BAKED MAC AND 'CHEESE'
“Cheese” in quotes or with a Z? Let’s pretend I never contemplated the Z. Mac and “cheese” it is: a dish with unequaled ubiquity in the vegan world, so much so that I’ve even seen it on the menu of an Asian fusion restaurant. Nevertheless, it persists with good reason, two of them in fact. 1. It’s fairly easy to make and make convincingly similar to the unquoted variety. 2. It’s the ultimate American comfort food: fatty, tangy, salty, sweet pasta. I mean, who doesn’t love a big bowl of creamy mac? Nobody! And definitely not the chef at my favorite Asian fusion restaurant. So, naturally, I couldn’t help but post a recipe (or three) of one of my favorite takes on vegan mac and “cheese.”
What differentiates this dish from most other vegan mac is that it’s baked. More often than not you come across recipes that are essentially just pasta folded into a creamy sauce and then immediately served. I enjoy that variety, but I’ve always missed the classic baked style where you get those crunchy bits of browned pasta around the edges and it holds it’s shape enough to be served in slices. This recipe fits the bill. It’s creamy and cheesy, salty and sweet, with just enough elasticity to hold its shape without becoming too dry. A breadcrumb crust, listed as optional below, is also a nice addition if that’s something you enjoy.
The variations below are two of my favorites, but there are endless options when it comes to mac. Almost any green vegetable seems to pair well as long as it’s cooked prior to adding it. Also, I sometimes add vegan sausage or tempeh to boost the protein content. Don’t hesitate to experiment.
BAKED MAC AND 'CHEESE'
-1 lb pasta
-½ cup cashews
-½ of a medium sized sweet potato (approx. 6oz), peeled & cut into 1-inch cubes
-1 head of garlic
-1 tbsp olive oil + extra
-¼ of a medium sized sweet onion
-3 tbsp refined coconut oil
-2 tbsp sweet white miso
-2 tbsp nutritional yeast
-2 tbsp tapioca flour
-1 tbsp Dijon mustard
-1 tbsp salt + pinch + to taste
-1 tsp lactic acid powder*, or juice of ½ lemon
-2 cups unflavored soymilk
-½ cup filtered water
-¼ cup breadcrumbs (optional)
1. Soak cashews in filtered water for at least an hour.
2. Preheat oven to 350. Toss sweet potatoes in the 1 tbsp olive oil and a pinch of salt. Spread out on a baking sheet along with the head of garlic and roast for 30-40 minutes until both are tender. Allow to cool.
3. To a high-speed blender add roasted sweet potatoes and garlic, soaked cashews, onion, coconut oil, miso, nutritional yeast, tapioca flour, Dijon mustard, 1 tbsp salt, lactic acid powder or lemon juice, and soy milk. Blend until mixture is completely smooth, adding filtered water as needed to achieve a saucy consistency. Pour into a large mixing bowl.
4. Cook pasta al dente according to package and drain.
5. 1. Fold pasta into sauce, making sure all the pasta is coated. Transfer to an oiled 2 qt baking dish or ramekins. If using breadcrumbs, sprinkle them over the top and add a drizzle of oil. Cover and bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Uncover and continue baking for another 10 minutes.
*Lactic acid powder is available online. I like to use it because it adds a dairy-like acidity. But feel free to use a squeeze of lemon instead.
Smoked Tomato & Jalapeno
-2 cups cherry tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
-1 jalapeno, sliced into thin rounds
Follow steps for basic recipe with these additions:
-At step 2, before roasting sweet potato and garlic, toss tomato halves with a splash of olive oil and pinch of salt and arrange cut side up in a stovetop smoker**. Smoke tomatoes with wood of your choice (I like hickory for this recipe) for about 5 minutes. Uncover tomatoes and place in oven to roast for 40-45 minutes or until they shrivel and start to brown around the edges. Add sweet potatoes and garlic to the oven and continue following steps for the basic recipe.
-At step 5, fold in smoked and/or roasted tomato halves and raw jalepeno slices along with the pasta and sauce. Bake as instructed above.
**Simply omit the smoking step if you don’t have a stovetop smoker. Even though I would highly recommend purchasing a smoker—they’re relatively inexpensive and seemingly last forever—this recipe still works without the smoke.
White Mac with Mushroom and Pea
-½ white sweet potato
-2 cups shiitake, thinly sliced
-2 cups crimini, thinly sliced
-1 cup peas, fresh or frozen
-3 tbsp olive oil
-1 tsp salt
Follow steps for basic recipe with these additions/subtractions:
-At step 2, replace the ½ sweet potato with ½ of a white sweet potato. If you only have an orange colored sweet potato that works fine. The white variety is purely for aesthetics. While preparing to roast the sweet potato and garlic, also arrange the sliced mushrooms, tossed in the olive oil and salt, on a baking sheet. Roast mushrooms alongside sweet potato and garlic. Approximately 40 minutes.
-At step 3, omit the nutritional yeast.
-At step 5, fold in the roasted mushrooms and fresh or frozen peas along with the pasta and sauce. Add a few turns of fresh ground black pepper to taste. Bake as instructed above.