Vegan pumpkin mac with roasted garlic

Mac and cheese is my ultimate no-brakes food. I’m not even picky: I can easily house an entire box of Kraft, but I prefer something that’s made with a little more care. I love this one, this one, and, most of all, this one.

There are several road blocks to my one true foodlove, though. First and foremost, my one true humanlove, my husband Grant, is allergic to dairy. While I’m not above waiting until he’s out of town and eating mac and cheese for every meal until he returns, he doesn’t travel without me quite enough for that solution to fill the macaroni-shaped hole in my heart.

Mac and cheese also doesn’t really fit into my regular healthy-eating plan. I’m more than willing to splurge on good-quality macaroni upon occasion, but finding a lighter solution to my craving was crucial to my continued happiness.

The answer to both of these issues is vegan macaroni and cheese. It’s just as cozy, more nutritious, and tastes similar to the real thing. I’m not trying to sell you on this recipe tasting just like your mama’s macaroni, because it doesn’t. BUT, it has a similar taste, a near-identical consistency, and the creamy mouthfeel is the same. (How gross is the word mouthfeel, btw?)

This is my riff on several vegan macs I’ve tried and loved. I added canned pumpkin for added vitamins and fiber and also for some Autumn vibes. (I almost called this Harvest Mac with Roasted Garlic, but that seemed a little too… lame?) The roasted garlic makes it super savory and yummy, and nutritional yeast brings the cheesy flavor. If you’ve never cooked with nutritional yeast (or “nooch”) before, it’s a vegan seasoning that adds a cheesy flavor to anything. I buy mine in bulk from the Hyvee Health Market, but it’s available at most health food stores and on Amazon. Top this mac with red pepper flakes and serve with something green on the side.

VEGAN PUMPKIN MAC WITH ROASTED GARLIC

Cloves from 1 head of roasted garlic (slice top off the head to expose cloves, drizzle with olive oil, wrap in tinfoil, and bake at 375 for 30-45 mins, depending on size of cloves. It’s done when your kitchen smells like an Italian restaurant and the cloves are soft like butter)

4 tbsp olive oil

4 tbsp flour

2 c cashew milk

1 c canned pumpkin

½ c nutritional yeast (more to taste)

Salt and pepper

12 oz macaroni (this amount of pasta results in a lot of sauce, perfect to stir in veggies of your choice!)

  1. Bring water to boil, prepare pasta to desired consistency. Drain and reserve when ready.
  2. Heat oil in large skillet (I use my cast iron) over medium. Once heated, sprinkle in flour slowly, whisking the whole time. This will create a paste, called a roux. Cook the roux, whisking constantly, for 1-2 minutes.
  3. Stream cashew milk in, whisking constantly to ensure no lumps (if there’s a lump or two, it’ll get blended out in a bit). Allow to bubble over medium-low heat for a few minutes, whisking near constantly, until thickened. (It should coat the back of a spoon.)
  4. Once thickened, add sauce to blender with pumpkin, all of the garlic cloves, nutritional yeast, and salt and pepper. Blend on high until very smooth.
  5. Taste for seasoning (don’t be afraid to add lots of salt and nutritional yeast. It should taste cheesy and well-salted). Add back to skillet, and allow to bubble over medium-low for 2 minutes or so.
  6. Fold in pasta, top with red pepper flakes, and enjoy!

Inspired by this recipe from Minimalist Baker, the first vegan macaroni and cheese I ever made.

For the Brussels, trim and halve Brussels sprouts, toss with salt, pepper, and olive oil, and roast at 425 for 12 minutes, stirring halfway through.

Dinner drop-off: Sweet potato, coconut, and red lentil daal

I’m in the season of life where everyone is having babies. The season where happy hours often include holding a friend’s baby in one hand and a cocktail in the other. The season where multiple friends at a time are down for the count with morning sickness.

While it feels a tiny bit bittersweet for the spontaneity of childless years to be leaving my friend circle, it mostly feels exciting. I love babies, and I love seeing the strong, awesome women I hold so dearly with their little ones.

Today, I want to share with you my favorite way to support the new mamas in my life: bring them a meal! This idea isn’t innovative or difficult or expensive, but it’s something I wish we all did more of. When a friend is in need, whether that’s because they’re struggling or celebrating, feed them!

