Not Exactly From Scratch Vegan Mac ‘n’ Cheese

Our story begins with a sniffly child in need of comfort (not the plague! We tested) and a mom sprouting a migraine halo. This situation led to us deciding on a low-key movie evening, and the child asked for mac ‘n’ cheese. Not having in me to cook, I called our trusty food deliverance app and ordered the famous vegan mac from Homeroom. We were foiled, however, as it took them about an hour to find a delivery driver, and the child’s need for comfort was growing more urgent and weepy by the moment.

Rather than spend precious minutes listening to muzak on customer support, I took matters into my own hands. We had all kinds of awesome dairy alternatives in the fridge, so I improvised, and used Banza in lieu of semolina pasta to bring some nutrition (protein, fiber) into the situation. It turned out pretty good, if I may say so, and we immediately tucked in. A few minutes later, a delightful and very apologetic delivery driver showed up with the restaurant version. Rio ruled Ima’s version better than the restaurant’s (and I trust him, as I don’t think he has already learned to lie for social convenience)! Upon Chad’s return home, I administered a blind tasting test to Chad and he, too, declared my version superior to Homeroom’s, which is high praise.

Chad opining on the relative virtues of the two dishes

To make a long story short, if you find yourself in dire straits, have some Miyoko’s products lying around, and want to be your own hero, here’s how I did it:

Ingredients

  • 1 package Banza pasta
  • 1 tsp Miyoko’s cultured butter
  • 2-3 tbsp Miyoko’s liquid mozzarella
  • 1/3 cup Ripple plant milk – unsweetened
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg

salt, pepper, onion flakes, and garlic powder to taste

Cook Banza pasta according to instructions–get it somewhere between al dente and al denture (it’s children comfort food, not an effort to evoke a Tuscan gourmet experience.) Strain and immediately return to the pot. Add all other ingredients, mix well, and cook a bit on low heat until the fake dairy thickens and becomes gooey and delicious. Taste to fix the spices and flavors (you might need a smidgeon more salt and pepper) and serve.

I bet smoked paprika, some turmeric, and a few extra nutritional yeast flakes would make this yellower and tastier, but the child prefers his comfort dishes bland. You, of course, are free of such constraints, so enjoy!

Einkorn Tortellini and Ravioli

About a year ago, my colleagues Dario Melossi and Máximo Sozzo invited me to an academic workshop in Bologna, and I had a fantastic time! We talked about the political economy of punishment and, in the evenings, I took in art films in Piazza Maggiore, the historical town square, enjoyed a superb opera mini-production at the Basilica di San Petronio, perused the wonderful bookstores, and enjoyed the phenomenal university museums (I have especially vivid memories from this terrific exhibit about the colonization of African art.) And, of course, we ate a lot, because Bologna is as much a food town as it is a university town. One of the restaurants near my hotel bore the sign “sempre aperto,” which seemed apt for the entire city–fresh pasta available at any moment. The tortellini, a city specialty, were especially wonderful, though it was quite a challenge to find vegan pasta! I had the good fortune to take two wonderful pasta-making workshops, one with hilarious and energetic restaurateur Antonio and the other with cosmopolitan and compassionate Sara, and could not wait to get home and veganize the recipes.

This took a bit longer than expected, because of kid and job, but today I decided to finally do it. These are not 100% faithful to the traditional recipe. For one thing, they are vegan (the traditional recipe is 100g flour per 1 egg); for another, the fillings are my versions for the tasty treats I ate there. And, importantly, I did not use the recommended “tipo 00” pastry flour, but whole grain einkorn flour.

Forget what you know about horribly-textured whole-wheat pasta; einkorn works wonderfully in this recipe. The flour came from Bluebird Grain Farms. I picked it because it had low gluten content, and therefore would be better in this sort of recipe than as a standalone in a sourdough loaf (I’ll mix it with something more gluten-filled, like rye or bread flour, when I make a loaf.) It turned out fantastic–nutty, complex flavors, fresh and delicious fillings, and lots of leftovers that freeze well. I made two versions – it’s a little more difficult to make the tortellini, but you pick up dexterity as you go along.

I made these as a nice vehicle for the new shiitake mushrooms that are popping out of my mini-farm. I’m growing four different kinds of edible mushrooms in our downstairs bathroom from kits by Far West Fungi and it’s one of the most enjoyable homegrown food projects I’ve done. We’re fascinated by the process and the mushrooms are incredibly fresh and flavorful. This is not a quick thing to make, but it’s very gratifying. Be your own hero and give it a try!

