As I end the second week of the 21 day vegan plus experiment, one of the most missed foods has been dairy. It often surprises people when I report that the most-consumed category of food by the average American by weight is dairy, of which we engulf 600 lbs yearly. Nearly 180 lbs of that is beverage milk.
Let me be clear, that’s not even including cheese. For that, you’d have to add another 31 lbs. I’d wager that I was on the high end of that average.
In all, nearly 50% of our 2,000 lbs of annual food consumption is animal derived, either by flesh/meat (200 lbs), egg (33 lbs), or dairy (632 lbs).
But I love me some mac n cheese. It’s my favorite comfort food other than a fully loaded meat and veggie pizza. Therefore, giving up dairy, and especially cheese, was the biggest concern with the 21 Day Vegan Plus experiment. Thankfully, my wife was quick to crack that nut and provide some even tastier options.
Vegan Mac N Cheese
There are a lot of vegan mac n cheese recipes online. Many, however, have highly processed vegan cheddar cheese sauces, often involving the controversial use of casein. I prefer to keep things less processed and more raw. I want to be able to read the ingredients list, and replicate them with natural ingredients.
Thankfully, there was a delicious vegan mac n cheese recipe for me, which I’ve copied the ingredients and instructions below.
The Tangy Vegan Cheese
Really, this dish should be called Vegan Mac n Cashew Yeast, but that doesn’t sound very tempting, does it? The secret to the cheese flavor is the tangy taste of nutritional yeast. Oh, let me sing the praises of nutritional yeast:
- A two tablespoon serving size of nutritional yeast contains 60 calories, of which 5 g are carbohydrates (4 g of which are fiber) and 9 g are protein.
- Nutritional yeast is naturally low in fat and sodium and is free of sugar, dairy, and gluten. If these things matter to you — I’m looking at you sugar and gluten-hating Paleo-dieter — consider replacing your need for cheese with nutritional yeast.
- It’s a complete protein. Few vegetarian or vegan foods have complete proteins outside of soy and quinoa, so it’s a joy to add nutritional yeast to that list.
- It is a source of vitamins, especially the B-complex vitamins. Unfortified nutritional yeast has 35 to 100 percent of the US RDA all the B vitamins, except for B12. Sometimes nutritional yeast is fortified with Vitamin B12, which contains all the B vitamins plus 150 percent of the RDA for vitamin B12 and 720 percent of that for riboflavin.
Bottom-line: if you ever want the taste of cheese without the concerns — the use of hormones in dairy, the greatly shortened lives of dairy cattle, the possible link between dairy and autism, or the environmental impact of producing cheese — nutritional yeast is a tasty replacement. Try it on popcorn!
The Creamy Vegan Sauce
Speaking of sauces, how does this recipe replace the creamy, thick sauce created with a wheat flour and butter-based roux? Cashews, almond milk, and cornstarch to the rescue!
What’s more, the nutritional benefits of using these raw ingredients over wheat flour and butter are pretty clear — less saturated fat, no gluten, loaded with antioxidants and contains some trace minerals, and avoids all the concerns of dairy.
The Vegan Pasta
The cheese sauce can be used on top of any desired base, whether it be top of vegetables (e.g., broccoli, cauliflower), potatoes, or pasta.
- 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp raw cashews
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp salt, to taste
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 + 3/4 cups almond milk
- 1.5 tbsp cornstarch
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tbsp light (yellow or white) miso paste
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 6-8oz pasta, cooked (non-wheat pasta recommended, like quinoa, or use vegetable like cauliflower or broccoli)
- Place cashews in a large-sized bowl of the food processor and finely grind–just don’t let the cashews turn to a paste. Add nutritional yeast, onion powder, salt, garlic powder, and white pepper. Pulse three more times to blend in spices.
- In a heavy saucepan, combine milk, cornstarch and oil(s). Bring to a simmer over high heat. Decrease heat to low-medium, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes, or until cornstarch dissolves.
- With the food processor running, gradually add milk/oil mixture to cashew/nutritional yeast mixture. Blend for 2 minutes or until smooth and creamy. Next blend in miso and lemon juice.
- Combine cashew cheese with macaroni noodles.
- Preheat oven to 325 and place macaroni mixture in a 8 or 9″ square baking dish.
- Cover and bake 20 minutes.
- Uncover and sprinkle with 1/2 cup herbed bread crumb alternative.
- Continue baking, uncovered, for 15-25 minutes until topping is golden brown.