Thursday, July 21, 2011

Creamy Vegan Cauliflower Mac and "Cheese"

People are usually shocked when I say I've never had Kraft Mac and Cheese. It's not exactly a staple in Spain, and I guess the blue box and I never really crossed paths once I moved to the US. I have, however, had a few homemade versions of the classic which I thought were quite good, especially the baked ones. I mean, what's there not to like about pasta drenched in savory cheese sauce with a crunchy topping?

Well, most mac and cheese has a lot of dairy fat, you know, the kind that clogs your arteries and feels heavy in your belly. But it doesn't need to be that way, as I learned from Mark Bittman's recipe I read in the New York Times a couple weeks ago. By adding pureed cauliflower to the sauce he increases the amount of vegetables in the dish and makes it creamy with only 3/4 cup of cheese. Genius, as always.

Since Bittman's recipe sounded pretty tasty and was almost vegan I only had to make a couple changes. To give the sauce a fermented tangy taste, somewhat reminiscent of cheese, I used some miso and a few tablespoons of nutritional yeast. (An aside, if you've never cooked with nutritional yeast please make the extra trip to the specialty grocery store and get yourself some -- it's worth it). To make the sauce even creamier and increase the protein punch I blended some silken tofu along with the cauliflower. Lastly, since I'm not a huge fan of beige food I added some chopped kale for color and an extra serving of vegetables.

It was DE-LI-CIOUS (and I don't use hyphenated all caps lightly). I know it's not really summery food and that it requires turning on the oven in this sweltering heat (hopefully it's cooler wherever you are than it is in NC!) but you need to make this soon. Like yesterday. I promise you'll be surprised something so healthy can taste so good.

Creamy Vegan Cauliflower Mac and "Cheese"
Veganized and otherwise adapted from Mark Bittman's recipe
Makes 4 generous servings
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil plus extra for greasing the baking dish
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 whole cauliflower, cored and roughly chopped into large florettes
  • 8 oz / 225 g short pasta such as elbow macaroni, penne or rotini (I used a mix of the last two), preferably whole wheat
  • 8 oz / 225 g silken tofu
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3 teaspoons miso
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 2 cups stemmed and chopped kale
  • 1/2 cup panko or conventional breadcrumbs
1.  Preheat the oven to 400 F / 205 C. Grease your baking dish with some olive oil and set aside. I used a 7 by 11 inch pan and Bittman recommends a 9 inch square pan, but really just use what you've got. Place the stock in a small saucepan with the bay leaves and heat until just before it boils. Remove from the heat and set aside. Fill about 2/3 of a large pot with water and bring it to a boil. Salt the water generously, add the cauliflower, cover the pot and cook the cauliflower until very tender, about 25 minutes. Remove it from the water with a slotted spoon and place it in the food processor. Fish the bay leaves out of the broth and add it to the food processor as well, along with the tofu, nutmeg, miso, salt, pepper and 2 tablespoons of nutritional yeast. Process the mixture until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

2.  Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook for about half of the time the package specifies (in my case this meant cooking my penne and rotini for about 5 minutes). If you bite a piece of pasta in half the inside should still be chalky. Drain the pasta and add it to a medium mixing bowl along with the kale. Pour in the pureed cauliflower mixture and toss until everything is evenly mixed. Empty the contents of the mixing bowl into your greased baking dish, smoothing the top with a spatula or a spoon. As Bittman points out, you could make the dish ahead up to this point and then refrigerate it. Take the casserole out of the fridge about 30 minutes before you're ready to bake it and proceed with the recipe. Mix together the remaining 1 tablespoon of nutritional yeast and the breadcrumbs and sprinkle over the top of the casserole.

3.  Bake for 18-22 minutes or until the sauce is bubbly and the breadcrumbs have browned. Serve hot, with a few dashes of hot sauce if you'd like.

1 comment:

  1. Here are some enhancements and missing items in ()

    Preheat the oven to 400 F / 205 C (if you are going to cook immediately after assembling).

    Fish the bay leaves out of the broth and add it (broth)to the food processor as well, along with the tofu, nutmeg, miso, salt, pepper ( olive oil) and 2 tablespoons of nutritional yeast.