Oh Kraft Mac n’ Cheese. The mystery of its Day-Glo orange color, the flood of nostalgia from its delicious orange powder, the squelching sound of the sauce filling the hollows of the noodles as you stir– it’s all disgustingly good. Except, of course, the fact that it’s basically processed poison. From the shit storm of chemicals and food dyes, to the controversial palm oil (goodbye orangutan habitats and rainforests), the outrageous amount of salt and fat, and of course, the dehydrated bodily fluids from mistreated animals. Way to kill my mac n’ cheese reverie Kraft! Jeez…
Oh well, there are other cruelty-free options out there on the shelves like those from Daiya or Earth Balance, but to be honest, they are gross. Fake cheese in general still has a long way to go. In my opinion the best thing you can do is not try to make ‘fake’ cheese sauce, but use real, whole ingredients to make a WHOLESOME cheesy sauce. Sure, it’s still aiming to be that flavor that you know and love, but it’s taking the whole food route, instead of the chemical one. The result is much more palatable and WAYYYYYY healthier. I think this recipe tastes way more like the mac n’cheese I grew up on than those store-bought fake cheese alternatives.
There was one sure-fire test that I knew this sauce had to pass before I could post this recipe. It had to pass muster with the only person I know who had consumed as much poundage of Kraft Mac n’Cheese growing up as I did myself– that is, my brother.
I’m proud to say that after tasting a spoonful of sauce I got an enthusiastic, “This is what I’m having for dinner, make me a bowl now!” In other words, two thumbs up. I have to humbly agree, it’s delicious. It doesn’t taste ‘fake’. Also, it just so happens to have 28 grams of protein in the whole recipe of sauce. That means that if you compare it to a serving size of Kraft’s, you get 10 grams of protein per serving compared to Kraft’s 7 grams. And let’s face it, you are going to eat 2 servings right!? The other great thing is that this recipe doesn’t use any fake butter or added oil, so it’s very low in fat! One more bonus, nutritional yeast is full of B vitamins, (what up B12) folic acid, and other lovelies. Throw in some quinoa pasta to the equation and you have yourself an actual, whole food, healthy and delicious dinner. It’s a mac n’ cheezy miracle.
Creamy Mac n’ Cheese
Makes 6 servings
3 cups of dry macaroni (or pasta shape of your choice)
1 small peeled sweet potato (hello orange color!) peeled and diced
1 small yellow onion, roughly chopped
1/2 cup of raw cashews (soaked in water for an hour, then rinsed and drained)
1/4 cup soy milk (or whatever non-dairy milk you like best)
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast (found at any health food store or online, this ingredient is KEY)
1/4-1/2 cup reserved cooking liquid
1-2 tsp yellow mustard
1-2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 pinch of paprika
1 pinch of cayenne
Garnish: a few tablespoons of minced chives
Optional Bread Crumb Topping:
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 tbs olive oil (disclaimer: this partially negates those low-fat claims above)
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp black pepper
First off, cook pasta according to its package, which generally entails throwing it into a pot of boiling water for about 8 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, fill another small pot with about 3 cups of water and bring to a boil. Add the chopped sweet potato and onion and boil until fork tender, mine took about 15 minutes. When done, drain them from the water, while making sure to catch about a cup of the cooking liquid.
In a blender, combine the sweet potatoes, onions, cashews, soy milk, the nutritional yeast, 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid, 1 tsp of mustard, and 1 tsp of salt. Add the garlic, paprika, and cayenne. Blend it until very smooth. Give it a little taste, you might want to add another teaspoon of mustard to make it tangier, and another 1/2 tsp of salt, depending on your own taste. You might want to add another 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid. (I always liked a super thick sauce while my husband likes a thinner sauce, so it’s up to your own tastes!)
Get out a 9″x 13″ baking dish and pour in the cooked pasta. Pour the sauce over the pasta and toss them together until thoroughly combined. You can either consider yourself done here or go for the topping!
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine all the topping ingredients in a bowl and stir well. Sprinkle the topping over the mac n’ cheese and put in the oven. Keep a close eye and take out when the bread crumbs have turned a nice golden brown.
Sprinkle with minced chives and enjoy!
P.S. This cheese sauce can be used on more than just pasta, pour it over broccoli or throw in some minced jalapeños and red bell peppers, maybe even some vegan butter and chili powder and pour it over tortilla chips for some epic vegan nachos!!!!!