Zero Waste Mac n’ “Cheese”

Who doesn’t love a hot bowl of mac n’ cheese? I admit, I even like the taste of the boxed powdered kind. I grew up on that artificial yellow-orange mixture, packaged in a foil and paper bag, stuffed in a cardboard box with macaroni elbows or shells or some other random shape.

Of course, there’s always gourmet mac n cheese, which is great too, but sometimes the kid in me craves the boxed stuff. There are even some decent vegan versions of mac n’ cheese. The problem? That powdered cheese packet is not recyclable and has to go to landfill.

The most difficult aspect of this recipe is finding pasta in bulk. Surprisingly, I can never seem to find bulk pasta at Whole Foods. I usually have to drive to the UCSC co-op in Santa Cruz or stock up at Grass Roots Natural Foods on my bi-annual trips to Tahoe.

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A rainbow of bulk pasta

So when I found a bulk supply of elbow macaroni, my immediate thought was: how can I make a dairy-free macaroni sauce that tastes like the boxed version? And then make that recipe zero waste.

I searched the internet for answers. I experimented with several different recipes and took my favorite aspects of each one, cut out things I found unnecessary, and only included items that I could find package free. Of course finding the elbow macaroni was not easy, so any pasta you can find in bulk will be fine. This is a thick sauce, even ziti can handle it. Most importantly, this “cheese” sauce is really good. So good you can use it as a dip for veggies or as a spread on toast.

To give the sauce a cheesy flavor, I use nutritional yeast, which I can find in bulk in at Whole Foods for $19.99/lb which sounds like a lot but this stuff is extremely lightweight, similar to the way of say, hot pepper flakes. In fact, it’s about 1.5 ounces per cup of nutritional yeast, so if you really want to break it down, since we’re using 1/3 cup for this recipe, it cost me about $0.42 in nutritional yeast to make this recipe. Worth it.

What IS nutritional yeast? According to webMD:

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Source: https://www.webmd.com/diet/ss/slideshow-yeast-and-your-body

Warning: If you click that link, skip the first 8 photos until you’re done eating, trust me. Blarf.

To give the sauce a creamy flavor, I soak cashews in water for at least two hours (or overnight in the fridge so they’re ready to go the next day). And to make the sauce LOOK cheesy without adding artificial colors, I will roast or steam a carrot. Don’t peel the carrot! Just give it a really good scrub and dry to remove any dirt. There’s a lot of nutrients in the skin, and it’s going to get processed anyway, why waste it?

Note: If you steam the carrot, it will take less time. I recommend reusing the water to make pasta. If you want to roast the carrot, do so with some other vegetables to get more use out of your oven heat. Nothing like a nice side of roasted veg with your mac n cheese.

This recipe makes about 3-4 servings of pasta, depending on how big your servings are.

The Recipe:

Cheese” sauce ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup raw cashews, soaked in hot water for two hours (minimum), or overnight in fridge (bulk)
  • 1 carrot, roasted or steamed until fork tender (buy loose)
  • 1/3 cup nutritional yeast (bulk)
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup water (tap)
  • 1 tablespoon of light oil (canola, vegetable, avocado, whatever you can get in glass or refilled)
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar, either white or apple cider (refillable, or buy in glass if possible)
  • 1 teaspoon salt (bulk) or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder (bulk, or glass container)
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder (bulk, or glass container)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (bulk, or glass container)

Directions:

  • Pour cashews into a small bowl and cover by a half inch with hot water, allow to soak at room temperature for a minimum of two hours (although I’ve pushed it by only soaking it for one hour in boiling water and it worked okay) but you can also pop it in the fridge and let them soak overnight.

 

  • You can either roast or steam the carrot, but the preparation is going to be the same. Cut the inedible end of a carrot and scrub well in cold water. Cut into 1 inch chunks. If your roasting, cook it at 400F for about 30-45 minutes, until fork tender. If steaming, steam for about 20 minutes until easily pierced with a fork.
  • In a blender or food processor, blend the soaked cashews, carrot, nutritional yeast, water, oil, vinegar salt, onion powder, and nutmeg together until creamy.

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  • Cook your favorite bulk pasta as usual and drain.
  • Mix the “cheese” sauce directly into the hot pasta. Or you can warm the mixture up in a small sauce pan on medium-low heat until warm.

Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

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