Macaroni and cheese (more popularly called Mac ‘N Cheese), which consists of cooked macaroni pasta and a cheese sauce, usually cheddar, may quite possibly be the most popular comfort food known to man — or at least to adults and children living in North America.
Comfort foods are called such for a reason. They provide a nostalgic or sentimental value to an individual or even an entire culture. Foods centered around starch and cheese (like pizza and Mac ‘N Cheese) are typical comfort foods — especially if such dishes were staple foods served by your mom or dad when you were growing up.
There’s a body of research which suggests that certain foods resonate with us not just because we enjoyed them in our youth, but because of our feelings toward the people — often moms and dads — who gave us the food. The research investigates the social and emotional ties we have to food consumption. We associate certain foods to the kind of care our parents or caregiver gave us during our childhood. The existence of a strong association or emotional tie to the positive care of a parent or caregiver can elevate our experience of an otherwise simple, ordinary meal.
This may be why people usually seek out comfort foods — and actually enjoy them more — when they’re feeling lonely or socially disconnected.
Curiously, comfort foods — heartwarming as they may be — are notoriously unhealthy, full of empty calories, and devoid of nutrition. Mac ‘N Cheese, for instance, has even been blamed for significantly contributing to the growth of cheese consumption in the United States — much to the detriment of people’s health.
As part of Underground Health Reporter’s Meatless Monday issue, I’m featuring a recipe for the best Mac ‘N Cheese recipe that consists of tender macaroni pasta tossed in a creamy cashew “cheese” sauce. The sauce gets its cheesy flavor from a combination of nutritional yeast, lemon juice, and salt, thereby creating a taste and texture remarkably similar to the original cheesy recipe — the ultimate comfort without the guilt! It feels like pure indulgence to eat this dish — and yet it’s vegan (contains no dairy or animal-derived ingredients). This pasta dish also become gluten-free if you serve the sauce over gluten-free noodles or cooked vegetables.
The Best Vegan Mac ‘N Cheese Ever
(Healthy and Gluten-Free, Too)
Vegan Mac ‘N Cheese Ingredients:
1½ cups raw cashews
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
¾ cup water
1½ teaspoons fine sea salt
¼ cup nutritional yeast
½ teaspoon chili powder
½ clove garlic
¼ teaspoon turmeric (optional)
pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
½ teaspoon mustard (dijon or yellow)
16 ounces Elbow or shell pasta of choice (gluten-free, if preferred)
freshly ground black pepper
paprika (for garnish and color)
Prepare the pasta according to package directions.
While the pasta is cooking, make the non-dairy “cheese” sauce by combining the cashews, lemon juice, water, salt, nutritional yeast, chili powder, garlic, turmeric (optional), cayenne (optional), and mustard in a blender and blend until silky smooth. If the mixture is too thick, add 2 to 4 more tablespoons of water and blend further.
Once the pasta is tender, drain and rinse it, then return the pasta to the pot and stir in the “cheese” sauce. Season to taste and serve warm.