This one’s for my very good friend Scott. Looove youuu…even though you don’t have a soul.
[So a while ago, I decided that it would be a good idea to go to South Africa (note: it’s always a good idea to go to South Africa). I travelled with 20 other students, and we spent three weeks in Cape Town learning from South Africa students and entrepreneurs alike, and providing entrepreneurial consulting in the townships. We then spent a week near Durban volunteering at an orphanage.
My heart’s still there.
Among other exploits, I learned that being confrontational, as is my wont, isn’t the best way to convince people that veganism is the best thing ever. The best way is to cook for people!
Because vegan food is awesome!
And since then, this has proven true. My friend Ben even said something in a recent email like ‘…and Meaghan’s curiously delicious vegan food.’ Some vegetarians from that group have gone vegan, and some omnivores have gone veg. Everyone wins!]
So back to mac and cheese. And Scott. Scott’s eating half vegan for a couple weeks, and that’s awesome. In our discussions about it today, he asked about a cheese substitute, and I gave the Daiya/Sheese (which I’ve not yet tried…) or cheese sauce advice.
I offered to post this recipe, to which Scott’s reply was a resounding ‘YES.’
You should be so excited. I worked a few weeks on this recipe—basically my adaption of Chreese® by Edward & Sons™. Chreese, I love you and your convenience, but paying shipping that costs 142% of the actual product that I’m buying just isn’t sustainable, and you didn’t have any 5 lb. bags at the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival this year, forcing me to concoct my own version of your recipe. Silly Californians.
This recipe scales very well, so feel free to make it in large quantities to keep around to add to a cheese sauce whenever the mood strikes you. It’s sort of like their cheddar-flavoured chreese, but everyone knows that it’s really just nutch-flavoured. It goes well anywhere that a traditional, not-too-fancy cheddar sauce would otherwise.
I’m giving you both a recipe for basic mac+cheese (to which Ryan and I now almost always add peas—after the habits of the wonderful family of four boys whom I’ve sat for years—and call ‘macnchreesenpeas’ all in one breath) and a casserole, in the spirit of ubuntu.
I usually make half a pound of pasta for Ryan and me when we’re really hungry, so the powder and cheese sauce amounts are for two. For casserole, double this and use a pound of pasta.
Since I dedicated last post’s Spinach-Artichoke Dip to John, also of the South Africa crew, this is the next in what I’m sure will become a running series of SA dedications. Like something else that John got first, then Scott…
Serves: 2 (5-10 at a potluck!) (casserole is double the powder/sauce and serves 4)
To make the powder, first grind the achiote seeds in a spice-designated coffee grinder or mortar and pestle.
Achiote seeds, also known as annatto seeds, and little red guys that turn things orange! You can heat some of them in olive oil to make achiote oil, which is used to make empanada dough orange.
I couldn’t find any at my local Whole Foods, but I was able to find some at the end of the street at our local bodega. There was this eight-inch container, with maybe two whole cups of achiote seed, that had clearly been on the shelf for months if not years. I was terrified that it would cost something like $30—I was terrified because I’m stubborn and would have bought it—but it was only $2.69. I went to pay and the man who owns the store held the container out at arms length and yelled, ‘ACHIOTE!’ before ringing it up.
It was the best achiote-buying experience ever.
So yes, these seed guys might be hard to find, but they do impart a slight nutty flavour, and they’ll turn your sauce yellow. It won’t be the same without them. You could sub curry powder, but then your cheese will taste like curry—fine for a while, but I’ve got more achiote than I’ll ever need if you want some.
Back to the powder—grind the seed, then add the flour and nutch and grind again. Your spice grinder might get a little melodramatic, but keep pushing forward.
Once the nutch is ground to a fine powder, add the rest of the ingredients and grind a little more until the mixture is consistently powdered.
So now the powder’s done, and you can store it pretty indefinitely in the pantry.
To make mac+chreese, bring a pot of water to the boil.
When boiling, salt a little and add pasta, stirring vigorously before covering and letting boil again. At the boil, uncover.
When al dente, drain. Remove to a large bowl (or two smaller ones) and add peas.
In the same pot, melt EB over medium heat. Add milk and whisk.
When incorporated, whisk in powder until the sauce begins to thicken. Pour over pasta, garnish, and serve!
To make a prettier pasta, you can mix everything in the pot or a large bowl before serving individually, so there isn’t cheesy sauce mess everywhere.
To make casserole, preheat the oven to 400ºF (205ºC).
Cook the pasta and make the cheese sauce as above, stirring in the sausages or whatever other add-ins your pretty little heart desires. I like to add herbs to my cheese sauce sometimes—sage and thyme are my favourite—and sometimes a little cayenne or dried red pepper flakes. Go wild, and make this dish as yummy and comforting as it should be.
Place well combined pasta, add-ins, and cheese sauce in a casserole dish or other oven-safe dish, sprinkle with Daiya cheese (if using), then sprinkle generously with breadcrumbs. You might also like to add a little sage or thyme to the topping.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until breadcrumbs are golden. Remove and let cool 10 minutes before serving.
Garnishes: thyme or oregano leaves, freshly cracked black pepper, or some lightly fried mushrooms would be excellent
Goes well with: Lambrizzle (Lambrusco, if you must), a fresh arugula salad, or some sweet spring sautéed asparagus!