By Aylin Erman, EcoSalon
A childhood favorite revamped.
There’s something incredibly nostalgic about macaroni and cheese. Even if you rarely ate the meal as a kid, you most certainly recognized the commercials for the box brands and knew what it was. For me, mac & cheese was an after-school staple, a weekend lunch, a quick dinner that never fell short of filling the carb and cheese quota I necessitated as a youngster.
But it’s no nutritional powerhouse. Sure, advertisements can skirt the overall lack of nutrition with a “high in calcium!” banner, but last time I checked, just because something includes dairy ( e.g. ice cream, crème brûlée, pizza) doesn’t mean it’s a nourishing and balanced meal. Across the board – in both store-bought and homemade versions of it– macaroni and cheese has a lot of room for improvement in terms of nutritional benefit.
Using Kraft Macaroni & Cheese as an example, box brands include the likes of whey, milkfat, milk protein concentrate, salt, sodium tripolyphosphate, citric acid, sodium phosphate, lactic acid, milk, calcium phosphate, yellow 5, yellow 6, cheese culture, and enzymes. Artificial coloring and preservatives prevent the assimilation of nutrients and with often over 500 milligrams of sodium, box brands are blood pressure’s natural nemesis.
And while homemade macaroni and cheese both is better for you and can cut the sodium, enzymes and preservatives from the mix, the classic recipe made from scratch will include the following: white pasta, butter, plain white flour, milk, and grated cheese. White flour is essentially the result of having stripped everything useful from wheat, adding synthetic vitamins, and bleaching it. The vitamins in white flour are toxic, and because the flour is devoid of fiber, it passes slowly through the intestine, giving more time for the body to absorb the toxicities. The bleaching process also increases the flour’s gluten content. Additionally, the butter and cheese are by no means used scantily in homemade macaroni and cheese, so you can be sure the result is high in artery-clogging saturated fat, sodium, and the hard-to-digest animal milk protein, casein. To say the least, homemade macaroni and cheese is also no poster child for health.
Today, it’s hard to justify eating macaroni and cheese when little is to be gained (except for taste, of course). I’m all about eating what gives you pleasure, and if you are craving little white flour noodles flavored with powdered cheese every now and then, don’t hesitate to dig in! But there are times when the conscience outweighs the desire and when part of me wishes there were a healthier alternative. So, I created one.
This recipe is a vegan version of macaroni and cheese. The cheese has a sweet potato base. Skeptical? I was too until I tried it. The sweet potato is baked and mixed with mustard and nutritional yeast to give it the “cheesy” taste. Nutritional yeast is one of those ingredients that has changed my life. It’s the only plant-based source of vitamin B12, which is music to vegans’ ears. It is super versatile and one of the few ways to match the taste of cheese without using dairy. Combining the “cheese” with whole-grain or whole-wheat pasta, the result is a rich, satisfying macaroni and cheese experience, without the food baby to show for it.
Whole-Wheat Macaroni & Sweet Potato Cheese
- 1 cup of cooked noodles (according to package instructions)
- 1/2 baked sweet potato
- 1/4 tsp mustard
- Juice of half a lemon
- 1 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder
- Dash of salt
- Dash of freshly ground pepper
- 1 tbsp of nutritional yeast and 1/2 tbsp of olive oil for crust
In a medium-sized bowl combine the sweet potato half, juice of half a lemon, mustard, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, olive oil and salt and pepper. Mix until thoroughly combined.
Fold 1 cup of cooked noodles into the sweet potato “cheese”.
Place the mixture into a serving-size baking dish.
Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of nutritional yeast over the dish and drizzle with 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil. This will allow the top to crisp while cooking.
Bake in the oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes, or until the top begins to brown. Serve and enjoy!
The result is super soft and creamy. Its flavors satisfy the sweet, salty, sour and bitter taste buds, making it a decidedly complete dish without you craving anything else, except for maybe more of what you just ate!
Aylin Erman currently resides in Istanbul and is creator of plant-based recipe website GlowKitchen.
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