Mac & Cheeze Forest

This is my twist on the most classic vegan comfort food, baked mac and faux-cheese. It’s evolved over the years — usually I make this with some of the variations listed. Especially for newbies to nutritional yeast, adding a puréed tomato and some tomato concentrate gives a fuller, rounder more familiar flavor. Use less margarine or oil if you like; just adjust the liquid accordingly so your cheeze doesn’t end up too thick. For the crumbs, I usually food process one or two slices of toasted bread or a handful of crackers.

The “forest” is a nod to one of the first vegetarian cookbooks I got in the early 1990s– and the title dish: The Enchanted Broccoli Forest. Opinions on Katzen and Ithaca’s Moosewood Restaurant run wild, but there’s something so personal and familiar about her hand-illustrated, hand-written cookbooks from back then. I’ve always been amused by the playfulness of her recipes and about a year ago I started cutting skinny broccoli trees to plant in my mac & cheeze baked casserole. Now it’s become a sort of tradition.

Mac & Cheeze Forest
Serves 4-5 / time: 60 min

300g / 10oz pasta elbows or shells
200g tofu firm, crumbled / mashed well
1/2 cup sunflower seeds toasted, ground
1 – 2 cups broccoli florets, cut long
1/4 cup bread / cracker crumbs

2-4 Tbs olive oil or margarine
1 cup soy milk or nut milk
1/4 – 1/2 cup water or veg stock
2 Tbs chickpea flour or flour
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
3 Tbs lemon juice
1/2 tspn turmeric
1/2 tspn salt
1/4 tspn black pepper ground

  1. Boil pasta according to instructions, drain, toss with oil and set aside covered.
  2. Preheat oven to 375°F / 190°C / level 5.
  3. Heat olive oil / margarine in a medium sized pot on medium.
  4. Add pepper and any other spices you prefer (see Variations)
  5. Add soy milk and bring to low simmer. You can combine soy milk and stock or water as long as you have enough liquid.
  6. Add nutritional yeast, ground sunflower seeds, flour as you slowly whisk and stir out any lumps.
  7. As sauce begins to thicken stir in tofu, lemon juice, turmeric and salt.
  8. Simmer for 5-7 minutes on low, stirring occasionally. Add more liquid or flour, slowly, to adjust consistency. Turn off heat.
  9. Grease a medium large (10×8 in / 25×20 cm , 9×9 in / 22×22 cm, 10 in / 25cm round, etc.) baking dish (glass or ceramic) with oil.
  10. Pour in half the cooked pasta, then half of the sauce over it and mix it up a bit.
  11. Pour in the rest of the pasta and top with the remaining sauce, mix and flatten with a spatula. Top with the crumbs, flatten gently with spatula. Plant your broccoli trees and spoon some cheeze onto them.
  12. Bake for 25-35 min, until top and edges are browned and crispy. Cool for 10 minutes, cut and serve.

Variations: Any other spices can be added to melted margarine or hot oil of cheeze sauce. I’ve experimented with Indian Masala: 1/4 tspn hing powder, 1/2 tspn each: mustard seeds, paprika, red chili flakes, and 1 tspn each: cumin, ground coriander, crushed curry leaves. French-Italian: 1 tbs Herbes de Provence (or 1 tspn each thyme, basil, crushed sage or rosemary). Funky Chinese: 1/2 cup chopped tomato, 1/2 cup chopped onion or scallion, 2 cloves diced garlic, 1/2 cup chopped/crushed pineapple, 1 Tbs soy sauce or miso, 1 tspn sesame oil, replace crumbs with roasted onions. All variations work well with 1-2 Tbs tomato paste and/or a tomato diced or puréed. Or add smoked tofu, seitan or marinated tempeh. Need more veg? Add 1/2 cup peas, chopped/shredded carrots, mushrooms or bell pepper to the pasta before mixing with the sauce.

Here’s a variation from last night with peas and mushrooms:

Depending on the amount of liquid from your added extras, you may need to increase the baking time slightly. This dish is also excellent the next day! Just reheat and eat. Or eat it cold straight from the dish while no one is looking.

Post your feedback, ideas and experiments!

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