Cook Like The 'Gilmore Girls': Sookie's Jalapeno-Chipotle Mac & Cheese
As most of you know, Gilmore Girls was one of the greatest shows of our generation. (And I know we’re all from different generations – that’s how good it was.) Lorelai and Rory were famous not only for their lightning fast wits, but also for their insanely voracious appetites (and the loads of junk food they ate!). It worked out well that their two closest friends – Luke and Sookie – were chefs. Luke, of course, was the baseball-capped (and gorgeous) curmudgeon who owned the local diner, while Sookie was the fancy chef at the Independence Inn (who grew up to be an Oscar nominee!). Consequently, food played a major role on this show. To celebrate the fun times that our beloved characters had with food, this column will recreate some of the most memorable dishes from the show, and from other fantastic TV shows. Oh what, that’s not exciting enough for you? Fine! We’ll recreate everything but make it vegan! That ought to do it. Welcome to Veganizing Television Classics!
One food-based storyline that always stood out on the Girls was when Sookie screwed the pooch catering a child’s “The Lord of the Rings”-themed birthday party, in the episode “The Hobbit, The Sofa And Digger Stiles”. For our first foray into the land of nonstop talking and insatiable cravings, I thought it fitting to start with Lorelai and Sookie’s first foray into catering. Hopefully, our endeavor will be more successful than theirs was, because… yeah, theirs wasn’t.
So, in this episode, Lorelai manages the business logistics, while the great Sookie St. James is in charge of the actual food. Despite Lorelai’s repeated warnings that the food for this party needed to be kid-friendly, Sookie of course is not about to downgrade her usual level of culinary genius. Instead of pizza bites and cupcakes (“I thought you were joking!”), Sookie creates decidedly more adult-friendly food:
No, Sookie, no! Kids won’t eat that! It’s too spicy for such unrefined baby palettes! Cue the pregnant Sookie freaking out over how bad a mother she’s going to be. Luckily for her future children, Sookie became a wonderful mother. Luckily for us, I created a recipe for this grown-up mac & cheese that I think could rival that of the Great St. James. But let’s get cracking, okay? “Because it’s coming up on elevenses and the hobbitses are hungry, right?”
So, I’ve made my share of vegan mac & cheese, but I’ve never tried concocting a spicy one, let alone a jalapeno-chipotle one! After doing some research into southern cooking, I found that most jalapeno cream sauces rely on mayonnaise and sour cream. Ew! And oh no! First of all, that seems excessively lard-laden. Second of all, sharing a recipe that relied on store-bought vegan mayos and creams as substitutes felt like cheating. Instead, we’re using all whole ingredients. In the place of expensive vegan mayo and vegan sour cream, we’ll make homemade tangy cashew cream and use a secret ingredient for creaminess – potatoes! Besides giving me at least a smidge of credibility, this decision also lets us easily make this dish soy-free and gluten-free, allowing . Hooray!
Notes: I thought using 3 fresh jalapeno peppers, smoked paprika, and chipotle powder would result in an exceedingly spicy dish. Actually, it was quite pleasant. If you have high spice tolerance, I’d suggest upping the peppers to 4. See what happens with that. Then, if you’re like me, you’re going to top your food with Frank’s Red Hot anyway.
Also, these directions look long, but this is easy to make. I’m just long-winded when it comes to food. Like a Gilmore Girl!
JALAPENO-CHIPOTLE MAC & CHEESE
Time: About an hour, not counting cashew-soaking time
Serves: About 6 portions
Vegan, soy-free, gluten-free
- 1 pound small shaped pasta (penne, fusilli, elbows, &c); I used brown rice penne to make it gluten-free
For the cashew cream:
- 1 ¼ C raw cashew pieces (pieces are cheaper than wholes), soaked in water for 4 hours or overnight
- 2T lemon juice
- 1C unsweetened plain almond milk (or nondairy milk of choice, just make sure it’s plain and unsweetened!)
- salt and pepper
For the vegetable mixture:
- 5 small potatoes (no more than 3-inch diameter), diced
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2T olive oil
- 3-4 jalapeno peppers, deseeded and diced small
- 2T vegan butter (or more oil)
- 3t salt
- 1/3C nutritional yeast (This is a yellow flakey powder that is used as a nutritional supplement. It’s easy to find in natural food stores and places like Whole Foods. Do not confuse with yeast for baking!!)
- 1/2t smoked paprika
- 1t chipotle powder (can substitute chili powder in a pinch)
- dash of cayenne pepper
- unsweetened plain almond milk as needed
- salt and freshly ground black pepper as needed
1. Hours before you want to cook, put your cashews in a measuring cup and cover with water. Let soak for 4 hours or overnight. (Quick cooking tip: If you didn’t plan ahead, just boil the cashews for a few minutes and they’ll get soft enough.)
2. When you are ready to cook, first boil your pasta according to package directions. Always do this first, as it makes finishing and eating things easier.
3. Drain pasta, rinse quickly with cold water to stop the cooking, and let sit in a colander while you make the sauce.
4. Should we do this with just one pot? Yeah, let’s. In the pot you used for pasta, cover your potatoes with water and boil for about 10 minutes, until very soft. Drain, set aside.
5. In that same pot (it’s like the village pot!), which should currently be empty (are you keeping up?), we’re now going to get cooking. Add your olive oil, onion, and garlic, and sauté for about 8 minutes, until the onion is at a juncture between translucent and brown.
6. Add your chopped jalapenos to the mix, and sauté for another 6 minutes or so. You can add 2T vegan butter at this time, or 2T olive oil, to keep things from sticking.
**While the peppers are cooking:
7. Drain your cashews, and place in a blender with 1C almond milk and 2T lemon juice, with dashes of salt and pepper. Blend until extremely smooth. It should make at least 2 cups of wondrous cashew cream. You can also put these ingredients back in the measuring cup, if it’s big enough, and blend with the immersion blender. (This cashew cream, by the way, is life-changing and versatile, and you’ll be seeing it in various forms.)
**Back at the ranch:
8. Go ahead and turn your oven on now, to 350°.
9. Back in our big pot o’ onions and peppers, add your salt, nutritional yeast (which we’re going to refer to from now on as ‘nooch’) and spices, and cook for another minute, stirring. Add a drop of almond milk if sticking.
10. Add your cooked potatoes and stir everything for another minute or two.
11. Next, add all of your cashew cream to the mix.
12. Now, get your immersion/stick blender, and blend everything until smooth. Add drops of milk as needed, or if it seems too thick for your liking.
13. Taste for salt, pepper, and spice. You could add a few more dashes of salt, or use a drop more lemon juice. Or both! I also added more nooch here. I’m a terrible nooch addict.
14. Next, get your cooked pasta and add it back into the pot of sauce. Mix through to make sure everything is well coated.
15. Now, pour it all – pasta and all the sauce – into a huge glass dish, about 8×12, or 10×12, or some big casserole-dimensioned dish, and bake in the oven for 15 minutes. You can eat it without baking, but this way we get those amazing crispy top pieces.
Voila! You can now enjoy what I hope is your new favorite pasta, because it’s definitely mine! And then in 2 hours, you can have more, because hobbitses eat every few hours, right? Just don’t serve it to children! Or do, and let me know what happens. I hope this works out for you as well as it did for me. I know what you’re thinking though: It’s not green. I know! There’s no way Sookie used enough jalapenos to make the entire sauce green. Those sneaky producers probably used food coloring. Which, by all means, I would support you doing.
I’ll see you next time, for more vegan-friendly television creations!