Being Vegan and Loving Mac ‘N’ Cheese

When I first decided to go vegan, my best friend Jenna reacted with the following statement: “But you love cheese!” And I really did love cheese before I went vegan. The problem was that cheese didn’t like me so much and I didn’t really like the idea of eating cheese. After two years of a vegan lifestyle, I still miss crave something cheesy every once in a while.

During my most recent cheese craving, I visited The Earthen Jar, a favorite vegetarian spot in Ann Arbor, hoping for a plate of their vegan macaroni and cheese. For creATE readers who aren’t familiar with Ann Arbor’s Earthen Jar, it’s a fantastic hole-in-the-wall mostly vegan establishment that serves buffet-style Indian cuisine. Not only can visitors to the Earthen Jar sample dozens of delicious Indian entrees, but Earthen Jar always has sautéed and scrambled tofu, vegan cookies, and, most importantly, vegan macaroni and “cheese.” My only problem was that the last time I went to Earthen Jar they were out of mac and cheese.

I’ve been craving vegan macaroni and cheese ever sine that trip, and, now that I have a real food processor, I finally felt like I’d be able to cook up–and blend–a decent vegan cheese sauce. The recipe I used was a combination of the vegan macaroni and cheese recipes from my favorite vegan cookbook, Vegan Planet by Robin Robertson, and a recipe my friend Gabe makes at his co-op. This recipe called for nutritional yeast, a deactivated form of yeast, is very different from active yeast, which is used in baking.

As discussed in my last creATE post, Adventures With Sourdough, active dry yeast, the type of yeast most commonly used for baking breads, is nearly devoid of all nutrients. While active dry yeast can make your bread rise, if you eat it raw, it will live in your intestinal track and suck nutrients out of your body. Nutritional yeast, in contrast, is pasteurized and dried so the actual living yeast is killed, and what remains is a vegan superfood (when consumed in moderate quantities). Below are the nutrition facts for 2 heaping tablespoons of Red Star (http://www.bulkfoods.com/nutritional_yeast.htm) nutritional yeast flakes:

Calories: 60

Total fat: 1 g

Cholesterol: 0 mg

Sodium: 5 mg

Total Carbohydrate: 7 g

Fiber: 4 g

Protein: 8 g

Vitamins and minerals (as percentages of Daily Value recommendations):

Thiamin (B1): 640%

Riboflavin (B2): 565%

Niacin: 280%

Vitamin B6: 480%

Folic Acid: 60%

Vitamin B12: 133%

Nutritional yeast also contains chromium and selenium, trace minerals important in regulating blood sugar levels.

Besides providing an excellent source of nutrients that vegans often have trouble obtaining from plant foods, nutritional yeast also tastes cheesy. It can be used as a flavorful topping to popcorn, pastas, burgers, or pizzas, or can be baked into casseroles where cheese might be lacking.

Here’s the recipe I ended up using for my vegan macaroni and cheese:

8 oz (1/2 box) elbow macaroni

1 tbsp olive oil

1 large yellow onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups soymilk

1 12-oz. package soft silken tofu, drained

1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

1 cup nutritional yeast flakes

1 tbsp. spicy mustard

2 tbsp. Italian seasoning blend (includes basil, oregano, rosemary, and thyme)

salt and pepper

1 cup bread crumbs (homemade is best!)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cook elbow macaroni according to package instructions. Drain, rinse, and set aside in a large bowl.

In a medium frying pan, sa http://www.foodsubs.com/LeavenYeast.html uteé onions and garlic until onions are tender.

In a food processor, combine onions and garlic, soymilk, tofu, lemon juice, nutritional yeast flakes, spicy mustard, and seasonings. Blend until smooth. Pour mixture over macaroni noodles and stir to mix evenly. Spread noodles and sauce evenly into a lightly oiled 9×13-inch baking pan. Top with breadcrumbs.

Bake covered for about 25 minutes, or until hot and bubbly. Uncover and bake 10 more minutes for crispy, golden brown breadcrumbs. Enjoy!

Website about nutritional yeast:

Bulk Foods http://www.bulkfoods.com/yeast.htm

Sundance Foods http://www.efn.org/~sundance/NutritionalYeast.html

Best Natural Foods http://www.bestnaturalfoods.com/nutritional_yeast.html

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