Easy Vegan Mac & Cheez (With Hidden Veggies)
In true nutritionist fashion, I tend to turn a blind eye to traditional comfort foods. As long as I keep whole, minimally processed ingredients stocked in my kitchen and pantry at all times, I feel mostly unaffected by temptation (also why I try to never grocery shop hungry).
However, from time to time, my husband and I will take off on a camping trip where we indulge in some of our childhood favorites: boxed mac and cheese, pancakes (using Bob's Red Mill buckwheat mix because it's freaking fantastic and also pretty wholesome), breakfast sausage (I opt for mini maple veggie links), and others of the like.
And then a few weeks later, a craving will hit and I have to decide whether or not it's worth bringing some of those nostalgic treats into our real life where the risk of developing a "habit" is much greater.
Recently, I decided to try a veggie-infused cheez sauce for my pasta that would feel totally guilt-free and actually more like a healthy, balanced meal. I knew cashew milk would be the base because of the richly nourishing benefits of cashews, but expanded on it using two veggies that have a pretty subtle flavor and blend up to a smooth, creamy consistency (not to mention also make the perfect yellowy-orange color of traditional boxed mac): carrot and cauliflower.
I became hooked on blended cauliflower when I started adding it to my smoothies to cut down on bananas for reduced sugar intake, and knew that it would make the perfect addition. Carrots have also been making an appearance in nacho cheez lately, and I figured I'd give it a try.
Lo and behold, the cheez turned out creamier and more indulgent than I imagined, all with some pretty spectacular health benefits. And when served with a protein-packed gluten-free pasta, you really can justify eating a bowl of this for dinner and calling it a day.
Makes 2 servings.
3/4 cup chopped carrot (about 1 large carrot) scrubbed clean, no need to peel
3/4 cup frozen or fresh cauliflower florets
1/4 cup filtered water
1 cup creamy cashew milk*
2 Tbs nutritional yeast
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp salt, or more to taste
Pinch freshly cracked black pepper
For serving: 12 oz - 1 lb dry pasta**
1. Add the chopped carrot, cauliflower florets, and filtered water to a small saucepan. Simmer over medium heat, covered, until the carrots are fork-tender or can be easily broken apart with a wooden spoon (about 8-10 minutes).
2. While the veggies are cooking, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil and cook pasta to al dente according to package instructions.
3. Add the cashew milk, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, apple cider vinegar, salt & pepper to a high-powered blender. When the veggies are tender and most of the water is gone, add them to the blender. Blend all ingredients together until extremely smooth, about 1-2 minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides of the blender if needed. Taste the sauce, and adjust for salt, pepper, garlic, or vinegar as needed. To thin out the sauce if it is too thick, add a splash of hot water or cashew milk, and blend again.
4. When the pasta is cooked to your liking, drain and return to the pot. Pour the cheez sauce over the noodles, and stir to evenly coat. Top with extra freshly cracked black pepper if desired. Enjoy!
*I always prefer to use homemade nut / seed milks as opposed to store-bought to reduce intake of gums and thickeners commonly found in store-bought plant milks. However, if you find a brand that you like and trust, feel free to use in it's place here, although be cautioned the sauce may not turn out as thick and creamy.
**For reaallllyyy saucy mac and cheez, use 12 ounces of pasta. For a less sauce-coated mac and cheez, use 1 lb of pasta.
***If you don't have a high-powered (or any) blender, you can use an inversion / hand blender instead. Just add all sauce ingredients to the saucepan with the carrots and cauliflower, turn off the heat, and blend them together using your hand blender until extremely smooth and creamy.
One serving of this sauce contains....
9g of Protein -- build and repair tissues, create enzymes and hormones needed for daily function
22% daily value (DV) of Fiber -- supports detoxification and regular elimination
190% DV Vitamin A -- antioxidant, eye health, reproduction, immune health
250% DV Vitamin B6 -- boost mood, immune system function, balance blood sugar
280% DV Vitamin B2 -- antioxidant, healthy metabolism, boosts energy
300% DV Vitamin B1 -- necessary for a healthy nervous system, brain health and longevity
60% DV Vitamin B12 -- maintains the integrity of blood cell and nerve cell health
25% DV Copper -- anti-aging and prevents grey hair / hair loss