Forward-thinking culinary adventures have been the main course lately, from Mark Bittman joining The Purple Carrot (a subscription service where healthy, premeasured vegan ingredients are delivered to your door) to Panera Bread announcing that they are adding more plant-based ingredients to their menu in an effort to keep their guests healthy and happy and to lighten the load on the environment.
In my own kitchen, I recently jumped on the “Meatless Monday” bandwagon—and then, as an experiment of sorts, I decided to try eating vegan twice a week. I never could have done this successfully without the help of two fantastic books, and I’ll definitely be using them for some delicious vegan Thanksgiving side dishes. Miyoko Schinner’s The Homemade Vegan Pantry: The Art of Making Your Own Staples, (Ten Speed Press, October 2015) contains recipes that are quick to make, and the book includes dairy- and meat-free options and substitutes for such items as yogurt, butter, mayo, bacon, mac and cheese sauce, condiments, salad dressings, pizza dough, cookies and pancake mix.
For my first week as a two-day vegan, I decided that I needed to know a few classic staples that I really enjoyed. I wanted something vegan that I could ease into and have plenty of leftovers for the second day; basically a classic comfort food. Of course, vegan macaroni and cheese was my first thought. The Homemade Vegan Pantry was the perfect book for a first-timer trying her luck at a successful vegan meal. I immediately jumped on the mac-and-cheese bandwagon, and I haven’t fallen off since.
Once I perfected a few staples, I immediately went the way of vegan haute cuisine with Tal Ronnen’s new cookbook, Crossroads: Extraordinary Recipes from the Restaurant That is Reinventing Vegan Cuisine (Artisan Books, October 2015), Named after his famed vegan restaurant in Los Angeles, Ronnen ups the ante with Mediterranean dishes, cocktails and pates that rival their meatier alter egos. If you want to throw an amazing vegan Thanksgiving or a classy cocktail party, this book is full of options and cooking techniques that will help you grow at home as a cook.
Here is the recipe from The Homemade Vegan Pantry for the richer version of two delightful non-cheese sauces:
Well-Crafted Macaroni and Cheese Mix
Unless you were raised by macrobiotic hippies, you’ve had it. I’ve had it. And there’s no shame in saying it— we’ve all had macaroni and cheese out of the box. My kids would plead with me to buy it, and I was thrilled when the vegan version came on the market. Maybe you don’t crave it anymore, but it sure is convenient to have some on hand for the kids or the babysitter. But there’s no need to buy it, because you can make the instant cheese sauce mix yourself in just a few minutes. This version is richer than the variation that follows, utilizing glorious cashews.
3/4 cup nutritional yeast
1/4 cup oat flour
1/4 cup tapioca flour
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon organic sugar
2 teaspoons powdered mustard
2 teaspoons sea salt
2 teaspoons onion powder
Add all of the ingredients to a food processor and process until a powder is formed. There should not be any discernible chunks or large granules of cashews, so this may take 3 to 4 minutes of processing. Store this in a jar or portion out into 1⁄3-cup increments and put in ziplock bags and store in the pantry for a month or two or in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.
MAKES 1 2/3 CUPS, OR ENOUGH TO COAT THE EQUIVALENT OF 5 STORE-BOUGHT BOXES INSTANT MACARONI AND CHEESE
HOW TO USE WELL-CRAFTED MACARONI AND CHEESE MIX
Cook 1 cup of dry macaroni according to package instructions and drain. Combine 1⁄3 cup mix with 1 cup water or unsweetened nondairy milk in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk well and bring to a boil. Simmer for 1 minute, then toss with hot cooked macaroni.
These mixes are also a great answer for turning yesterday’s leftovers into a quick casserole. Simply combine leftover pasta, potatoes or grains; some veggies; and any other odd scraps you think might be a good fit and mix it in a casserole dish with some of the cheese mix and water. You can add additional spices and herbs if you wish. Then bake it all up into creamy goodness. You can also use the mix to make quick sauces for veggies or add it to soups for extra-cheesy flavor and richness. It’s quite versatile.