Updated: Sep 28, 2021
If you think about what iconic foods Americans crave, what foods do you think of? Besides hamburgers, of course, I think of mac and cheese and peanut butter sandwiches (When my husband, David, used to travel overseas, he would pack a box of mac and cheese, a box of brownies, and a jar of peanut butter when he would leave the US). They're probably what 90% of Americans had for lunch during their childhood at least 3 times a week. Am I right?
When my husband isn't feeling his best, or after a dentist appointment, he almost always asks for mac and cheese. He'll even be super specific and say, "Please use the Kraft brand for me." (I never do, but please don’t tell him that!). The foods we eat during our childhood become our comfort foods for life. When I started to cook for my family, learning to cook iconic comfort foods from scratch was not an easy task. Let me tell you, sometimes I felt sorry for the dishes I had my poor husband try. But not anymore! He and my boys love the mac and cheese I make. My boys especially would eat it every day if I let them!
A couple months ago I got a request from one of my readers for vegan, gluten-full mac and cheese that's full of protein. I've come up with an absolutely delicious mac and cheese that's healthy as well. Creamy, cheesy, high in protein, and gluten free, with the perfect yellowish color. While working on this recipe, I read at least one hundred vegan mac and cheese recipes on the internet. I deconstructed the dish and thought about each component that makes a truly great mac and cheese.
The first thing to decide on was what kind of pasta to use. I chose this lentil and peas elbow pasta. I love the texture of this product, but feel free to use any gluten-free pasta that you like (or regular pasta if you are okay with gluten).
The second component to this dish is, of course, a good cheesy sauce. That starts with a perfect béchamel, one of the French mother sauces (hollandaise sauce is another French mother sauce, and you can find my recipe here). Classic béchamel starts with butter and flour, so I used sweet rice flour and coconut butter. Let me tell you, it works perfectly to deliver the same texture. To get the beautiful golden color I skipped the turmeric, sweet potato, or saffron, and instead I used the same key ingredient that manufacturers use to give cheese its yellow color.
Yes, my secret the star of the dish is annatto seeds. This spice isn't used too often in the US, but it's popular in Caribbean cuisine. Rich in antioxidants and vitamin A, annatto seeds have many health benefits, with some of the most impressive being their ability to promote healthy digestion, strengthen bones, and lower fevers.
Another ingredient that is key to this high protein sauce is tahini (sesame paste). In the Middle East this ingredient is probably as popular as peanut butter is in the US. I love to use it in my cooking. I've already shared a couple tahini recipes on my blog like the savory Vegan Broccoli Salad with Tahini Poppy Seeds Dressing and the sweet Raspberry Tahini Cookies: Vegan and Gluten free. I promise you many more are coming, but for now, let's begin making this delightful vegan and gluten-free mac and cheese.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Total time: 20 minutes
Author: Inna of innichkachef.com
Servings: 4 as a meal or 6-8 as a side dish
1 box elbow lentil pasta like this one
1-2 teaspoons pink salt
Béchamel Sauce Ingredients
⅓ cup coconut butter
2 tablespoons sweet rice flour
⅓ cup nutritional yeast
Pinch of nutmeg
Few turns of black or white pepper
¼ teaspoon annatto seeds
⅓ cup tahini paste
1½ -2 cups plain almond or cashew milk (I used homemade in the video)
¼ teaspoon onion powder
1. Add water to a large pot of water, and cook pasta according to the package instructions, minus 1 minute of cooking time.
2. Start making the sauce while the pasta is cooking. Add coconut butter and annatto seeds to a saucepan on low heat. Allow to steep for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Sift out the seeds and return the yellow oil back to the pan. Add rice flour and stir with a wooden spoon. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then add salt, pepper, nutmeg, onion powder, and nutritional yeast. Stir everything together.
4. Add the nut milk of your choice. Stir everything together, and let the mixture get all bubbly.
5. Add tahini. Stir. If the sauce gets too thick, add more milk.
6. Drain the pasta, reserving a little bit of the starchy water in case you want a more runny sauce.
7. Stir the pasta into the sauce, and garnish with chopped parsley if you'd like to add some bright color.
8. Serve immediately as a side dish or main course.
To reheat the mac and cheese, add it to a saucepan on low heat with a little bit of milk, cover, and let everything get bubbly and creamy.
For an even more complete meal, feel free to add any veggies like frozen peas, chopped and cooked carrots, steamed broccoli, cooked spinach or kale, etc.
Fried Mac and Cheese Patties
If you like to make fried mac and cheese patties, they're delicious and can be a totally new dish the next day. All you need to do is scoop the cold mac and cheese with a cookie scooper and place it on a hot pan with some melted coconut butter or avocado oil. Fry 3 minutes per side, and serve right away!