cashew cream casserole (a.k.a. VLGL baked macaroni and cheese)
I hesitate to call this baked macaroni and cheese as it is so very different than actual wheat pasta with actual dairy cheese sauce in so many respects... but I engineered this recipe to satisfy that savory, creamy, slightly-complex, perfectly-crisp-crusty craving. And satisfy, it does.
I attribute my affection for baked macaroni and cheese to having spent much of my life in the Virgin Islands, where baked macaroni -- including vegan versions at the island's many vegan cafes and food trucks -- is a staple food. Combine that with my family's American South heritage, and this casserole was born out of culinary and soul-necessity. As much as I often don't "feel Southern," given that I primarily grew up between a non-Southern part of Florida and the V.I., my roots show in the form of this casserole whenever there is a death or a feasting holiday. Unlike many traditional Southern casseroles, though, this one is packed with comfort, love, and creamy satisfaction without any grains or animal products! Sorcery!
The most magical ingredient to this casserole is lentil pasta -- an incredible, low-glycemic-load alternative to traditional macaroni which has quite a high-glycemic-load (and even whole wheat pasta is on the higher end of "moderate" glycemic load). While the taste is a little "beany" on its own, it blends into dishes with boldly-flavored sauces, such as this one, quite well. I use this brand, due to the fact that it is delicious, affordable, and offers shells as a pasta-shape option (my #1 choice for mac-and-cheese type dishes... who else grew up on Velveeta shells and "cheese?"). I order it in bulk as the individual boxes can cost up to $4/more per box (!) in stores. (Note that Tolerant has not sponsored this post, though if anyone from Tolerant is reading this, I won't complain if you want to send some free pasta!)
One last note before the recipe: I sometimes make the pasta with the sauce and skip the baking step for a more traditional, super-creamy mac-and-cheese experience. If this sounds good to you, make the recipe as written but skip everything to do with the casserole dish, the crust, and the oven. Baking firms it up deliciously, but I love it both ways.
Now... let's get to cooking this comforting, protein-packed, love-in-a-casserole-dish!
RECIPE: Cashew Cream Casserole, a.k.a. VLGL Baked Macaroni and Cheese
(Serves 4 as a main dish; great for big-group holidays and potlucks)
- 12 ounces cooked lentil pasta shells (al dente)
- 2 cups cashews (I usually use roasted and salted cashews because they're usually more economical and work well in this dish; raw cashews work, too. If you do not have a particularly high-powered blender, soak the cashews for at least an hour, or boil for 10 minutes.)
- 2 cups water
- 3 tablespoons + 1 additional, separate tablespoon nutritional yeast
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon white miso paste
- 1 tablespoon turmeric powder
- 2 teaspoons dijon mustard
- juice of 1/2 a lemon
- 3 tablespoons almond flour or sprouted breadcrumbs (made by toasting and crumbling sprouted bread, such as Ezekiel bread... the pictured casserole utilizes almond flour)
- 1 tablespoon Creole-style seasoned salt (I use Tony Chachere's)
- Scant 1/2 teaspoon of high-heat oil (such as canola).
- Preheat your oven to 350°F.
- Cook your lentil pasta al dente, rinse with cold water (do not do this with wheat pasta, but it helps to keep it firm here), and allow to continue to drain in a colander while you prepare the sauce. Set aside the pot.
- To make the sauce, blend all ingredients from the cashews to the lemon juice (besides the additional tablespoon of nutritional yeast) until silky-smooth --- this may take a few minutes of blending or more. Taste, and adjust seasonings to your liking.
- Return the lentil pasta to the pot and pour in the sauce. Gently mix until the pasta is evenly coated.
- Coat your casserole dish with the scant 1/2 teaspoon of oil. Evenly spread the sauce-covered pasta in your casserole dish. Sprinkle the almond flour, additional tablespoon of nutritional yeast, and Creole seasoning evenly over the top.
- Bake for 20 minutes. Then, broil for an additional 2-3 minutes to get the top crust nice and golden-crisp. Watch carefully so that it does not get too crisp!
Serve with love.