I couldn’t shake the question out of my head. It ran loops around my brain, echoing off the walls of my skull. Surely, there were more important matters to consider, but no. All I could think about was cheese. Mac and cheese, to be precise. It suddenly struck me that many years had passed since I revisited my previous gold standard for Stove Top-Style Macaroni and Cheese, and wondered if it would still hold up to scrutiny.
Considering the great strides that dairy-free foods have made since then, the bar had been raised to lofty heights I could have never imagined back in the day, toiling over the stove with little more than memories of the blue box to light my path. Yes, indeed, it was still good stuff… But it could certainly be better.
A few tiny tweaks make a world of difference. It’s all about incorporating the subtle umami nuances and sharp bite that a good aged cheddar might impart, but nothing earth-shaking that would come as a wild departure from the norm. Just a bit more finesse, some higher-quality ingredients, and a better understanding of the alchemical changes that flavors undergo with varying temperature and time.
Toeing the line between healthy and indulgent, the new and improved sauce introduces a handful of red lentils for body and viscosity, with the side benefit of adding extra protein and fiber into the mix. At the same time, a fearless dose of vegan butter creates that inimitable velvety texture also known as kokumi, enhancing and amplifying flavors, much like salt. Nutritional yeast is essential, of course, but joining it in savory harmony is a dash of miso, lending a greater depth of umami flavor in every cheesy, creamy bite.
Yes, it’s a bit more involved than tearing open a packet of dried dairy-derived mystery powder, but there’s no going back once you taste the difference.
- 1/2 Cup Peeled and Diced Yukon Gold Potatoes
- 1/4 Cup Red Lentils (Dry)
- 1/4 Cup Shredded or Finely Diced Carrot
- 1/2 Cup Chopped Yellow Onion
- 1 Clove Garlic, Thinly Sliced
- 1 1/4 Cups Vegetable Stock
- 1/3 Cup Raw Cashews, Soaked*
- 1/4 Cup Nutritional Yeast
- 2 Tablespoon White Miso Paste
- 1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
- 1/2 Teaspoon Dijon Mustard
- 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
- 1/4 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
- 1/8 Teaspoon Turmeric
- 1 Cup Unsweetened, Plain Non-Dairy Milk
- 1/2 Cup Vegan Butter, Melted
- 1 Pound Pasta (Gluten-Free if Needed), Cooked
- Place the cut potatoes, lentils, carrots, onion, and garlic in a small sauce pan, and pour in the stock. Set over medium heat on the stove, and bring to a boil.
- Once the water reaches a vigorous boil, cover the pot, turn down the heat to medium-low, and let simmer for 15 minutes, until the lentils are cooked through and the potatoes are extremely tender.
- Meanwhile, place the cashews, nutritional yeast, miso, vinegar, mustard, salt, paprika, and tumeric in your blender. A high-speed blender is recommended for the best results, but you can also use an ordinary machine as long as you have patience. Give these ingredients a light pulse just to begin breaking down the cashews.
- When the vegetables on the stove are fully cooked and ready, pour them into your blender along with all of the cooking water. Add in the non-dairy milk, and turn on the blender to its highest setting. Thoroughly puree the mixture, until completely smooth and lump-free. If you’re using a blender that isn’t so hearty, this could take 6 – 10 minutes. With the motor still running, slowly drizzle in melted butter, allowing it to properly emulsify.
- Pour the sauce over your cooked noodles, toss to combine, and serve immediately.
*You can either soak your nuts in room temperature water for 4 - 6 hours, or you can do a “quick soak” by covering them with water in a pot and bringing it to a boil. Once the water boils, remove them from the heat and let sit for an hour.
Muso From Japan Smart Miso, Light Sweet, 5.2 oz
KAL Nutritional Yeast Flakes | Vitamin B12, Vegan, Non-GMO, Gluten Free | Unsweetened, Great Flavor, No Bitter Aftertaste | Great for Cooking | 22 oz
Vitamix 5200 Blender, Professional-Grade, 64 oz. Container, Black
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 301 Total Fat: 16g Saturated Fat: 8g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 6g Cholesterol: 33mg Sodium: 542mg Carbohydrates: 32g Fiber: 4g Sugar: 4g Protein: 9g