Category: editorial

Mac and Cheese. Cheeze? Yeast?

Mac and Cheeze and Broccoli

There are innumerable recipes for vegan mac and cheese on the internet. I’ve tried a lot of them. Some of them simply call for “slices of soy cheese” and some vegetable stock to be mixed over pasta. The majority, however, require nutritional yeast, and they usually also require making a roux. The recipe below is from my upcoming cookbook, and it’s one of my favorites. However, if you’ll indulge me for a moment, there are some things about vegan mac and cheeze I want to talk about.

Now, I’m the first to admit “Mac and Yeast” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. That’s why I tend to call it “Mac and Cheeze”. But I’m also the first to admit that these recipes, even the best of them, don’t really taste all that much like mac and cheese. Some get much closer than others, and a lot are downright tasty. But it’s not cheese. Your omnivore or veggie friend/spouse/child may love it as much as or even more than the real stuff (if you’re lucky), but they probably love it on its own merits, not because they really can’t tell the difference.

But you know what? It doesn’t have to taste exactly the same for me to love it.

A lot of people, myself included, are really interested in making vegan food that’s indistinguishable from the “real” thing. It’s a fun challenge, and oftentimes, a challenge where you can really and truly be successful. But there are many instances where you don’t create something identical, but what you do create is actually good. Different, but yummy. While vegan mac and cheese doesn’t taste exactly like non-vegan mac and cheese, it satisfies the same craving. It’s rich and creamy and salty and vaguely cheese-like. It’s a yummy, thick creamy sauce to top noodles with.

I think that sometimes it’s enough to satisfy your cravings with something similar, if you can’t find something identical. After three years of being vegan, I don’t even crave mac and cheese anymore; I crave mac and yeast.

I think expectation is important with food. If it looks like a grape, you expect it to taste like a grape. If I hand you a glass of sparkling wine and tell you it’s gingerale, you might be put off when you take a sip. You might even like wine, but you expected it to be, well, not wine. If I say, “here, try this mac and cheese” and give you mac and yeast, you might be disappointed when you tasted it. If you’ve never tried a mac and yeast recipe before, and you want to try this one, keep in mind that it doesn’t taste like cheese.

It just tastes like yummy. Well, it does to me and the vegans that tested the recipe for me!

Mac and Cheeze
Serves 2-3

1/3 Cup Earth Balance Margarine
1/4 Cup All Purpose Flour
2 1/2 Tbs Low Sodium Tamari or Soy Sauce
1 Tbs Lemon Juice, fresh
1 Tbs Sweet/White/Mellow Miso
1 Tbs Tahini
1 Tbs Tomato Paste (not sauce!)
1 1/4 Cup Soy Milk
1/3 Cup Nutritional Yeast
1 Pinch Salt
Black Pepper, to taste

Begin by heating a sauce pan and adding the earth balance. Once melted, add flour and whisk vigorously until a smooth paste forms, called a roux. Be careful not to add flour to a pan that is very hot, or your roux will be lumpy and you’ll need to start over. If you mix in the flour as soon as the margarine is melted and you should avoid any problems.

To this paste, add tamari, lemon, miso, tahini, and tomato paste and whisk until well incorporated. The mixture should still be paste-like. Then slowly pour in the soymilk, whisking constantly, until it is completely incorporated. Add the yeast and mix well. Cook the mixture until it thickens, whisking often. This should take approximately 5 minutes, but it’s flexible. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Mac and Cheeze

I like this the most baked. Cook 3 cups of dry, small pasta (like elbows or shells or rotini) and toss with the finished cheezy sauce. Add steamed broccoli (pictured) for a real treat. Top with fresh breadcrumbs and bake at 400º for 25 minutes, or until browned and bubbly.

I’ve spilled so much ink so far (well, pixels) telling you that vegan cheese doesn’t taste like cheese, so I figured I’d close the entry with this: vegan cheese that, to me, tastes like mother forkin’ cheese! It deserves an entire entry devoted to it, so I’ll just leave you with this until part two of my vegan cheese post:

Medium Cheddar Sheese

Pea Tendril and Daikon Noodle Salad

Pea Tendril and Daikon Noodle Salad with Sesame Soy Dressing

I just can’t wait for my CSA shares to start coming in, so yesterday I went to a farmers market in downtown Boston. My hopes were high, and I spent the entire train ride imagining all the fun greens and maybe even baby spring vegetables I’d bring home. When I arrived, the first tent was full of flowers. The next, herbs. Then there was a bread and pastry tent, some more herbs and flowers, and… that was it.

Where are my vegetables!

City Plaza Farmer's Market, Boston

I milled around the short string of tents, walking up and down the line, desperately trying to find something other than impatiens and coffee cake. Then I started asking myself, “well, do I need a $25 two year old rosemary plant?” I wanted the answer to be yes, but I kept moving. Finally, tucked between chocolate mint and calla lilies was a huge basket of… leaves? Vines? I wasn’t sure what it was, but it looked like I could eat it. The sign said, “Organic Sweet Pea Tendrils – $3/box.”

I marched up and said, “I’ll take a box, please” as the man behind the table was trying to offer me a sample. “oh,” he said, “you’ll just buy some then?” He probably had spent most of the morning explaining what pea tendrils are and handing out samples to convince people that they really are tasty and you really should eat them. But not me! I’m used to buying mysterious vegetables.

I have a bit of an addiction to trying new and interesting greens. I had no idea, of course, that you could eat pea tendrils. I had no clue as to what they tasted like, but I didn’t care! I wanted a box of that leafy mass he was standing behind; I’d figure out the details later. Of course, as soon as I got home I spent an hour googling them, all the while wishing I had asked a few questions when I bought them.

Organic Pea Tendrils

So here’s what I found out: they are usually lightly stir fried in Chinese cooking, but I think that pertains to pea tendrils that are a bit older and sturdier than the ones I bought. The tendrils I came home with were very delicate, almost the same texture as the clover you have growing in your lawn but with crisper stems. I had no desire to cook them at all, so I whipped up this salad. I did keep the asian flavors, though, by using daikon radish and a sesame soy dressing.

I hope I find them again before spring is over. They are deliciously crisp and sweet, and they taste like peas! Their texture is nice balance between the soft leaves and the thin crispy stems. They don’t keep well, so if you find them at a farmers market or elsewhere, be prepared to eat them that day. I hear you can even grow them yourself quite easily, even indoors.

In short, I’m in love with pea tendrils. You should be, too.

Pea Tendril and Daikon Noodle Salad with Sesame Soy Dressing