Dough

  • 300g whole einkorn flour
  • 150g water
  • 2 1/2 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Place flour and salt in a large bowl; shape a hill and make a well in the middle. Drizzle the water and olive oil in the middle, gradually pinching in more and more of the flour. When the dry and wet ingredients are mixed, knead for about five minutes. You’ll have a beautiful, smooth, pliable and stretchy ball of dough. Wrap in foil, or in an eco bag, and place in fridge for at least half an hour.

Filling 1: Shiitakes

  • 3 cups fresh mushrooms–I used shiitake
  • 1/4 white onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp mushroom powder (Trader Joe’s makes a nice product–any brand would do, or you can omit this entirely)
  • 1/2 tsp truffle salt
  • 2 tbsp Miyoko’s cream cheese (plain) or other nut cheese

Place mushrooms, onion, and garlic in a food processor bowl and process to break into little bits. Heat up olive oil in a pan and add the processed mushroom mixture. Add mushroom powder and truffle salt. Sauté for about 5-7 minutes, or until the mushrooms are cooked and the whole thing tastes wonderful. Transfer to mixing bowl and refrigerate. Once it cools, mix with cream cheese.

Filling 2: Kale

  • 1 package (approx. 10 large leaves) kale
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp Bitchin’ Sauce or other spicy nut cheese

Remove kale stems and place leaves in food processor bowl. Process to break into tiny bits. Heat up olive oil and sauté garlic for 30 seconds. Add the kale and sauté for 5-7 mins, until soft. Transfer to mixing bowl and refrigerate. Once it cools, mix with Bitchin’ Sauce or any nut cheese you like. If you only have plain, you can season it to taste.

Assembly

Get dough ball out of the fridge and prepare a large floured surface and a roller pin. Divide ball into two halves. Roll one half very thin and slice into 2 1/2-inch squares. Gently spoon about 1/2 tsp of shiitake filling in the middle, fold diagonally into a triangle and press ends. Now, wrap the two bottom corners of the triangle around your finger, like a ring, and press together. That’s the traditional tortellini shape. Keep going until you’re out of dough/filling.

Now, roll the other half of the dough very thin and, with a regular-sized mason jar, cut circles. Gently spoon 1/2 tsp of kale filling in the middle, fold down the middle into a half circle, press the circumference, and gently press in a fork to create cute ridges. Refrigerate (or freeze).

Cooking

Boil water in a middle-sized pot. When water reaches a rolling boil, gently place pasta in the water. Allow to cook 3-4 minutes or until the pasta floats, then remove with a slotted spoon. Serve with a light cashew cream sauce, Bitchin’ Sauce, or just olive oil and garlic.

Ramen Primavera

In the early days of shelter-in-place, our trusty vegetable providers had to reorganize their route to accommodate the unreasonable volume of orders. As a consequence, I had to rely on frozen veg and pantry items quite a bit, but I did have some brussels sprouts! This is how the Ramen Primavera, which fed us and some neighbors via socially-distant doorstep delivery, was born. You can obviously improvise with whatever you have at home.

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 lb brussels sprouts
  • 1 bag frozen corn
  • 1 bag frozen peas
  • 1/2 onion
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 package ramen noodles (I like this fancy kind or this green kind with Moroheiya.)

preparation

Heat up the olive oil in a wok. Slice brussels sprouts into quarters lengthwise and throw in. Sauté for five minutes. While you do, mince the onion and garlic and add them. Then, add the spices (onion powder, soy sauce, yeast) and the water. When the water starts bubbling, add the frozen veg. Cook for about 10-15 mins, or until the brussels sprouts are soft but not mushy. In a separate pot, cook the ramen noodles in water according to instructions. Strain. Add the cooked noodles to the veg mix and toss around to coat with the dressing.

Pasta Puttanesca

Here’s a nice, simple dinner–pasta with puttanesca sauce–for which you likely don’t even need a recipe, and the only reason to post about this is that it makes a good example of how to take an old favorite and make it more nutritious.

I’ve always loved puttanesca sauce–a spicy tomato sauce–and it retains its wonderful flavor without adding anchovies. I add olives in addition to capers, and to increase the mineral content of the meal, a 1/2 cup of sliced fresh mushrooms that cooked with the sauce and made it chunky and delicious. What else is in there? strained tomatoes, garlic cloves, thinly sliced onions, dried herbs of various kinds, and half of a serrano pepper.

These days I favor lentil pasta. I don’t eat it frequently (it’s expensive, and why not simply eat lentils?) but it’s a nice once-in-a-while treat. It certainly packs more of a nutritional punch than the wheat equivalent (lots of protein and iron.)

And finally, more protein and some B12 via my vegan parmesan (macadamia nuts, nutritional yeast, garlic powder and salt). Some nutritional yeast brands add B12 to their formulas, which is great!

Bon appetit!