Honestly, you don’t even have to enjoy cooking for this to work. Bringing your friend’s favorite takeout is probably just as welcome as a homemade meal. When you bring them food, any food at all, that means they don’t have to worry about the chore of making dinner, even if it’s just for the night.

When you bring a new mom dinner, sometimes you have to carry strange bags into the office. 

I’ll be sharing a series of these recipes that work well for the dinner drop-off in the coming months. These meals have to fit several criteria: 1. Cozy and simple, 2. Store and reheat well, 3. Walk the line between healthy and indulgent.

My best tips and tricks for meal delivery success:

  • All-disposable everything. When you’re bringing a friend a meal, it’s likely because the rest of their life feels overwhelming. Don’t give them the additional task of remembering to return your casserole dish. I am usually a stickler for glass storage and reusable containers, but this is an exception. I have a few Rubbermaids that I am not attached to, and I just tell the recipient to pass that container along as needed. If a gallon ziplock will do the job, use one.
  • Check in about food preferences. If you’re not sure if your friend has any allergies or aversions, just ask. Especially if you’re making food for a newly pregnant and possibly nauseated friend or a nursing mom. I usually send a text or email like this: “I want to bring you dinner Wednesday evening. Are there any specific foods you’re avoiding?”
  • Give a heads-up. Since the idea of this good deed is to take the weight off your friend’s shoulders, let her know a day or two ahead of time what you’re thinking. That way she doesn’t spend any time stressing about what’s for dinner that night — she knows she has a delivery from you on the way.

The meal I’m sharing today, a simple lentil daal with sweet potatoes and green peas, is a favorite at my house. It’s spiced and flavorful, but not spicy; it’s hearty, but not heavy. It freezes well in case your friend can’t use the meal right away. I brought it to a friend and her husband earlier this week with brown rice, garlic naan, and chewy blondies with chocolate, coconut, and pecans.

Sweet potato, coconut, and red lentil daal

Serves 2 hungry adults for 2 meals

I know that this dish isn’t authentic. But it’s wholesome, hearty, and has all the coziness of chicken noodle soup.

Ingredients:

Medium yellow onion, diced

Coconut or olive oil

Four cloves of garlic, minced

Tbsp fresh ginger, minced

 

Tbsp yellow curry powder

½ tbsp turmeric

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp cardamom

1 tsp salt (more to taste)

 

3 medium sweet potatoes, chopped into small cubes

1 c red lentils

1 can full-fat coconut milk

1 cup water (more to add if daal gets dry)

 

1 c frozen green peas

  1. Heat a large pan over medium-high heat (I use my cast iron skillet). Once hot, add a couple tablespoons of your chosen oil. I use a combination of coconut and olive. When the oil is melted/hot, add the onions. Sautee until golden brown, up to ten minutes.
  2. Add garlic and ginger. Sautee for 30 seconds, or until very fragrant. Lower heat to medium.
  3. Add spices, and — stirring constantly — toast for one minute. I add more coconut oil at this step if the pan looks dry.
  4. Add sweet potatoes, lentils, coconut milk, salt, and water. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, and then simmer for 30-40 minutes. Stir occasionally, ensuring that the lentils don’t stick to the bottom of the pan. If the lentils or sweet potatoes need more liquid to cook, add about a cup of water halfway into the cooking time.
  5. Once the potatoes are fork-tender, stir in the green peas. Allow to simmer for five more minutes to warm the peas through.
  6. Serve with brown rice, naan, or both if you need extra comfort. Sriracha and cilantro are welcome compliments.

Heavily adapted from this recipe.

Note on rice: for the best reheating experience, spread still-hot, freshly cooked rice in a flat layer (like on a big baking sheet) until completely cool. Then store and refrigerate. The rice will reheat in individual grains, not as a big clump.

One Month Vegan: What I’m Eating and What I’ve Learned

As of Tuesday, my husband will have been eating vegan and gluten-free for a whole month. The reasons why are complicated and health-related and none of your business 😝, so let’s get to the real question: WHAT THE HELL DOES HE EAT?

Lots of chickpeas, really. Also, did you know brown rice pasta tastes basically the same as regular pasta? I’m finally figuring out tofu, so that’s been fun.

