Soul Searching and Soul Food

Yes, it’s been 5 months… between the chaos of the move and this time of year for work, every time I go to write an inspired and lip-smacking post something else comes up. And then when I find the time to write, I find myself searching for the right words to describe a meal that I thoroughly enjoyed at the time, but barely remember as a result of how many other things have happened since I last ate it! And then the ultimate question comes up – does the world really need another blog? Another semi-proclaimed cook documenting the ins and outs of their kitchen? My inclination is no – I’m not making culinary revelations here, just sharing the real life vegetarian meals of a working couple. But then I find myself giving food advice just about everywhere – in the office with a coworker who considers a slow-cooker intimidating, on Facebook with a young professional who is trying to wean herself off fast food after long days at work, and in the grocery store when someone looks perplexed by how to cook brussels sprouts on the stalk! I may not be an expert or the next Food Network Star, but I do love food and making fulfilling and memorable meals that are meat-free.

Messy Mac-- ooey gooey goodness!

Messy Mac– ooey gooey goodness!

This week a close friend gave birth to her 3rd child, and D and I went over to watch her older two munchkins to give her and her husband some time at the hospital alone with the baby. I read Chloe’s Vegan Italian Kitchen cover to cover on the couch (after the kids were in bed!) and found myself in quite the mac and cheese mood. Maybe it was being surrounded by kids toys, or the plethora of pasta recipes, or the warm and fuzzy feelings of a brand new baby. But mac and cheese has been on my mind ever since, particularly how to make it healthier and more interesting than just noodles and cheese – while still retaining the soul food feeling that a big bowl of mac and cheese can evoke.

Messy Mac ‘N Yease¬†

  • 1 box of the pasta of your choice- we like quinoa pasta in shells
  • 1 head broccoli, cut into small florets
  • handful of frozen peas
  • few ounces of mushrooms, any variety (we used shitake since they were in the house)
  • 2 inches of Soyrizo (found at Trader Joes or Whole Foods)
  • 4 tablespoons butter or vegan option
  • 3-4 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup milk (we used original, unsweeted Almond Breeze)
  • heaping teaspoon dijon mustard (could substitute dried mustard)
  • 5 dashes Worcestershire sauce (or vegan Worcestershire)
  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast

In a small saute pan, cook the mushrooms and Soyrizo together until the mushrooms cook down and the Soyrizo starts to crisp up. Set aside and let the flavors meld together. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, salting the water liberally, and adding the broccoli and peas in the last 3-4 minutes. While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter on medium heat in a large saute pan and once completely melted, add the flour. Reduce heat to low, stir to combine and cook about 2 minutes, until the roux turns slightly caramel in color. Add in the milk and stir periodically until the mixture starts to thicken. When you can drag a spoon through the pan and see the bottom of the pan for just a second (before the roux fills the space back in) add in the mustard and Worcestershire. Stir to combine and then add in nutritional yeast. Once fully combined, season with salt and pepper to taste. Once the pasta is cooked, drain and add into the ‘cheese’ sauce, adding some pasta water if needed to thin out the sauce. Toss pasta in sauce to fully coat, then mix in mushroom/Soyrizo mixture. Serve warm and prepare to go back for seconds!

This isn’t your traditional mac and cheese by any means- the veggie ratio is about 1:1 compared to the pasta. There’s a kick to the sauce from the Soyrizo, but the creamy texture of the ‘cheese’ sauce masks the heat from being overwhelming. The¬†accompanying crunch from the crispy Soyrizo is bacon-esque, and the mushrooms add a little earthy flavor and heartiness.The juiciness of the broccoli (yes, that’s a thing…if cooked right!) gives a little relief from the decadence of the dish, and the peas add a subtle and interesting sweetness when you least expect it. This comes pretty close to making mac and cheese healthy, if such a thing is possible. And all in all, this scratch-made, vegan, veggie-laden ‘messy mac’ took just about as long as the stuff from the box.

Tonight, my heart is happy and my stomach is full. And you can’t ask for more in life than that.

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