Cashew Cauliflower Mac & Cheese {V, GF}

 Vegan, gluten-free cashew cauliflower brown rice pasta mac & cheese

Vegan, gluten-free cashew cauliflower brown rice pasta mac & cheese

✧ COMFORT FOOD ✧

What comes to mind when you think of comfort food?

Mashed potatoes, lasagna, fried chicken, ice cream, pasta…

Without a doubt, mac and cheese is a top three, if not jockeying for the numero uno slot for a lot of people.  In college I used to make boxed mac and cheese. It was cheap and easy. As a nutrition major I felt it was only right to doctor it up a bit:  add chopped grilled chicken [before I gave it up for good] and add some sort of leafy green like spinach. This was before kale became the superstar leafy green that it is today.  

My “healthy” mac and cheese was something I ate regularly before I realized I had a gluten intolerance.  No, I don’t have celiac sprue, a serious autoimmune disorder where you have to avoid all gluten. I’m super grateful that is not the case, but I can definitely tell when I’ve had gluten.  My GI system does not/HNAT like gluten.

At. All.  

I can get away with a couple of slices of La Calavera’s double fermented sourdough bread for my favorite avocado toast (!!!) but if I have it daily, my body ain’t happy.  After blood work indicated my significant gluten intolerance I avoided it like the plague for almost 10 years. So for years and years I avoided pasta, bread, tortilla’s, crackers, sweets and treats that had gluten. Thankfully our food supply has dramatically shifted and we can basically recreate our favorite emals with the gluten-free and plant-based alternatives.  It’s a beautiful time to be alive!

Mac and cheese was off my radar for so long that I really didn’t think about it until I stumbled upon a cashew and cauliflower mac and cheese recipe from Food Matters.  My cauli trend started with cauliflower mashed potatoes (major swap at Thanksgiving), as a dairy alternative thickening agent for cream-based soups, then cauliflower “steak” topped with whipped cauli, cauli rice and of course roasted cauliflower added to everything.  

Do you ever get a bug up your backside and want to experiment with a new recipe?  That was me yesterday. I decided I had to test out this cauli mac & cheese for myself.  Since I had garlic scapes I wanted to cook with I used those instead of garlic bulbs. And also added turmeric to jazz up the color, it was an odd cream blend that needed some pop.  Turmeric did just that.

 

INGREDIENTS

1 cup cashews, soaked in water and rinsed

1 head of cauliflower, or 3-4 cups of ½-inch florets

1-2 Tablespoons of avocado or olive oil

2-3 garlic bulbs, diced

½ medium yellow or vidalia onion, diced

1-2 teaspoons pink sea salt

2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast

1 cup hot water

1 16-oz bag brown rice fusilli noodles

1 teaspoon turmeric

 

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Turn oven on to broil or roast.

  2. Soak cashews in 2 cups of hot water, enough to cover the cashews.  Let soak for ideally 2-6 hours but in a pinch you can let them soak for 15-30 minutes (use hot water).

  3. If using a fresh head of cauliflower, remove leaves and core (I chop and roast since this will all be blended anyway) then chop cauliflower into small florets. Spread florets on a medium-sized baking sheet and drizzle with 1 Tablespoon of oil, sprinkle with ½ - 1 teaspoon of sea salt.  Using your hands, toss the oil and salt on the cauliflower.

  4. Broil or roast cauliflower for 3-5 minutes, checking often to prevent burning.  Using a spatula, mix the cauliflower to cook other sides. My oven cooks pretty fast so a head of cauliflower was perfect in about 5-8 minutes tops.

  5. Cook pasta according to directions.  I like Trader Joe’s brown rice fusilli noodles - I usually let the water boil then turn off the heat, add the lid, and let the noodles soften naturally.  I’m not an al dente girl, so this method might not be for you but the noodles get big and plump. Do what makes sense for you!  Save some of the hot water for blended mixture if you want (see step 7)

  6. While the cauli is roasting and pasta cooking, saute the garlic and onions in 1 Tablespoon of oil in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring to prevent garlic from burning and the onion is translucent.    

  7. In a high speed blender (I’ve been a fan of K-tec’s for 15 years) whip the cooked cauliflower, onion/garlic mixture, and cashews.  I had to turn my blender off a couple of times and then add hot noodle water ⅓ cup at a time until you get the consistency you desire.  I wound up using 1 cup of hot water and it was still a bit on the thick side.

  8. Add nutritional yeast, turmeric and salt to taste.  Now pour the “cheese” sauce over the cooked pasta and stir to coat.  Add chopped parsley or basil or toppings of choice. Tim drizzled it with RedHot but this might taste good with siracha too.

** Stay tuned for my revisions and let me know how your version turned out!

 

JENNIFER’S TIPS

✧I’m a purest and love to work with plant food in its whole form.  Yes, it’s more work but I’m old school and prefer fresh cauliflower to bagged.  Just a personal taste preference. I also like to cut my cauliflower up into smaller pieces so it cooks faster.  

✧Good oils are important for the body and make a difference with the way food tastes. Right now I’m loving avocado oil something fierce.  Trader Joe’s sells Chosen Foods avo oil for $8.99 which has become my default oil. Great on salads!

✧Vidalia onion will add a touch of sweetness to this.  Nutritional yeast can be purchased at health food stores and perhaps Whole Foods in the spice department.

✧Since this is going to be blended, save your money and purchase cashew in pieces versus the whole nut.  I like to use whole cashews for homemade trail mixes and to top yogurt bowls, then cashew pieces for blended dishes.

✧Atlanta peeps can pick up my favorite Unicorn Salt at Sugarboo (Ponce City Market). Just a little avo oil + unicorn salt makes the best roasted veg ever!  In fact I about ate ½ of the head of cauli while making this dish. My #2 salt backup is Trader Joe’s pink sea salt sold in the grinder container.

✧Next time I make this I am going to experiment with adding ½ cup or more of almond or coconut milk to the garlic/onions to add some additional creaminess instead of pasta water and reduce the amount of cashews by half.  The hubs said it tasted too nutty for mac and “cheese”. Might play around with pumpkin or butternut squash with cauliflower as well…..

✧Note on soaking nuts → If I know I’m going to make something that requires soaked nuts I like to do that the night before.  That way they are super soft and blend down into the recipe!

 

 Plant-based dinner: rainbow salad + cashew cauliflower mac & cheese

Plant-based dinner: rainbow salad + cashew cauliflower mac & cheese