Monday, March 15, 2010

Comfort Food: Mac N' Cheese!

Oh the Lord of Comfort Food, the Make Everything Better Dish, the Sick of Cooking Entrée, the Nostalgia for Childhood Course, the Dorm Room Gourmet Cuisine, the Cream of the Crop Casserole….Macaroni and Cheese. There is nothing like a bowl of Mac n’ Cheese to take you back to a vast number of fond memories that usually involve some kind of synthetic, plastic cheese hanging on to those little bleached elbows.

I love comfort foods and I like them even better when they're vegan. If I can get a little gluten free edge in there too, I'm in heaven. Regular noodles are fine, whole wheat noodles are ok, but I do favor quinoa elbows. This time around, I only had some gluten free fusili, or spirals, on hand, but they turned out famously. One of these days my grocery store will sell a whole wheat or gluten free version of the pin wheels. Those were by FAR my favorite shape growing up. And of course, as a kid, I swore they tasted better.

I don't typically use a recipe when I make Mac n’ Cheese, but this was claimed to be the best batch yet. My habit, much like most recipe research I engage in, is to read through other vegan chefs’ techniques and ingredient lists to muster up some ideas. Then I usually end up dumping various, inconsistent amounts of herbs or spices to jazz up my version. Here are the basics: Nutritional yeast is the "cheese" of most vegan cheese sauces. It can also be used as a parmasan sprinkle to top off pastas and is the main ingredient in any store-bought vegan parmesan substitues. Flour is the key thickener, and pretty much any standard non-dairy milk can be used as the milk base - I've used both soy and almond milk with great results. From there, some vegan flavoring staples like garlic and onion powder are essential to giving the sauce some pizzazz and some sharper flavors are crucial to mimicking the powerful cheesy essence that makes this so addicting. The sharper ingredients are usually mustard and/or soy sauce. But I turned to the lovely miso in this case with very good results.

The sauce will always take some tasting and tweaking before it becomes just they way you'd like it, but I found that this recipe captures the right silky-but-edgy cheesiness of that Mac n’ Cheese from days gone by.  The touch of miso really gave it a certain je ne sais quoi… or call it that enzymatic flare that is characteristic of real cheese (you know, the mysterious stuff in cheese that recent research is claiming keeps us addicted and incapable of restricting its consumption for some speculative reason). There is just something that it does to take this up a very important cheesy notch. Bon Appetit!

Mac N’ Cheese
Serves 4
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes


8 oz. Elbow macaroni, rotini, or fusili (gluten free or whole wheat)

2 T. Earth or Smart Balance
¼ c. All purpose flour
½ heaping cup Nutritional yeast
2 c. Almond or Soy Milk
1 tsp Garlic powder
1 tsp Onion powder
1 tsp Salt
1/8 tsp Turmeric
2 tsp Mustard
2 tsp Miso
2-4 T. Water
Pinch of white pepper
Pinch of nutmeg


Cook pasta according to directions. Drain, set aside and mix with a bit of olive oil to keep from sticking.

In a sauce pan over medium heat, melt margarine and add flour. Stir until well blended and add nutritional yeast. Whisk in almond milk, stirring constantly until smooth. Add garlic and onion powder and mustard, continuing to whisk mixture. Let sauce come to a slow bubble and keep whisking to prevent clumps from forming. Let simmer until sauce thickens, 3-4 minutes.

In a small bowl whisk miso with 2 T of water and add to sauce. Add more water if sauce is too thick Add a pinch of both white pepper and nutmeg at the very end.

Pour cheese sauce over noodles and stir to coat completely.

1 comment:

  1. This is delicious! I added a couple of hatch chiles, which added the perfect amount of spice. I definitely will make this again.