vegan mac & cheese


Hiya. It's me, your resident cheese-aholic. But I have something to tell you, something I thought I never would, but nonetheless, news. Cheese-less news, at that. Are you hooked yet?

I have, ahem, somehow found a way to make a really good mac and cheese. Minus the cheese.

Insert horrified look here.

What does that even mean? Well, I'm glad you asked, Will Smith. It means that I took a trip to Watercourse Foods, a vegan comfort food establishment in Denver, tried the "southern plate" and found myself appropriately hooked and confused all at once. Wait, this is ... mac and cheese, but. It's got coconut? And cashews? And mustard powder and turmeric, but not a drop of dairy? How can it be so ... good? 

The thing you have to start with is adjusting your expectations. Don't expect this to be the mac and cheese you grew up with, because no matter how good something gets, it's kind of hard to beat that. But don't except it to let you down, either. Because it totally kicks the craving right between the eyes, I promise. And after I had that cupful of mac at Watercourse, I came home on a mission to make my own. And I sure as hell did.

For this recipe, you'll need:

1/2 pound whole wheat elbow macaroni or mini shells***
3/4 cup cashews, soaked in water for at least two hours
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 small white onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups coconut milk
1 1/2 tablespoons organic corn starch
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon white miso paste
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

***The fact is, these are the best pasta shapes when it comes to mac and cheese. Ask anyone. And if they say otherwise, ask someone else until you find someone who knows what the hell is up.

I would also like to start this section by saying this recipe couldn't be easier, provided you've remembered to pre-soak your cashews. Now then: begin by preheating a medium saucepan over medium heat. Heat your olive oil and add your onions, sautéing for about 5-7 minutes or until they start to go translucent. Add your garlic and sauté for one minute more. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook your pasta according to the package instructions. Whole wheat elbies (that's elbows for you laymen) take about 5-6 minutes to be perfectly al dente.

In a blender (the more power, the better), add your onions and garlic along with your cashews, coconut milk, corn starch, nutritional yeast, miso, salt, pepper, mustard powder, turmeric and nutmeg. Wait, that's everything, isn't it? I could have just said, "Just put all that stuff in a blender and go to town." Well?

Blend on high until very smooth. If you've got a serious blender, that should be about 30 seconds to one minute, tops. Some of the others might take a little more doing, so scrape the sides as you go and try to get that sauce smooth. Tip: The longer you soak your cashews, the smoother the sauce will be. Just drop them in a bowl of water before you go to bed and you'll thank me later.

Transfer your sauce back into the saucepan you used for you onions. Get the heat up to medium and cook for about five minutes, whisking often, until thickened. I got this to be pretty thick and cheeze-y in about four minutes, but an extra minute never hurts. And since stovetops tend to vary, what you're looking for is a sauce that coats your whisk/spoon and doesn't easily drip.

Once it's done and your pasta is drained, pour the sauce over the pasta and fold together. I served this with some roasted cauliflower (in an appropriate orange shade) and broccoli, but I imagine it would also be great with some peas, scallions, roasted tomatoes or just by itself. I'm not a total convert yet, but I'd say this recipe gets met about 90% there. Veganville, here we come.

Still feel the need for cheese? Okay, okay:
Inspired by Isa Chandra's Roasted Red Pepper Mac & Cheese and the wonderful world of Watercourse Foods