Mac and cheese is one of those comfort foods we all grew up on. Whether it came from a box or your parents whipped it up from scratch, there’s no denying the pleasure that comes from a forkful of cheesy, fatty, salty goodness. But it turns out vegan mac and cheese packs tons of flavor too (and tons of veggies)!
What’s the deal with cheese?
As it turns out, there’s a reason we crave cheese. Cheese contains casein, a protein found in milk, as well as casein fragments called casomorphins. In turn, the brain releases dopamine to encourage us to eat more cheese, despite how it might make us feel – heavy, bloated, and sluggish.
Many of us are unaware of how cheese affects our bodies because we eat it all the time. On the 21-Day Program, we avoid dairy products to relieve the burden on the digestive system and make a connection between the foods we eat and how we feel. Luckily, passing on your mom’s famous mac and cheese while on the Cleanse doesn’t mean you have to swear it off altogether. It’s entirely possible to make a plant-based version of your favorite comfort food that will leave you feeling light, nourished, and energized.
Plant-based “cheese” sauce
Anyone who appreciates a well-curated cheese board knows there’s nothing quite like the “real” thing. However, if you can slightly adjust your expectations, you just might find this veggie-based sauce a completely satisfying alternative. The base of this “cheese” sauce is made with tahini – a creamy paste made from toasted and ground sesame seeds. Tahini is light and nutty in flavor and is full of anti-inflammatory monosaturated fats. It’s also a fantastic source of calcium and B vitamins and is a better protein source than most nuts. Because of its high alkaline mineral content, tahini is easy for the body to digest, which further supports the detoxification process.
The remainder of the ingredients in this “cheese” sauce might seem like a strange combination, but the flavor is spot on. Butternut squash offers both nutrients the authentic orange-ish color we look for in mac and cheese, while nutritional yeast and dijon mustard offer the perfect amount of tang. Blend until creamy and smooth, then pour over gluten-free pasta (we choose a quinoa/brown rice blend) for a homemade meal that’s as every bit comforting as the dish you grew up on.
Vegan Mac & Cheese
4 cups of Cleanse-approved vegetables, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
Pinch of salt and black pepper
For the “cheese” sauce:
2 cups butternut squash, cubed
1 cup cauliflower florets
⅓ cup sweet onion, peeled and chopped
1½ cups water
¼ cup raw cashews
¼ cup tahini
1½ tablespoons nutritional yeast
1½ teaspoons salt
1 garlic clove, minced
½ teaspoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice
¼ teaspoon black pepper
8 oz. brown rice or quinoa pasta
Preheat your oven to 400F degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spill the chopped vegetables onto the baking sheet and toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes, until the veggies are caramelized and tender.
Meanwhile, make the “cheese” sauce. Combine the butternut squash, cauliflower, onion, cashews, and water in a stockpot. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook until the veggies are very soft, about 15 minutes.
Pour the contents of the pot (including any leftover water) into a blender along with the tahini, salt, garlic, dijon mustard, lemon juice, and black pepper. Blend until creamy and smooth, about a minute. Adjust flavors to taste.
Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain, rinse and return the noodles to the pot. Pour the “cheese” sauce over the pasta and stir to coat. Add the roasted veggies to the bowl and stir to combine.
Divide the tahini mac & cheese between four bowls and enjoy warm.
Recipe and photography by Kate Kasbee
If you like this recipe, you might also like Butternut squash mac and cheese