There's not much that trumps a cheesy pasta dish on those days where your body is craving something warm, comforting, and utterly satiating. Be it a cold winter's day, a jam-packed day of running errands, or perhaps completing a long workout; when our bodies crave carbs-- we typically want it all. However, when we do give in to these indulgent cravings we tend to kick ourselves afterwords. Not only do we feel guilt for ingesting such decadence, but we also probably feel heavy and lethargic, as a giant brick of fat and carbohydrates is now sitting in our abdomen. Our poor GI system is now hard at work! Enter: food baby/coma.
Don't get me wrong, I'm all about the 'everything in moderation,' but my point to this recipe and blog post is that we don't always have to feel guilty nor sport a food pooch if we wish to 'indulge.' Yes, that's right. There is a way to eat a rich, savory, carb-filled meal and still feel light on your feet afterwords! Life. Changing.
Say hello to Vegan Mac N' Cheese.
I first just want to highlight that no, this is not a recreation of a fake cheese pasta that comes from a cardboard box. Instead, this is a nutrient-rich meal that utilizes unique and real whole food ingredients that is derived from plants, yet still tastes like it includes animal products. Whether you are a vegan/avoiding dairy/animal products or not, I think its actually quite amazing how you can create these flavor components from nature and introduce your family & friends to something pretty neat! (OK, maybe that's just me nerding out, but you get the idea).
So how do you achieve Mac N' Cheese without actually using cheese? Three answers.
1. Cashews: these form the base of the 'cheese' sauce. Cashews are relatively creamy and higher in fat than some other nuts, so when blended they tend to form a very rich, nutty creaminess that is exactly what one wants for a cheesy sauce! I recommend soaking your cashews prior to blending for at least 4-6 hours or overnight, as this makes them much softer to blend and also easier to digest.
2. Nutritional Yeast: aka hippie dust, these golden flakes have been touted in the nutritional world as an amazing additive to vegan and vegetarian dishes. Why? Just 2 Tbsp contain 9g protein, and 4g fiber! Some sources are also fortified with Vitamin B12, which is an essential vitamin that's only found typically in animal products. Nutritional yeast also has a nutty, cheesy flavor.
3. Spices: This is where you can get crafty. Based on your taste preferences, you can create more depth to the sauce depending on what other ingredients and spices you want to add. For this recipe, dijon mustard gives the sauce a good kick, and spices like red pepper flakes and paprika add spiciness, while turmeric provides the deep golden color and antioxidants.
So how about that recipe now, hm?
Vegan Mac N' Cheese
1.5 C. raw cashews, soaked in water for 4-6 hours or overnight
1 C. water
1/2 C. almond milk, unsweetened
2 cloves garlic
1 heaping Tbsp dijon mustard
1/3 C. nutritional yeast
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp turmeric
fresh Italian parsley, to garnish
nutritional yeast + paprika, to garnish
1-1.5 C. organic pipe rigate pasta, uncooked (GF optional)
Optional veggie add ins:
1-2 heads of broccoli, roasted with a drizzle of olive oil and black pepper
1 C. organic mushrooms, sliced & sautéed with drizzle of olive oil + 1/2 tsp crushed garlic
Directions: In a large pot, bring about 3 cups of water to a boil. Once water is boiling, drop your pasta into the water and cook for about 10-15 minutes or until pasta becomes tender to liking. (Note: this recipe makes enough 'cheese' sauce to serve at least 3-4 people, so cook enough pasta accordingly!) I chose to use pipe rigate for the pasta, as the large noodles/holes hold the sauce well.
If you'd like to add veggies into your mac and cheese (which you should; it tastes amazing while giving you an extra pop of nutrition!), go ahead and prep veggies of choice accordingly. I tossed my broccoli with a drizzle of olive oil and spices on a cookie sheet and roasted them on 375 degrees F for about 20 minutes. I also sautéed some mushrooms with crushed garlic, as they always seem to pair well with pasta dishes.
To prepare the sauce, drain the water from cashews and give them a good rinse in a colander to get rid of any left over debris. In your blender, combine cashews, water, nut milk, garlic, mustard, nutritional yeast, red pepper flakes, and turmeric. Blend on high speed for at least a few minutes (this will all depend on the strength of your blender!)
Once pasta is cooked, drain out the water and then place pasta back into the pot. Pour about 1/2 of 'cheese' sauce into the pot, along with veggies, and give it a stir! Gradually add in more sauce based on your preference of 'cheesiness.' Like I mentioned earlier, this recipe does make quite a bit of servings, so just know that you can always freeze any sauce that you may not use right away!
Top mac n' cheese with nutritional yeast, paprika, and fresh chopped parsley. SO GOOD.
Sauce/pasta mixture keeps in the fridge for about 3 days.