Feature Recipe | Mac & Cheese Bowl
Take my word for it….a quick description to tease your palette:
A sweet and savoury — definitely smoky — sauce aptly deserving of its cheese-y title. Roasted butternut squash – caramelized bits and all – lends a gorgeous orange blush colour to the sauce while miso paste and nutritional yeast yield a lovely umami-like depth of flavour to this classic comfort dish.
Why this recipe:
Simply put the Mac N’ Cheez Bowl at “MEET” (in Vancouver) is my favourite plant-based version of this classic comfort food. The menu describes it as “Macaroni noodles smothered in our yummy cashew cheez sauce, finished with rawmesan, scallions and an sprinkle of smoked salt” but I describe it as Mac & Cheese bliss. The sauce is savoury meets sweet meets smoky and somewhere in the intersection of these flavours they found a way to make the texture and taste rival ooey, gooey dairy-based Mac & Cheese. I confess the last time we were at MEET (for my son’s 10th birthday dinner) I asked the waitress if she would divulge any of the recipe (for the kids! Lol) and she did share the following key ingredients: lots of cashews, nooch, miso, tahini (sesame seed paste) and smoked salt. Armed with this “trade secret” in hand I started exploring how to create the ultimate Mac & Cheese sauce…
My kids have a hot lunch program at their school (K-12) which I have never had them participate in as they don’t offer any vegan options (vegetarian options are available from time to time). I recently spoke to the school chef about the possibility of introducing plant-based options and allergies were acknowledged as one of the main challenges to revisiting the menu through a “vegan lens”. Knowing how much kids love the Mac N Cheez Bowl at MEET and how much they would like to join their friends in having a hot lunch at school I wanted to develop a plant-based dish inspired by “MEET” but free of any allergens (namely dairy and nuts)). The recipe shared here is the result of many failed attempts but I think you’ll agree this one has a glorious cheese sauce that rivals the ‘real’ thing. With no dairy and no cashews (raw or soaked) needed this no fuss recipe is sure to win over the school chef (at least that’s the plan!)
A helping hand:
*Roasted butternut squash is key to this recipe. For best results plan ahead and roast the squash (instead of sautéeing or steaming)…..the slow cooking process yields a very tender squash with caramelized flavour. One of my best deliciously simple techniques when working with any veg.
*Smoked salt was never a staple ingredient in my pantry until I started testing this recipe….you may be inclined to substitute with what you have on hand (Himalayan pink salt in my case) but this recipe hinges on using quality smoked salt. I developed this recipe using Alderwood smoked salt (vs hickory, mesquite, apple or oak smoked salt) and would recommend you start with the Alderwood variety as it’s considered the most versatile of the smoked salts. Liquid smoke is very potent – be sure not to use it in lieu of smoked salt.
Get inspired with these Vegan Rhapsody favourites:
Butternut squash takes centre stage in these most-loved Vegan Rhapsody recipes… this gorgeous winter squash variety is a vegan’s best friend:
This & That
1 lb dry pasta
1 butternut squash
Glug of olive oil
Few pinches smoked salt
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 butternut squash, roasted*
2 Tbsp white miso paste**
1.5 cups soy milk
1 cup water
3 Tbsp nutritional yeast
2 tsp smoked salt
1/Roast 1.5-2lb butternut squash, halved lengthwise & deseeded.
2/Cook 1lb pasta as directed (al dente recommended).
1/Add a glug of olive oil to a pot on medium-low heat. Toss in chopped onion and minced garlic. Sauté for a few minutes until onions start to become tender.
2/Add roasted butternut squash (skins, juices & any caramelized bits), miso paste, soy milk, water, nutritional yeast, and 1 tsp smoked salt to the pot. Using an immersion blender process until the mixture has a smooth consistency.
3/Add additional 1 tsp smoked salt. Process again to incorporate salt.
4/Increase stove to medium-high temperature. Cook (lid covered) for 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning if required.
Pour prepared cheese sauce over plated macaroni noodles. Top with parsley flakes and smoked salt.
*How to roast butternut squash:
-Preheat oven to 400F
-Place squash halves (skin on) on a parchment paper-lined baking tray flesh side down
-Drizzle squash halves with a little olive oil and sprinkle with smoked salt. Bake for 45 mins.
-Remove tray from oven. Use the tines of a fork to poke a few holes in the skin. Bake for another 15 mins or until tender.
-Remove from oven and let cool. You will use the entire squash (including skin, juices and any caramelized bits) in your dish so no need to scoop out the flesh.
**Miso is a Japanese seasoning made from fermenting soybeans with salt and koji (mold) that is cultivated from either rice, barley or soybean base. White miso is made from soybeans that have been fermented with rice. It has a smooth texture and slightly sweet flavour taste.
Red miso is made from soy beans, barley and other grains. It has a more mature taste so it’s very rich in umami flavour.