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Vegan Mac 'n' Cheese [vegan]

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Recipe adapted from Vegan Yumminess.  [Recipe makes 5 to 6 servings].

When you make the switch to limit the amount of dairy in your diet, one comfort food that you immediately crave is mac 'n' cheese.  It's one of those dishes that everyone grew up on, and truly puts the 'comfort' in comfort food.  So what's one to do?  Create a béchamel with vegan cheese and non-dairy milk?  Although I haven't tried this, I have extreme doubts with the outcome.

But fear not—there are still options.

Some recipes call for cauliflower.  Some rely on raw cashews.  Some use tofu.  And the list goes on.  Despite these differences, each of these options have one ingredient in common, and that's nutritional yeast.  For those who aren't familiar with the vegan lifestyle might be wondering what in the world this is.  According to America's Test Kitchen, "it's yeast that's grown on a mixture of beet molasses and sugarcane and it's often used to mimic the flavor of cheese."  As the author of Vegan Yumminess also states, it doesn't replace cheese.  Rather, it provides so many flavor profiles that cheese traditionally gives, allowing it to be used in recipes that typically are cheese-based.  Although most will probably be able to tell a difference between mac 'n' cheese made with cheddar and mac 'n' cheese made with nutritional yeast, both are equally delicious.  The main difference is that the latter is so much healthier for your body.

I ended up doing three or so trial runs on this recipe before posting, because the original version didn't quite do it for me.  I could tell it was a solid place to start, but the spice department needed some help.  Garlic, paprika, and nutritional yeast were all bumped up, Dijon was added for some zing, and turmeric and bay leaves were added for color and depth of flavor.  I finally have a go-to recipe when the next mac 'n' cheese craving hits.

INGREDIENTS:

12 ounces dried pasta
5 1/2 ounces (~1 cup) diced russet potatoes
1 1/2 ounces (~1/3 cup) diced carrots
1 1/2 ounces (~1/3 cup) diced onions
2 bay leaves

1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked in warm water for several hours and drained
1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
3/4 cup to 1 cup reserved vegetable water from potatoes, carrots, and onions
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice (~1/2 lemon)
1 tablespoon Dijon
3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons paprika
Pinch crushed red pepper
1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon truffle oil (or olive oil)
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme

DIRECTIONS:

Cover the vegetables and bay leaves with cold water in a sauce pan and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes, or until all of the vegetables are soft.  Discard the bay leaves, and drain the vegetables making sure to save one cup of the liquid.

While you're making the sauce, cook the pasta, drain, and reserve.

For the sauce, add the cooked vegetables, cashews, almond milk, 3/4 cup of the reserved vegetable water, lemon juice, Dijon, nutritional yeast, salt, garlic powder, paprika, crushed red pepper, and turmeric to a high-speed blender.  Blend until extremely smooth.

For the breadcrumbs, heat the truffle oil in a sauté pan.  Add the panko, sage, and thyme, and sauté until lightly browned.  Transfer to a separate container once done to prevent the panko from browning any more.

Add the sauce to the pasta and check for consistency.  If it needs more liquid, use the remaining vegetable water.  Top with toasted breadcrumbs and serve immediately.

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