Even if this diet doesn’t end up doing the trick for Grant’s allergy problems (which I alluded to here), I’m really enjoying learning new techniques and trying new things. Once it’s consistently warm outside, I can’t wait to check out some vegan grilling options. (Not sure what those will be. Eggplant? Tofu planks? Hit me up if you have ideas!)

Once we decided to give vegan a try, I started reading. Before, when I had served G meatless meals, he had a hard time getting full. I think some of that may be psychological and based on expectations of what a meal should be, but I was legitimately concerned about getting enough protein into his diet.

Well, guess what? Vegan diets are, like, super full of protein. Lentils and quinoa and nuts, oh my.

My initial research was fueled by this cookbook ⬇⬇⬇, which I’ve had for a long time, but hadn’t done a whole lot of cooking out of. Isa has stews, pastas, sandwiches, salads, everything.

Meal planning in bed.

I read the whole thing like a novel, earmarked a bunch of the recipes, and I’ve been aiming to make one each week. Our very favorite so far has been lentilroni (another blogger made it here). It’s kind of like canned beefaroni (I always preferred the ravioli). But instead of weirdly textured “ground beef,” there are lentils, and pureed cashews make the sauce creamy and delicious. (I also forgot to soak the cashews the first time I made this, and it didn’t matter at all. I ground them to a powder in my food processor, and they incorporated with the vegetable broth perfectly.)

Minimalist Baker is another plant-based inspiration. Her roasted garlic mac and cheese is incredible.

One cannot live on peanut butter sandwiches on super-expensive gluten-free bread alone, so here’s a by-protein breakdown of what we’ve been eating (and really enjoying (mostly)).

PINTO OR BLACK BEANS

I made a big batch of pintos in my slow cooker, stuck most of them in the freezer, and now they’re ready to pull out for burrito bowls or taco salads at any time. Beans and rice is also an easy, simple meal, especially so with avocado and hot sauce.

TOFU

Whenever I’m at an Asian restaurant, I almost always order tofu as my protein. The crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside texture is so delicious, and I know that texture is accomplished with lots of oil.

A good runner-up tofu prep – and one that’s healthier and easier to make at home – is baked in a hot, hot oven. I press extra-firm tofu for at least 90 minutes to get excess water out, cube it, toss it in cornstarch, soy sauce, and olive oil, and bake it for 25 minutes at 425, tossing the tofu halfway through.

Crispy tofu, broccoli and tomatoes, and this creamy coconut turmeric rice. We topped it with bottled carrot-ginger salad dressing.

This method is easy, quick, and the resulting crispy tofu soaks up any sauce you drizzle on it. I’m partial to a homemade teriyaki or a citrus vinaigrette.

LENTILS

I’ve taken to making a batch of green lentils over the weekend to have on hand when we need a protein. I’ll stir them into salads or serve them with leftover grains and roasted vegetables.

CHICKPEAS

Hummus is a regular in our house, vegan diet or no, but I’ve learned some new ideas. Hummus pasta is my new Friday night too-tired-to-read-a-recipe meal. Boil pasta in well-salted water. Saute onions, garlic, and big handfuls of fresh spinach. Reserve a mugful of the pasta water and drain. Add half a container of hummus to the saute pan. Heat until creamy, adding splashes of pasta water as needed. Add drained pasta and stir. It will be so creamy, and it really scratches that mac and cheese itch. I add lots of red pepper flakes to serve.

We’ve also been eating chickpea scrambles a lot. Saute onions, garlic, and whatever veggies you’d like, add drained chickpeas. Smash them up a little and let them sizzle for 5 or so minutes, adding paprika, salt, and pepper to taste. Serve with salsa and roasted potatoes on the side.


What’s true regardless of which vegan protein you pick: there is little flavor in these plant-based options on their own. They all can take a lot of salt and a lot of hot sauce. They’ll also meld super well with whatever sauce you choose. On my list for this week is tofu cubes in BBQ sauce with corn, sweet potatoes, and broccoli. Maybe some fresh pineapple for a “Hawaiian” vibe?

I don’t think we’ll be eating vegan forever. G really likes and misses chicken, and you all know how I feel about a whole roasted bird. But I think we will stick to the routine of more meatless meals. It’s heart-healthy and planet-healthy, and a bag of lentils is a hell of a lot cheaper than a package of chicken.

What are your favorite plant-based meals?