Mac and Cheese for Chrissy Teigen
Chrissy, the vegan cheese game is STRONG!
Welcome to DEDICATED — a new column devoted to creating new recipes dedicated to famous people who are vegan or who seem to be considering a vegan lifestyle. Because we care!
Recently a tweet of Chrissy Teigen’s found its way onto my timeline, saying that if she became vegan she would miss cheese the most; she asserted that great strides have been made in many areas of vegan food, but cheese remains lacking.
Hearing this gives me concern — if Chrissy Teigen, a celebrity in America, can’t find good vegan cheese — what hope is there for me, living in tiny little New Zealand miles away from anywhere on the other side of the world? I’ve always thought of America as a place with an abundance of stuff, whatever you wanted, you could get. This was confirmed when I travelled there in 2012 — I marvelled at the Coca-Cola flavours I didn’t know were possible, at Sonic Drive-In actively encouraging me to personalise my order and at supermarket ingredients that I’d never heard of before — Bisquick? Aunt Jemima Butter Lite Pancake Syrup? I purchased almond butter from Whole Foods as a souvenir to take back to New Zealand with the same reverence as someone buying a postcard of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre gift shop. I wasn’t even close to being vegan in 2012, I was just super excited about affordable almond butter due to the economy of scale.
And now it’s 2019, and Chrissy Teigen can’t find good vegan cheese. Now, I don’t actually know a whole lot about her — I’m not trying to be aloof, I just don’t! — but I do know her pain. I’m a relative newcomer to being vegan, and her words resonate. For a long time I really missed halloumi, and while the cheese substitutes I’ve tried have had varying degrees of success and convincingness, there’s nevertheless a certain uninviting, waxy granular vibe to many of them.
My general approach has been to mostly avoid vegan cheese altogether, and to try and recreate the mood and texture of cheese through other means. Before this sounds too gloomy, I do love being vegan, and I found that eventually I just stopped thinking about things like halloumi — I was surprised, but it really did cease to have that power over the imagination of my tastebuds.
Nevertheless, if it’s cheese that’s holding Chrissy Teigen back from becoming vegan, then it’s obviously down to me, personally, to do something about it.
So, I made this recipe dedicated to her: mac and cheese, a god-tier comfort food, something none of us should have to go without. It’s completely vegan, but importantly, there’s no spooky fake cheese in it either. And, most important of all: it’s so delicious. If this recipe doesn’t bring her over to our side, well. That’s…completely her business and a personal choice.
But for what it’s worth, I love this mac and cheese, with its super-rich creamy sauce coating the pasta.
To be specific, this recipe isn’t pretending to be actual cheese or trying to replicate all of cheese’s properties. My aim was for it to taste like the memory of cheese, if cheese is indeed just a memory for you. I used everything in my arsenal to give the sauce body and texture and fulsome, evocative flavour — salty miso, creamy soaked cashews, savoury nutritional yeast, buttery olive oil, nutty roasted carrots, warm aromatic spices, plus a splash of whatever white wine was in my parents’ fridge for added complexity. All these components mean that the sauce has a somewhat involved method, but I personally love pottering around diligently in the kitchen, so if you’re able to, set aside your afternoon and get stuck into this comforting recipe.
Ultimate Vegan Mac and Cheese, for Chrissy
Serves 4 generously
- Four medium carrots, scrubbed but not peeled
- Four tablespoons olive oil
- ½ teaspoon salt, plus extra to taste
- One cup raw unsalted cashew nuts
- One tablespoon coconut oil
- Four tablespoons plain flour
- One heaped tablespoon white miso paste
- ¼ cup dry white wine (check the label to make sure it’s vegan)
- Two cups soy milk or your preferred plant milk — soy milk gives a particularly creamy taste and texture
- One ½ teaspoons ground nutmeg
- One teaspoon mustard powder
- Three cloves of garlic, crushed (or more to taste, I’m pretty indiscriminate about garlic quantities)
- Three tablespoons nutritional yeast
- Two teaspoons apple cider vinegar
- One vegan chicken stock or vegetable stock cube
- Three cups macaroni elbows
- Two tablespoons ground almonds (optional)
- Place cashews in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave to soak for at least an hour, then drain the water and blend the cashews thoroughly either using a stick blender or a high-speed blender.
- Set your oven to 400F. Slice the carrots roughly into sticks about half an inch wide — you’re going to blend them up so don’t worry about the size too much. Place in an oven dish with three tablespoons of the olive oil and the salt. Roast the carrots for twenty minutes, or until they’re tender and slightly browned and caramelised at the edges.
- Allow the carrots to cool slightly, then add them to the blended cashews and blitz — again, either with a stick blender or a high-speed blender — until you have a thick orange-tinted paste. If it feels like it’s not quite coming together, don’t worry, because there’s more sauce to get blended in yet.
- In a small pan, whisk the coconut oil, remaining tablespoon of olive oil, miso paste, and flour together over a low heat for a minute. Stir in the wine, followed by the soy milk a little at a time. Continue to whisk continuously until the sauce thickens — you’ll be able to feel it as you stir, but for reference it should be somewhere in the neighbourhood of a good-quality thick shake. Remove from the heat, and stir in the nutmeg, mustard, garlic and nutritional yeast.
- Add this sauce to the carrot-cashew mix along with the apple cider vinegar and blend it thoroughly. Taste to see if it needs further salt or other seasoning — I find a pinch extra of salt helps at this point.
- Bring a large pan of water to the boil — I like to boil the kettle first and then pour it into the pan because it feels quicker even if it’s not — and dissolve the stock cube in it. Cook the macaroni in the boiling water, stirring occasionally, until it’s tender (this always seems to take precisely twelve minutes for me but it will depend on your pasta.) Remove around half a cup of the pasta cooking liquid and stir it into the sauce — the starchiness of it helps to make the sauce particularly smooth and creamy — then drain the macaroni thoroughly.
- Finally! Fold the cooked pasta into the sauce, and either serve immediately, or if you like, spread it into an oven dish (I used the same one that I’d roasted the carrots in to save on dishes), sprinkle with the ground almonds and drizzle with some extra olive oil, then bake at about 400F for twenty minutes or until golden on top. It’s much creamier and saucier if you serve it without baking, but it tastes great either way.
If not serving this immediately, I recommend keeping the sauce in an airtight container in the fridge, then cooking the pasta just before you serve it, stirring the half cup of pasta cooking water into the sauce at this point. It still tastes great if you make it fully, refrigerate it, and then reheat it later, but it’s a lot less saucy.
If you can get hold of some white truffle oil, a couple of drops in the sauce will take it to the next level of luxurious.
Taste as you go to see if you think it needs more of anything! Trust your own tastebuds.
If you don’t have a stick blender or high speed blender, a regular blender will work, as will a food processor, but the results may not be as velvety. It will all still be delicious though!