In 1996 I went vegetarian. The following year I went vegan. I bring this up because prior to becoming vegetarian, I was not much of a cook. I could make a few things but not many and they weren’t anything too exciting. But going vegetarian in the late 90’s meant few options for eating out on the run and few options for cooking out of a box, so learning how to cook became a necessity. Luckily Pittsburgh has the wonderful East End Food Co-op, a haven for vegetarians and vegans alike that supplied us with all the wonders of vegetarian cooking, like tofu, tempeh and one of the strangest new ingredients - nutritional yeast.
A lot of my teaching knowledge came from the depths of the underground through roughly thrown together vegetarian cookbooks like “Soy Not Oi”, put together by a bunch of crusty punk rockers, and “The New Farm Vegetarian Cookbook”, put together by the residents of The Farm, an intentional (read: hippy) community in Tennessee. Both books are full of hits and misses but are great for their glimpses into each of these subcultures. From the pages of “The New Farm Vegetarian Cookbook” comes the basis for my staff recipe: vegan mac and cheese.
½ cup margarine
½ cup flour
3 ½ cups boiling water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 ½ teaspoons garlic powder/chopped garlic
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 healthy pinch of turmeric
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 cup nutritional yeast
A sprinkling of paprika
4 cups pasta (usually use elbows or twists)
1 block of tofu, diced (optional)
1 head of broccoli, chopped into small florets (optional)
The cheese takes about the same time to cook as the pasta, so I usually get two pots going at the same time. Just keep an eye on the pasta so it doesn’t get overcooked. You want it al dente.
In one pot, melt the margarine down and slowly start stirring in the flour and the boiling water. Keep whisking in the water and the flour creating a “roux” that you’ll continue thinning out until you have all the water in the pot. Let this come to a boil and thicken just a bit, then turn down the heat some. At this point at the soy sauce, salt, garlic and turmeric. Whisk it all in good. Add the vegetable oil and then slowly start adding the nutritional yeast, whisking it in real good and creating a thick, cheesy sauce. Cook it for a couple minutes to let it thicken up.
Dump your pasta (and anything else you’d like to add, like tofu, broccoli, peas, etc) into a casserole dish and then pour the “cheese” overtop. Mix it up real good so the cheese gets inside/outside/all around the pasta then coat the whole thing with a sprinkling of paprika. Throw in in the oven for 12-15 minutes at 350 degrees. Boom - you’re done.
This meal goes great as part of a larger soul food meal. Cook up some black-eyed peas, some sort of greens (kale is my personal favorite, but collards are a bit more authentic), maybe some cornbread. Or it’s great with some sweet corn and fresh string beans. Lots of great ways to add to this meal. It’s a personal favorite and my potluck specialty.
And you don’t have to be vegan to enjoy this. It’s not the mac and cheese you grew up with, but I know lots of meat and dairy eating friends and family who absolutely love this recipe.