Return of the Mac: A Vegan Comfort Food Classic Ava Szajna-Hopgood

Mac ‘n’ cheese has seen something of a resurgence in menu-land as of late, and I for one believe the world is a better place for it. Count yourself lucky if you’re reading this in the States, where the goddess of all things carby and gooey is already considered a valid side-dish; in the UK, it’s still more of a main focus kinda meal, a perception it would be oh so amazing to change because let’s face it, why have mac ‘n’ cheese when you can have even-more-food-and-mac ‘n’ cheese? Amiright?

While I’ve got plenty of time for chia seeds and nutritional yeast on everything, there are some occasions when only the classics will do, and being vegan doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go without. Sitting down to eat something that looks even vaguely similar to everyone else at the table can be one of the best comforts of all – sharing food just feels good, especially if you’re homesick or faced with a bit of a mid-winter slump.

Pretty much the only good thing about a British winter post-Christmastime is the excuse for mac ‘n’ cheese, and if you thought being vegan meant sacrificing the touchstone of all comfort food, you’d be wrong. Deluded. Get out. My campaign for mac ‘n’ cheese to become a major food group is still going strong, despite being vegan, and that’s because of this gorgeous recipe for mac-no-cheese. The dairy is replaced by a vegan roux sauce, which means it’s super easy to make without having to scour the aisles for vegan cheese or soak sunflower seeds at your office desk before trying to make this for dinner (as one ill-fated attempt at creamed-seed mac-n-cheese two years ago taught me).

You can whisk up this dish while your family or friends prepare a classic version, and simply pop them in the oven at the same time. It also keeps in the fridge for 2-3 days, so can be made in a big batch and then heated up when you need a lunchtime pick-me-up. Great with tomato ketchup, garlic bread, veggie sausages and of course, all the rain, wind and snow winter still has to throw at you.

- A note on the roux sauce: the measurements can change for how thick or thin you like the sauce, so just have plenty of almond milk, all purpose flour and vegan margarine or butter on hand so you can add more if needed. The pasta does seem to soak up the sauce so I always try and make a little more than I think I need as no-one wants dry macaroni!

Vegan mac-no-cheese

Makes four portions

Ingredients

  • 500g macaroni pasta (usually one packet’s worth or 4 and 1/4 cups)
  • 4-5 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 1-2 cups almond milk
  • 1/2 cup vegan margarine or butter
  • 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper to season
  • 4 medium tomatoes, cut into slices
  • Handful of basil leaves

Pour the macaroni pasta into a saucepan and cover to the top of the pasta with boiling water. Turn on the heat and leave to simmer for around 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350℉/180°C, and find an oven-proof serving dish you can pour your mac-no-cheese in once it’s ready for baking.

Now you can start on the roux sauce: in a medium saucepan slowly heat the vegan margarine, adding a little flour as it begins to melt. Use a whisk to begin to mix the flour and margarine, and as soon as it starts to form a thick paste, slowly begin to add the almond milk. Carry on whisking as the sauce begins to thicken, keeping it on a steady heat.

Once you’ve got a good consistency, continue to add flour or almond milk until you think you’ve got enough sauce. If it gets a little to thick and you’ve already added lots of almond milk, just pour in a few tablespoons of water and whisk well.

When you’re happy with your sauce, add in the nutmeg, salt and pepper, and taste. Adjust the seasoning to your preference, then set aside to plate it all up for the oven.

Your pasta should be just about ready by now, so turn off the heat and drain, then pour in the roux sauce and combine so all the pasta is well-covered. Grab your oven-proof dish and transfer all the pasta and sauce into it, levelling out the top and making sure it’s nicely packed in (this will keep the sauce cooking in the middle so it doesn’t dry out).

Top off with the slices of tomato and basil for a little colour and extra flavour, and a little more seasoning on top. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes, just so the tomatoes are done and everything’s crisping up, and eat straight away with a nice big dollop of ketchup.

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