1 gram


(Serves 6)

You won't believe how quickly you can create this dessert.

  • 1 ½ cups soft tofu
  • ½ cup plain, vanilla, or chocolate soymilk
  • ½ cup sugar (Use your favorite vegan variety.)
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup maple or rice syrup
  • Vegetable oil spray

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a blender or bowl, combine tofu, soymilk, sugar, extract, and syrup. Blend or mix until smooth. Spray a 9-inch pie pan or an 8 × 8-inch glass baking dish with oil. Pour mixture into the pan. Bake for approximately 30 minutes or until set. Remove from oven and allow cheesecake to cool for at least 2 hours before serving.

Note: If a crust is desired, prepare one crust recipe. Pour filling into crust and bake. The crust will probably increase the baking time by at least 10 minutes, depending on your oven.

Total caloriesr per serving: 143 Fat: 2 grams
Carbohydrates: 27 grams Protein: 4 grams
Sodium: 15 milligrams Fiber: < 1 gram

Chef Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD, CCE, is The VRG's Food Service Advisor. She is the author of Vegan Meals for One or Two, Vegan Menu for People with Diabetes, and numerous other cookbooks. She also writes a weekly syndicated newspaper column named Healthy Eating.