Another cozy meal for you. Built by yours truly, this cheesy, non-dairy mac n' cheese has the perfect amount of subtly sweet, sour, and savoury flavours, with the surprise crunch of delicious salt and pepper tofu cubes. Which, on their own, are a fantastic vegan party snack. Not that you likely have vegan parties very often - but if you do, I really hope I'm invited. Especially if you're cooking crispy tofu bites.
The fresh cracked black peppercorns over the tofu cubes really do make a world of a difference. I can't believe I ate food without fresh cracked sea salt and fresh cracked pepper, ever. If you don't have a salt and pepper mill, I'd invest the few dollars. It is a total game changer
The trick to making the perfect vegan "cheeze" is to select a nice creamy base. Some vegan cheese recipes use raw soaked cashews, which do taste fresh and fabulous. I've also made a low-fat version with just carrots and cauliflower blended into a sauce with Bob's Red Mill Nutritional Yeast and spices. However, I recently came off a Daiya Mac N Cheese kick, and I wanted to amp things up with those flavours as my foundation. I also added coconut milk since I had an open can lying around from making the Pretty Little Pomegranate Parfait earlier in the day. Dare you to check out THAT doozy.
Melting and not burning Daiya slices was my first trick, which I did with success. May I also introduce you to my little friend "Melt". It's a plant-based, non-margarine butter substitute. With hints of coconut oil and nothing else, it hasn't got the fake butter taste of Earth Balance, which, to be honest, I simply cannot stand. It's easily spreadable, and serves as a healthier alternative to plain margarine in terms of the lack of cholesterol and milk solids. So, into the pot goes the "Melt", to help melt my Daiya cheese into one gooey mess of "not-cheese".
I took advantage of the "not-sales" on pumpkin at Halloween this year at the farmer's market, and bought myself a 3-pound spaghetti squash. As to not grow tired of roasted squash and pumpkin, I decided to blend some roasted cubes of the same into this "cheezy" sauce. The result was fantastic, tasted just slightly sweet and thinned out the goopy texture of Daiya, not to mention added a decent serving of vitamin A. Go Dietitian! Winning so far.
My dear mama always made a beautiful homemade Baked Mac and Cheese recipe, but it used copious amounts of Singles cheese. Not being partial to dairy anymore, but desiring the comforts of home, I knew there was one more thing to add. A sprinkle of crunchy Panko crumbs, browned to perfection in the oven. To make sure it stuck to the mac and cheese, I used a teaspoon of melted, well, MELT, and some more nutritional yeast to tie in the flavours.
This was my first experience using a Ninja. Holy smokes, that thing is scary-looking! And scary-sounding. I thought I was winning still until I nicked my finger on one of the blades as I was cleaning up. Bri - 0, Ninja - 1.
Now one thumb less useful than before, I had the task of garnishing and then photographing my creations. Good thing I brought my camera tripod to Canmore with me.
Toppings of choice? The simple tofu cubes... which, to my surprise, stayed crispy throughout my munching. Of course, I can't say no to a generous handful of fresh cilantro. I suppose basil would pair nicely as well for those who don't have the "I love cilatro" gene, and instead, have the "I hate cilantro" gene. No offense taken ;) ...all the love and all the basil to you.
Okay, ready for an enormous helping of your new fave "mac n' cheeze"? YES PLEASE.
Baked Vegan Mac N Cheese with Freshly Cracked Peppered Tofu cubes
1 cup uncooked whole grain fusilli
1 cup spaghetti squash and/or pumpkin, diced into small pieces
2 tsp olive oil
2 tbsp Melt or other vegan butter substitute
1 package vegan Daiya cheese or 220 grams of other vegan cheese
2 tsp low sodium soy sauce or tamari or coconut aminos
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup Nutritional yeast
2 tbsp full fat canned coconut milk
3 tbsp canola oil
1/2 pack extra firm organic tofu, pressed
Fresh cracked salt and pepper
1/4 cup Panko crumbs
1 tbsp Nutritional yeast
1 tsp Melt or other vegan butter substitute
1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro or basil
Preheat oven to 400 F. Roast the pumpkin and squash cubes tossed in olive oil in a baking dish with parchment paper for about 20 minutes. While you wait, cook the pasta (about 12 minutes or until al dente) and melt the Daiya cheese in 2 tbsp of the "Melt" spread in a saucepan. Add the soy sauce, 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the nutritional yeast and 2 tbsp coconut fat, and whisk vigorously on medium heat until melted. Do not burn!
Remove the squash and pumpkin from the oven when done (keep the oven on for baking the final product), and place in a high-powered blender. Blend with the cheese sauce until smooth and creamy.
Drain the water from the pasta when done, then stir in the cheese sauce. Spoon into an oven-safe dish, and then stir together the Panko crumbs, remaining (melted) Melt, and nutritional yeast. Sprinkle the crumbs on top of the pasta and bake at 400 F for 3 to 5 minutes or until the crumbs have browned just a bit.
Sprinkle your choice of garnish on top - including the tofu cubes, cooked as directed below!
You can start frying the tofu while everything else cooks, but be careful not to burn. Toss the pressed tofu in a pan with the heated canola oil at medium-high heat. Shake the pan occasionally to brown all sides. When they have browned sufficiently to your taste, remove from heat and pat dry in a paper towel. Transfer to a bowl and toss with fresh cracked salt and pepper to taste. Serve atop the Mac and Cheese if desired.
For more savoury, filling plant-based supper ideas, see the Recipes page!
Comment below to let me know how this recipe went for you! What toppings do you like on your Mac and Cheese? Basil? Jalapenos? Pesto? The sky's the limit!