We all have our go-tos: those foods that you can devour anytime, anywhere. Mine are tacos, pizza, avocado-anything, chocolate, and macaroni and cheese. As much as I love so many different foods, these comfort foods seem to be the ones that my heart longs for time and time again. In an effort to stay balanced, I am always looking for new ways to make healthier versions of these: both so I don't feel deprived, and so I can eat them guilt-free whenever I want.
I've been playing around with the base recipe for my healthier mac & cheese for a while, and I am happy to say that this version is my favorite (so far). It's full of goodness while still providing that warming, cozy, comfort-food hug that we find ourselves craving in the winter months. In addition to the base recipe, I am including one of my many variations on this recipe: a Truffled, Buffalo Mac & Cheese variety that I could happily eat every day for the rest of my life:
So, what makes this healthier than that blue box version we grew up with?
- Brown Rice Pasta stands in for nutrient-deficient, processed white pasta (or "enriched macaroni product" as the box calls it) as a gluten-free, whole-grain alternative. A tip: always cook your pasta until al dente: the longer you cook it, the higher Glycemic Index! If you'd like an even lower GI option, ancient grain pastas are another favorite of ours!
- The cheese is a dairy-free (everyone can enjoy it!) combination of nutritious goodness: roasted butternut squash, soaked cashews, creamy full-fat coconut milk, and protein-rich nutritional yeast.
- Veggies are snuck in for pops of color and extra vitamins and minerals: pretty on the eyes and body!
- Spices like paprika and turmeric add anti-inflammatory value, while cracked black pepper boosts turmeric's bioavailability by more than 5,000% (I've seen this statistic vary from 2000% to 10,000%)! Oh, and it's color comes from turmeric as well, not "Yellow 5" and "Yellow 6."
- In my Truffled, Buffalo Mac & Cheese, Field Roast Hand-Formed Field Burgers add another 20g of protein per serving!
- You can pronounce everything on the ingredient list. (WIN)
Let's get to it!
Healthier Macaroni and Cheese: Classic & Truffled Buffalo Style
Vegan, Gluten-Free // Serves 4
- 1 Package Brown Rice Pasta (I used Tinkyada brand)
- 1/2 Medium-Sized Butternut Squash (roughly 2 cups)
- 1 teaspoon Olive Oil
- 1 Can Full-Fat Organic Coconut Milk (~13 oz)
- 1/2 Cup Cashews, soaked for 2+ hours
- 1/2 Yellow Onion, sliced
- 2 Cloves Garlic, minced
- 1 Cup Nutritional Yeast
- 2 Tablespoons Coconut Oil
- 2 Tablespoons Whole-Grain Mustard (or your favorite Dijon)
- 1 Cup Green Veggie(s) of choice (I used peas, although broccoli is another favorite. A carrot can also be added to the cheese mixture for a deeper color).
- Juice from 1/2 Lemon
- 1 teaspoon Turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon Paprika
- Pinch of Cayenne Pepper & Sea or Pink Salt
- Freshly Ground Black Pepper
- Optional: 2-4 drops of Liquid Smoke for a deeper flavor (this was a last-minute addition and was pretty good!)
(Truffled Buffalo Style)
All of the above plus:
- 1-2 Tablespoons Truffle Oil
- 1-2 Tablespoons Coconut or Olive Oil
- 2-3 Tablespoons Buffalo Sauce (I used Wing-Time Medium Buffalo Wing Sauce)
- 1 Avocado, peeled, pitted, and chopped
- 2 Field Roast Hand-Formed Field Burgers (optional for a heartier meal and more protein)
1. Begin by roasting your squash (you can choose to boil peeled and cubed squash for 20 minutes to save time, although I love the flavor that roasting brings out of it! Plus, I think it smells like creme brulee!). Preheat your oven to 450.
2. Place halved and seeded squash onto a lined baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil (about 1 teaspoon). Rub the oil in to cover the squash. Bake for 1 hour, and set aside to cool completely.
3. Cook pasta according to package directions. This should only take 8-10 minutes. When pasta is 80% done, toss in peas (if using) to save a dish! Drain. Set aside.
4. Warm a skillet over medium heat. Add coconut oil, onions, and garlic, and saute. Stir occasionally. Cook until fragrant, golden, and slightly translucent, about 5+ minutes.
5. If squash has cooled, use an ice-cream scoop or spoon to scoop flesh out of squash. Add to blender.
6. Add the remaining ingredients: coconut milk, cashews, onion and garlic mixture, nutritional yeast, lemon, mustard, and spices to blender and blend to combine. Taste. Adjust seasoning as desired. - SKIP to steps below if opting for the Truffled Buffalo Style!-
7. In a large bowl, fold drained pasta together with desired amount of cheese sauce. This makes a lot! Feel free to use it all, or save some to make my Healthier Nachos, to mix into pasta, or to smother on sprouted bread with mashed avocado and Sriracha for dipping into my Simple Warming Chili.
8. Garnish with extra paprika and pepper to serve.
For the Truffled Buffalo Style:
7. Toss cooked pasta with truffle oil and set aside.
8. Add buffalo sauce to blender and blend to combine.
9. Chop Field Roast burgers and cook with olive or coconut oil over medium-heat, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes.
10. In a large bowl, fold pasta, cheese sauce, burger crumbles, and avocado together. Enjoy!