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Mac and Chard

Autumn is here and at my house, we’re ready for some comfort food meals, especially those oven-baked casseroles that I rarely make unless there’s a chill in the air.

Like many people, mac and cheese is one of our all-time favorites. And, as most vegans know, it’s one dish that everyone seems to have an opinion about. The main point of departure about what makes a great mac and cheese usually concerns how to get that creamy cheesy flavor without using dairy cheese. There’s the nutritional yeast camp, the tofu faction, and the fans of vegan cheese products. Some people like all three ingredients in their mac and cheese, while others will have none of it.

I personally never met a vegan mac and cheese I didn’t like, but I thought it would be great to see if I could come up with a version that didn’t contain any of those debatable ingredients — and still taste like mac and cheese. The other stipulation I gave myself was to include a green vegetable like spinach or chard in the recipe so it could be served as a one-dish meal — and also seem a little more virtuous, to boot.

The result of my personal challenge is called Mac and Chard. This soy-free, nutritional yeast-free, (and of course cheese-free) version of macaroni and cheese is teamed up with the lovely and healthful addition of chopped rainbow chard. The recipe is from my new book, 1,000 Vegan Recipes, which is now available (a week early!) on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Borders.

Mac and Chard
If rainbow chard is unavailable, use another variety of chard or substitute fresh spinach. To make the sauce silky smooth, it is best to use a high-speed blender such as a Vita-Mix to help grind the cashews to a powder. (This recipe is from 1,000 Vegan Recipes published by John Wiley & Sons.)

12 ounces elbow macaroni
1 medium bunch rainbow chard, tough stems removed, and chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 Yukon gold potato, peeled and cut into ¼-inch slices
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups vegetable broth
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon turmeric (for color)
3/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 cup unsalted roasted cashews
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs (use panko, if you’ve got it)

1. In a pot of boiling salted water, cook the macaroni over medium-high heat until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain well and set aside.

2. Steam the chard until tender, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, squeeze any remaining moisture from the chard and set chard aside. Lightly oil a 9 x 13-inch baking dish and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350° F.

3. In a large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and potato. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, cover, and cook until the vegetables are softened, about 10 minutes. Add 1 cup of the broth, the turmeric, and 1/2 teaspoon of the paprika, and continue cooking, uncovered, until the vegetables are very soft. Remove from the heat and set aside.

4. Grind the cashews in a high-speed blender until ground to a fine powder. Add the onion and potato mixture, the remaining broth, lemon juice, mustard, and salt and pepper, to taste, and blend until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary.

5. Combine the sauce with the cooked macaroni and steamed chard and transfer to the prepared casserole. Sprinkle with the bread crumbs and remaining 1/4 teaspoon paprika and drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Bake until hot and golden brown on top, about 30 minutes. Serve immediately.