Healthy Baked Mac n Cheese (Gluten-free, Dairy-free, Soy-free)
Who doesn't like mac n cheese? Better yet, who doesn't like baked mac n cheese? It's a classic comfort food. Once the seasons change and the temperature begins to drop, we start craving more comforting foods. By "we," I don't just mean Rachel and me, but I mean all of us. It's an actual, biological thing. Growing up, it was something we always had at Thanksgiving and a few other special occasions, but being that it's so rich, it was not ever frequent. Typical baked mac n cheese is made with macaroni pasta, loads of cheese, butter, flour, and milk or cream. So, how can we enjoy this delicious comfort food more often?!
We went ahead and got rid of all the cheese, butter, cream, flour, and even the pasta. We replaced traditional pasta with chickpea pasta, making this gluten-free, but also fiber and protein-packed. The brands we love are Tolerant, because the only ingredient is chickpea flour (or lentil or black bean flour depending on the pasta you choose) or Banza,because they have a variety of different chickpea pastas and the consistency is really close to real pasta.
We traded the creamy, buttery, cheesiness with roasted butternut squash, cauliflower, and nutritional yeast. Dairy-free and soy-free, yet just the right flavor and consistency to mimic cheese! Not to mention, you're getting lots of veggies in and tons of vitamins and minerals from the nutritional yeast (note: If you have yeast allergy or sensitivity, you can still enjoy this. Nutritional yeast is not the same as baker's yeast, as it is deactivated and therefore does not react in the body.)
How did we get the crispy topping without flour or bread crumbs? Almond meal. It has a similar flavor as bread crumbs, and it crisps up nicely when baked. You can sometimes find almond meal near the other gluten free flours and oats, but the easiest, most cost-effective way to buy it is in the bulk food section. All right, so you get it. This baked mac n cheese is not only a healthier version, but it's just down right healthy, period. But is it tasty? OF COURSE. It's delicious. Try it yourself.
1 1/2 C cubed butternut squash, cooked and cooled
1 C cauliflower, raw or cooked and cooled
1/2 C nutritional yeast
1/2 C cashews, soaked for 30 min (omit for nut free)
1/2 C almond meal
1 box chickpea pasta or lentil pasta (Tolerant Foods or Banza)
1 Tbsp olive oil + additional drizzle for roasting the squash
1/4 C water
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp Himalayan salt (may add more to taste)
black pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. If using a whole butternut squash, cut length-wise, drizzle with olive oil or spray with avocado oil, and place in a baking dish face-down. May also use pre-cubed. Roast for about 30 minutes.
2. While the squash roasts, steam the cauliflower if you wish, but you may also make the "cheese" sauce with raw cauliflower.
3. While the squash roasts, cook the pasta according to package instructions.
4. While the squash roasts, soak cashews in water for about 30 minutes.
4. When the squash is tender and ready, de-seed it and cut the skin off if necessary. Cut into cubes, and save the rest to do as you wish.
5. Add the squash to a blender or food processor with the cauliflower, nutritional yeast, cashews, water, olive oil, and seasonings. Blend until smooth.
6. Place pasta and "cheese" sauce in baking dish and stir so it's evenly coated.
7. Add an additional pinch of salt over the top, and sprinkle the top with the almond meal.
8. Broil on high for 8-12 minutes. Keep an eye on it, and remove from the oven when the top is golden brown.
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