Yes to Yummy

Macaroni and Cheese (vegan + gluten-free!)

April 24, 2014 Leave your thoughts Print this page

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If you had approached me on the street ten, five, even two years ago and asked me what my favorite food was, I would have immediately replied, “Macaroni and cheese.”

And no, not especially the 10,000-cheese-and-truffle-oil macaroni and cheese from fancy restaurants. I was more a fan of the stuff in the blue box.

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It was one of the first things I learned how to “cook,” too, and I do believe I tried next to every shape that was available. Even when I was thirteen, my favorite kind was still the Scooby Doo shapes, perhaps because I ate it nearly every weekend throughout my childhood.

I was a really weird kid–I was obsessed with the presidents, viruses, and outer space, hated anything that involved running, and watched Nova and documentaries on the History Channel (back when it was good) instead of Disney. Naturally, social interactions with peers were difficult, but I somehow managed to always have friends. (I still don’t really know why I have friends now, haha.) But when I would have a friend over for a playdate, my mom would make us macaroni and cheese, slice up some apples and grape tomatoes, and read us a book while we ate our food.

Even though I’ll be turning sixteen in less than a month (!!!!!!!!!!), those are still some of my fondest memories. Even though they’re, er, cheesey, they revolve around happiness.

And macaroni and cheese.

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The blue boxes were some of the first processed food to go after I decided to clean up my eating habits. Into the cupboard and garbage they went, along with the microwave popcorn and frozen Mystic pizzas I enjoyed frequently noshing on.

Fast-forward about two years later, and I can’t remember the last time I ate macaroni and cheese. Even though I wouldn’t deem the stuff in the blue box “enriching” in a million years, it is kinda sad. It was my favorite food for more than a decade, and I don’t think anyone should have to completely give up his or her favorite foods just to be “healthy.”

Physical health is important, but what many nutritionists and experts often glaze over is that eating (and enjoying) food is also a very emotional experience, and what we eat has other outlets besides our internal and external physique.

So, what was a girl to do? I wanted to have macaroni and cheese, but I wanted it to be filled with healthy, wholesome ingredients and not leave me feeling groggy, icky, or guilty. This was no easy task, but I think I have accomplished it.

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While I do enjoy cheese and yogurt on a somewhat-regular basis, I’ve found that I don’t tolerate heavy, dairy-laden foods very well. A little goat cheese with breakfast or in a salad or a small bowl of yogurt is usually fine, but rich cream sauces tend to sit around in my stomach and disrupt traffic. I don’t like that very much.

Thankfully, I love cashews, and they make a wonderful substitute for dairy in everything from ice cream to smoothies. (I tried making cashew yogurt, too, but it was pretty gross. I’ll have to keep working on that.) When soaked overnight, this wonderful nut becomes very soft and blends up into a wonderfully thick, luscious cream that’s just rich enough to be decadent but not heavy enough to be overly-indulgent.

Paired with nutritional yeast, homemade stock, and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, cashew cream goes from boring to BAM! The created sauce also keeps well in the fridge, so feel free to double the batch and keep a container around for a quick weeknight dinner.

Ready to see how amazing vegan macaroni and cheese can be? Good. Let’s go.

Adapted slightly from THIS recipe.

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Bring a medium-sized pot of water to a boil with a pinch of salt. Don’t look at it much: remember, a watched pot doesn’t boil!

Soak 1 cup of cashews in a warm water bath overnight, then strain and put in the blender with 5 tablespoons of nutritional yeast, 1 heaping tablespoon of arrowroot powder, 1 tablespoon of red palm oil, 1 cup of vegetable broth (preferably homemade), 1 roasted red pepper, 1 1/2 teaspoons of garlic powder, 1 teaspoon of mustard powder, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and the juice of 1/2 of a small lemon (about 1 tablespoon). Blend until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes, then taste and adjust.

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A word about red palm oil: no, it does not come from red palm trees. It’s simply less-processed palm oil, and full of Vitamins A and E. Unfortunately, palm oil in general is not very sustainable, so make sure you purchase a brand that sources from small farms and makes an effort to support the environment and avoid deforestation. (I really like Nutiva.)

No red palm oil available? No problem: use 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric with 1 tablespoon of coconut oil instead. I used turmeric with my initial recipe, but I prefer the red palm oil instead for its more neutral taste.

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Once the ingredients are all blended up, pour the cashew-cheese-like mixture into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, whisking constantly until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat down to simmer just to keep warm, and give the sauce a good whisk frequently to prevent it from sticking.

Meanwhile, your water should be boiling. It’s time to add your pasta!

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While I don’t advocate having noodles–even gluten-free ones–every night, I think they’re fine once in a while, especially when balanced out with other healthful foods like fresh vegetables, pasture-raised meat, and good fats for added nutrients.

I used gluten-free elbows made from organic corn and quinoa flour. It’s pretty tasty, but you can definitely tell that it’s not wheat flour. (I don’t mind that, though.) You can also use brown rice pasta, sprouted wheat pasta (if you aren’t eating gluten-free), zucchini noodles, or spaghetti squash–be sure to let me know how it turns out if you give any of them a try!

Cook the pasta according to the box’s instructions, then strain in a colander. If you’re using veggies instead, well, let your veggies do their thing.

There’s enough sauce to coat 4 servings of pasta, so either add your 4 servings to the pan with the sauce or pour half of the sauce over 2 servings of noodles, a fourth over 1 serving, and so on and so forth. Sorry, I’m not good at explaining these things. I try.

Eat immediately. I’d recommend a side of roasted brussel sprouts or cauliflower, as my friends in the cabbage family happen to taste amazing with mac and cheese.

Oh, one more thing: if you’d like, you can bake your macaroni and cheese, too! Pop it in the oven at 350 degrees for half an hour, and sprinkle the top with some almond flour or ground walnuts for extra crunch. I loved how it tasted after some time in the oven, but the pictures were er, not pretty, so I used the ones I took for the stove-top version instead.

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Om nom nom nom nom nom…

What was your favorite meal or dish as a child? Leave me a comment here or on Facebook and let me know!


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