When I talk about plant-based food, typically its not meat that people panic most about. Its CHEESE. Pizza, Parmesan, Mac and Cheese. The fromage triumvirate. “Oh, I could never give those up!” People declare, wide-eyed, head back, almost poised to shield themselves from a physical blow. This is when I usually just get dismissed as “one of those.” Fringe. Granola. Anything I say from this point on will be met with a “who’s the crazy?” look.
Cheese is usually the line that is drawn between vegetarians and its mainlining subculture from the planet Vegus. Vegans. Gasp. Vegans.
Why is it so hard?
Have you ever heard of morphine? Sure, well, then let me talk about its cousin casomorphines. From Le Wikipedia: “Casomorphines are protein fragments in cheese, derived from the digestion of milk protein. The distinguishing characteristic of casomorphins is that they have an opioid effect.” Need I say more?
That’s why wine and cheese parties are pure awesome. Everyone just gets on the right side of inebriation and levity.
So it’s a legal drug, right up there with sugar, caffeine and alcohol. Fun stuff. But also, while the effects are not, um, pharmaceutical grade, they are still the same reactions that your brain goes through. With possibly similar cumulative consequences. Compound that with the other issues implicated and associated with dairy such as contributing to cholesterol levels, congestion, joint pain, migraines and digestive challenges. Now that’s really fun stuff. You don’t want to mess with that. So, really, if you cannot imagine cutting it out of your diet, you don’t have to have it everyday, either.
And to help with that, I offer up to you a mac and cheese that I SWEAR you will love. This is slight modification of VegNews Mac and Cheese which I worship because it uses no nutritional yeast. Yep, nutritional yeast. While I use nutritional yeast and think it is amazing, we are talking about defiling one of the pillars of modern civilization here people. So let’s do it gently! I won’t go postal with you on substitutions either. There is no soy and no fake cheese. This version uses ingredients familiar to everyone and available in every grocery store. I’ve amped it up by adding more garlic (because I just always do that) and offering different ways to jazz it up and make it more “gourmet” to impress even your most valiantly omnivorous foodie friends. As one of mine said, “its so good its almost Velveeta!” Oxymoronish but I get it.
(Ersatz and Enjoyable all at the same time)
Serves 6 but I ALWAYS double this. Because, well, why not?
Based on VegNews’ Macaroni and Cheese
4 quarts water
1 tablespoon sea salt
8 ounces macaroni or penne pasta
4 slices of bread, torn into large pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons shallots, peeled and chopped
1 cup red potatoes, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup carrots, peeled and chopped
1/3 cup onion, peeled and chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 cup water
1/4 cup non-hydrogenated margarine (I use Earth Balance soy-free)
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup raw cashews
2 teaspoons sea salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon paprika
In a large pot, bring the water and salt to a boil. Add macaroni and cook until al dente. In a colander, drain pasta and rinse with cold water. Set aside.
In a food processor, make breadcrumbs by pulverizing the bread and 2 tablespoons margarine to a medium-fine texture. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a saucepan, add shallots, potatoes, carrots, onion, and water, and bring to a boil. Cover the pan and simmer for 15 minutes, or until vegetables are very soft.
In a blender, process the cashews, salt, garlic, 1/3 cup margarine, mustard, lemon juice, black pepper, and cayenne. Add softened vegetables and cooking water to the blender and process until perfectly smooth.
In a large bowl, toss the cooked pasta and blended cheese sauce until completely coated. Spread mixture into a 9 x 12 casserole dish, sprinkle with prepared breadcrumbs, and dust with paprika. Bake for 30 minutes or until the cheese sauce is bubbling and the top has turned golden brown.
– drizzle with truffle oil right before serving
– Add some finely chopped spinach or kale when you toss the sauce and noodles together
– Add chopped garlic and some garlic powder to the breadcrumb mixture to make a garlicky topping
– Top with minced chives and/or parsley
– If you want a smoky flavor, add ¼ tsp of smoked Spanish paprika to the sauce mixture
– Saute leeks AND leek greens and fold into the sauce and noodle mixture