Dinner w/Fifi & Himay – Vegan Mac & “Cheese”

Stolen Says highlights the best of New York City from bar scenes to brunches. As fantastic and fun as all of that is, sometimes the best evenings are those spent in your own apartment with a couple of your closest friends, a bottle of wine, and delicious home-cooked meal.

This week’s Dinner w/Fifi & Himay is (drum roll, please): Vegan Mac & “Cheese”!!

I know — quotations = vomit. But no, I’m telling you, it’s not so! I think vegan food and vegan-ism tends to get a bad rap because a lot of vegans either don’t know what they’re doing and just eat popcorn sprinkled with nutritional yeast, or swap whole milk for soy milk and call it a day. But you don’t have to survive on a mere crust of bread. I look upon vegan-ism as a cooking challenge. It’s *so* easy to grab a chicken cutlet, dip it in bread crumbs, fry it, and throw it down your gullet but vegan mac & cheese is a new frontier. It’s still super easy — another reason vegans balk at variety is the preparation it sometimes takes, but once you’ve stocked your pantry with items like vital wheat gluten, spelt flour, and veggie broth (which I make from the leftover veggie bits that I don’t cook for consumption, btw), it’s really really easy. And can yield some real culinary delights.But I’m done converting you for the time being. On to the recipe, which comes from Oh She Glows (via Pookie).

What You’ll Need:

  • 1/2 butternut squash, peeled and chopped (yields: 3.5 cups raw)
  • 3/4 cup raw cashews
  • 1 cup soy milk (or non-dairy milk of choice)
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
  • 6-7 tbsp Nutritional yeast (provides the cheesy consistency)
  • 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp or a bit more of dried Italian seasoning — or if you don’t have it on hand, a dash or two of thyme, oregano, onion powder, and basil
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp Tumeric powder (for coloring — gives the “cheesy” color)
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 tsp Paprika (also mostly for coloring)
  • Your pasta of choice (I used penne and eyeballed the amount — by which I mean I cooked way too much and then mixed w/the “cheese” sauce in an appropriate ratio)

What To Do:
Chop the butternut squash into thin squares, season with olive oil and salt and pepper and maybe a little paprika, and roast on a baking sheet at 350F for about 40 minutes. I popped them in the oven and went for a quick run around the park, flipped the squash, showered, and then continued with the rest of the recipe, so while they’re baking by all means — multi-task. The other option: Cook the pasta while the squash is baking, and make your “cheese” sauce. Drain and rinse the pasta and put it back in the pot, or in a large bowl, to mix with the “cheese” sauce later.

The easiest way to make the “cheese” sauce is with a food processor. Even though Pookie and I had a long discussion about how to do it without one, I still schlepped everything over and used Fifi’s. Cut the total “cheese” sauce-making process down to about 5 minutes. So: before you make the cheese sauce, blend the bread with the margarine/Earth Balance to make bread crumbs. You can also use store-bought, but it’s kind of neat to say I made these bread crumbs.

Pat yourself on the back and set the bread crumbs aside. Then, after rinsing the processor out, throw the cashews, the garlic and the herbs in. Pulse until it resembles something like cornmeal — then add the soy milk and nutritional yeast. Once your squash is baked, toss that in as well and blend until you’ve achieved the perfect “cheesy” consistency. Dilute with a little more soy milk, if necessary, or thicken with a dash more nutritional yeast.

Finally: Mix the pasta w/the “cheese” sauce in a bowl. Once thoroughly mixed to the ratio desired, transfer to a casserole dish — I actually used two 8”x8” disposable square baking pans. Sprinkle your homemade bread crumbs on top, and bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes. Serve hot, with a side of kale. Follow it up with some strawberries and kiwis for dessert!

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