Baked Mac Cheese and Spinach

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Is there anyone in this world that doesn’t love mac n’ cheese?  Seriously though…anyone?

I didn’t think so.

I like to think back on the different phases of mac n’ cheese in my life.  Phase 1: Kraft mac n’ cheese.  Like most of my generation, I grew up eating that stuff.  Everyone else loved the fun shapes (like Ninja Turtles and Scooby Doo) but the spirals were my favorite.  I remember one day my mom made baked mac n’ cheese for dinner.  I was disappointed because I wanted “real” mac n’ cheese…you know, the stuff from a box.  Oy vey

Phase 2: Finally appreciating baked mac n’ cheese.  Before being diagnosed with IBS, I had a rather unhealthy obsession with cheese.  I remember requesting that my mom throw every kind of cheese we had into that baking dish.  From American slices, to squeeze cheese, to velveeta…it was one gooey collaboration.

Phase 3: Mourning the loss of mac n’ cheese.  After being diagnosed with IBS and eventually going vegan, I took one for the team and accepted that it would be a thing of the past.  On the plus side, after going without dairy for so long, the thought of chewing and swallowing food so drenched in fatty fermented breast milk from another species actually became rather nauseating.

Phase 4: Vegan mac n’ cheese!  After being vegan for about a year, I set out on a quest to perfect vegan mac n’ cheese.  And by perfect, I don’t mean make it taste exactly identical to its dairy original.  I mean bake a cheesy macy meal that is so to die for that I would have to sing from the mountain tops and give thanks to the casserole gods that blessed me with such a divine intuition that resulted in the most heavenly of meals! ….

You know what?  I’m pretty darn close.  I’ve come up with a few mac n’ cheese recipes that I’m rather pleased with.  The one that I’m sharing with you today is the least original of those recipes, but it is easy and well liked.  This recipe is an adaptation of Zsu Dever’s Baked Macaroni and Cheese from her book Everyday Vegan Eats.  I became familiar with this recipe after seeing it shared on Cadry’s Kitchen.  Zsu has a vegan recipe blog called Zsu’s Vegan Pantry.  This is a fun and easy to follow blog with some seriously good food photography, and recipes and ideas for vegan meal planning.  When I first tried this recipe, my thoughts were that it was so close to what I wanted it to be, that I immediately made another batch with a few changes.  The use of jarred pimentos gives the cheese sauce a sharp and briney flavor, and vegan cream cheese makes it creamy and slightly rich. (Pimentos are a type of sweet red pepper that are often sold diced and jarred near the pickles at the grocery store.)

Happy Memorial Day!

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Baked Mac Cheese and Spinach

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces pasta
  • 3 cups torn spinach leaves
  • 1 1/4 cup unsweetened non dairy milk (quinoa milk works great in this recipe!), divided
  • 1/2 cup vegan cream cheese
  • 1 tablespoon diced jarred pimientos
  • 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • dash turmeric
  • 2 tablespoons earth balance margarine
  • 5 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until 1 minute shy of al dente. Drain and transfer to an 8×8 baking dish.  Toss in the spinach and set aside.
2. Blend 1 cup of milk, cream cheese, pimientos, yeast, salt, onion, paprika, and turmeric in a blender until smooth.   Add more paprika if desired for color, and blend until combined.  Set aside.
3. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring, until the flour smells nutty, about 3 minutes.  The “roux” is very crumby.  Keep stirring to prevent burning.
4. Transfer the cooked flour to the blender with the milk mixture.  Blend until smooth and return to the pan. Stir in the rest of the milk  and the water, and whisk to combine.
5. Bring the sauce to a boil and reduce to a simmer, whisking frequently to prevent clumping and burning  of the flour. Stir in the vinegar and soy sauce. Simmer for 2 minutes to thicken.
6. Add about 2 cups of the sauce to the pasta. Mix well.  Pour the remaining sauce over the pasta, as evenly as possible
7. Bake 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, set aside to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

 

 

 

5 thoughts on “Baked Mac Cheese and Spinach

  1. That’s so funny about wanting “real” mac and cheese – the kind from a box! I remember being the same way about soup when I was a kid. If it was homemade and not Campbell’s, I was very disappointed. Your mac and cheese looks delicious! I’m so much bigger of a fan of vegan mac and cheese than I ever was of the dairy based kind.

    1. This is an interesting thought – as kids we’re so exposed to overly processed and packaged foods that we consider it the “real” stuff, and as adults so many people will consider the homemade vegan versions of things the “fake” stuff. One of my favorite things about vegan mac n cheese is that there are so many different ways to do it – so many different types of cheese sauces, and so many unique flavorings to make it what it is.

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