Saturday, February 27, 2016

Mac & cheese without the cheese

The fun thing about vegan food is that you can try to take any of your favourite non-vegan food and try to vegan-ify it! Often, the result tastes even better than the "original" (BROWNIES yess). So when I saw a recipe for vegan mac & cheese, I decided I had to make it. Vegan mac & cheese, without the cheese.. how could the cheesiest dish ever be any good without the cheese? There are two secret ingredients which create a wonderful "cheesy" sauce, and I'll teach you how to make it! I also added tons of greens into the dish because well, you need those too (and it makes eating a carby dinner a little less naughty).

The two essential secret ingredients I was talking about are cashews and nutritional yeast. These two are the two keys ingredients because the cashews give it that creamy texture and the nutritional yeast gives it a cheesy hint. Before starting to make this dish, you'll need to soak the cashews in water for at least 2 hours, so they get all soft and plump (similar to making cashew milk). Nutritional yeast (Edelgist in Dutch, hefeflocken in German and Levure Noble in French) is an inactive yeast which is often used in vegan food. Next to its many health benefits (B-vitamins, minerals), it also has a cheesy flavour, which makes it the perfect ingredient for vegan mac & cheese. You can find it at most health stores or order it online. 

What you'll need (for 4 people)
- 1 pack of macaroni or shell pasta (I used Rigatoni from De Cecco)
- Vegetables: frozen peas, cavolo nero (kale), finely chopped fennel
- Optional: truffle oil, sliced chili pepper, fresh 

Cheese sauce:
- 1 chopped shallot
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed 
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 3 tablespoons of olive oil + extra for frying 
- 1 cup cashews, soaked (= 200 grams dry cashews before soaking)
- 1 cup of water
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast (I use this one)
- Spices: pinch of cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric 
- Salt & black pepper

In a small pan, heat a bit of olive oil and add the shallots. Fry them until they're soft, and then add the balsamic vinegar, crushed garlic and smoked paprika. Fry for another minute.

Blend the cashews, shallots, spices, olive oil, nutritional yeast and water in a food processor at high speed. Add salt and pepper to taste and puree until you have a trick, creamy sauce. 

Take the same pan you used for the shallots and fry the vegetables (frozen peas and fennel) in here for a few minutes in olive oil. Add salt and pepper. Sliced chili pepper is optional but I love some spice!

Cook the pasta al dente in water (+ salt) according to the instructions on the packaging. Put on a timer to keep track of the cooking time. When there's about one minute left on the timer, add a few handfuls of cavolo nero to the boiling pasta, so it can soften. Also take one cup of the pasta water, to add to the cheese sauce later on. When the pasta is cooked, drain, pop back into the pan and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. 

Now stir in the vegetables and the "cheese" sauce. If the sauce seems too thick, add some of the pasta water you saved. I didn't include the picture of the final mac & cheese result in the pan because it just didn't look appetising and I don't want that to stop you from making this ;) it's not the world's prettiest dish anyway but it's super delicious! 

Here you have the final result, with some extra black pepper and chili on top. A super creamy pasta dish without cream, butter, cheese or any other type of dairy product. Who'd have thought you could make mac & cheese with cashews and some other ingredients? I wasn't convinced before making this but once I tasted it I was hooked! Made this recipe twice now, and I think this is my new favourite comfort meal :) Try it, you'll love it!

© whiskers & lions

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