Over the years, I’ve had a long, delicious love affair with mac and cheese. What started as a casual relationship with microwavable easy mac in college developed into something more serious post-graduation. Mac and cheese became a specialty of mine and one of my favorite dishes to experiment with. Mac, cheese, and I, we’ve had some wonderful times over the years. However, as I shift more and more toward veganism, mac and I are ready to part ways with cheese and move on to the next phase of our lives. Our love is strong!
Earlier this week, I entered U.S. Veg Corp’s first Vegan Mac Throwdown! I’ve designed for and attended their burger and taco tasting events, but it was a new experience being on the other side. (“Hello from the other side!”) It’s one thing to cook for your friends and family, but if you’re passionate about food, I’m sure you’ll also want to share it with other food eaters/lovers too. Food is about bringing people together, right?
I wasn’t the only home cook participating in the event, but many of the entrants were professionals chefs, restaurants, and caterers. It was exciting, but a bit scary to make 100 samples (!!!) of mac and compete alongside pros and amateurs alike! Everyone put so much love into their food. I was exhausted by the end of the night, but it such a pleasure to be a part of this! Check out more photos from the event on Facebook.
The 30 minutes before everyone arrived for the event reminded me of crunch time just before a big deadline in architecture school. This was more intense though as people will be eating your final project! Thank goodness no one had to eat my chipboard and Elmers glue models from my archi days.
Vegan Miso Sesame Mac
There are many directions you can take mac and cheese, but I wanted to take a path less traveled. Miso and sesame flavors are unexpected for mac and cheese, but still offer an indulgent richness and creaminess. I developed this recipe during the week before the contest and ate way too much mac and cheese in the process. Enjoy!
2/3 cup cashews, soaked for at least 4 hours1 acorn squash
1 lb egg-free macaroni
1-1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 onion, chopped
1 cup unsweetened soy milk
4 tbsp white shiro miso paste
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
3 tbsp vegan sriracha
2 tbsp sesame oil
Salt & pepper
Preheat the oven to 400F. Cut the acorn squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Place the squash cut side up on a baking sheet and spray the exposed flesh with olive oil. Bake for 45-60 minutes until you can easily pierce it with a fork. Let cool, then scoop out of the flesh. (Don’t throw out the seeds! Toss them in olive oil and salt, then bake for 20-30 minutes at 300F for a crunchy snack.)
Cook the macaroni to al dente accordingly to the package directions. Save 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Rinse the mac with cold water, then set aside. If you’re cooking the mac in advance, toss it in a little olive oil to prevent stickiness.
Spray a frying pan lightly with olive oil. Over medium heat, add the minced garlic and saute until fragrant. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Be careful not to let the onions brown.
Drain and rinse the cashews in cold water. In a high speed blender (yay, Vitamix!), combine the following ingredients in this order: soy milk, garlic and onion mixture, acorn squash, cashews. Blend until completely smooth and creamy. You will need to use the tamper tool to assist with blending.
In a large saucepan, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the miso paste and 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water. Stir with a spatula until the miso paste is completely dissolved. Add the blended mixture, nutritional yeast, and hot sauce. Stir well to combine all the ingredients. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Turn off the heat and stir in the sesame oil. (It’ll be very heavy on sesame flavor, but keep in mind that you’ll be adding mac to this.)
Fold half of the cooked mac into the miso sesame “cheese” until the mac is thoroughly cooked. Fold the remaining half of cooked mac in. You can keep it warm over low heat, if needed.
The toppings are not strictly necessary, but they give the mac an extra special touch. The portobello adds a savory, chewy bite, while the slaw adds brightness and refreshes your palate. You can also top it off with scallions like I did.
Preheat the oven 350F. Cover a large baking sheets with foil and spray lightly with cooking oil. Remove the stems from 2 portobello mushrooms and slice the caps into pieces that are approximately 1/4″ thick. Cut the longer pieces in half so everything is roughly the same size.
Combine 2 tbsp soy sauce, 2 tbsp of water, and 1/4 tsp oil in a medium bowl. Add a dash of black pepper and garlic powder. Place the portobello slices in the marinade, a few pieces at a time, coating them on both sides, then place them on the baking sheet. Repeat this process until all the slices are done. Let it sit for 15 minutes for the marinade to soak in.
Bake at 350F for a total of 30 minutes. You’ll want to check on it every 10 minutes to make sure everything is cooking evenly. Depending on your oven, you may have to rotate the pan from time to time. The portobellos should be tender and juicy — don’t let them burn!
Parsnip & Carrot Slaw
Using a spiralizer or grater, cut one parnsip into noodles that are approximately 2″ long. Do the same with a couple carrots, or do yourself a favor and pick up a bag of shredded carrots from the store.
In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup rice vinegar, 1/4 cup sesame oil, 1 tsp salt, and 1 tsp sugar. Mix well. Place the shredded parnsip in a large bowl and add 1/3 cup carrots. Add 2-3 tbsp of the dressing and toss well. Sprinkle black sesame seeds just before serving.