This is a fast and comforting mac n’ cheese with peas, which just so happens to be both vegan and gluten free!
We all have a collection of recipes that we associate with comfort and familiarity. They usually date back to childhood. My memory of comfort food growing up is definitely complicated by my eating disorder history, but I do have a list of favorites. They include my mom’s grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup, which I’ve done by best to make vegan. Avgolemono. My grandmother’s oven roasted potatoes and green beans in tomato sauce. And mac n’ cheese—definitely mac n’ cheese.
Like many kids, I relished mac n’ cheese from the box. When I first went vegan, I just assumed that this kind of mac was a thing of the past. Then, I realized that it’s not hard to make this classic comfort food dish without any dairy.
I’ve experimented with a many vegan mac n’ cheese dishes. Some of my trials have been more creative than others. I’ve made vegan mac with carrots and with roasted red peppers. I’ve tried thickening sauces with nuts, agar, roux, and beans. I have recipes for both baked and stovetop mac. I think it’s fun to add different herbs and seasonings.
But there’s something to be said for a simple, stovetop mac, right? Something that’s truly reminiscent of the boxed stuff that so many of us grew up with. The fact that stovetop mac is pretty easy to make sweetens the deal.
In this recipe, I add a little green to the mac n’ cheese with peas. In place of peas, you could certainly use chopped broccoli florets, chopped green beans, zucchini, or wilted spinach or kale. The idea is simply to add a little extra fiber and color to the dish.
This mac n’ cheese is plant-based, of course, but it’s also gluten free. There are so many gluten free pastas out there these days that it makes my head spin. But the one that I always end up returning to is from the Tinkyada brand. It comes in a number of shapes, but elbows are my pick for a mac n’ cheese!
If you’d like to add some protein to the dish, you can also use a bean/legume based pasta, like the Banza shells or Tolerant Foods elbows. And of course, if eating gluten free isn’t a priority for you, it’s fine to use regular pasta in the recipe instead.
I love that this recipe requires very little prep work: just blend the sauce, boil the pasta, add whatever steamed veggies you like, and mix. The only bit of foresight you need is to soak your cashews ahead of time.
I used to create mac n’ cheese with an all-cashew base, but over time I’ve come to love the thickness that results from adding beans as well. I also love the additional boost of protein and micronutrients that comes from blending legumes into the sauce. For those who are being mindful of fat, using a combination of beans and nuts can also be a good means of lowering fat content.
Needless to say, the miso and nutritional yeast combination creates that authentic, “cheesy” flavor, and I love the slight bit of heat and smokiness that cayenne and smoked paprika contribute.
And that’s it. Such a simple, yet delicious meal.
If a green vegetable isn’t what you’re craving, there are other fun add-in options for the recipe. Here are some ideas:
On my last post, I was asked about creating more recipes that are friendly and safe for kids with multiple allergies. The cashews in this recipe could be replaced by using 1 full cup of beans instead, or by using hemp seeds or sunflower seeds, if you have a child who’s allergic to tree nuts but can tolerate seeds. Using chickpea miso makes it naturally soy free, too.
No matter what modification you choose, I hope that it’ll be comforting and tasty. I wish everyone a great start to the weekend, and I’ll be back for weekend reading on Sunday.