What dish always seems to find its way to the top of the kids menu? Good old macaroni and cheese. Mac n cheese is a comfort food beloved by people ages 2 to 200. Mac n cheese may even have been the first thing you learned how to cook, albeit the bright orange stuff from a box. As an adult I’ve often sought to “dress up” my favorite childhood foods to make them more nutritious and well-rounded a a meal, and mac n cheese is no exception.
I should point out that my husband and I absolutely LOVE cheese. We have books about cheese, fancy cheese boards and knives, and a list of all the cheeses we’ve tasted with elaborate notes. But like a growing portion of the population, we’ve recently begun cutting down on our cheese consumption. For some people, cheese poses a problem due to lactose; recent studies estimate that there are 40 million people in the U.S. who are lactose intolerant. Others are choosing to eschew dairy due to ethical and environmental sensibilities. For my family, our impetus for giving up cheese has been threefold:
Religion – My husband and I are practicing Jews. We view our religious life as an ever-evolving journey and we take steps towards stricter observance as we are comfortable. Recently, we’ve increased our efforts as they relate to kosher, Jewish dietary laws. Without getting into the nasty details of how cheese is made (trust me), there are certain steps that make producing kosher cheese a challenge.
Finances – The difficulty in finding high quality kosher cheese brings us to our next reason. Buying kosher cheese is expensive!!! Frankly there are other area of our life that we want to save money for (trips, home renovations, etc.), and something had to give.
Health – Lastly but certainly not least important is our health. Although neither hubby nor I believe we are lactose intolerant, various health issues have inspired us to make a change and start cutting down on our dairy consumption.
But what about macaroni and cheeeese?! I couldn’t bear the thought of losing this favorite dish in our home, so I experimented and came up with a cheeseless (or almost) version of one of my very favorite dishes. I promise you’ll love it, because I am the pickiest, most childish eater out there, and I love it.
Added bonus: It’s healthy! Cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, and vitamins B1, B2, and B6. It also contains plenty of dietary fiber, protein, omega-3 fatty acids, manganese, phosphorus, and biotin. Whole wheat pasta is a great source of fiber, protein, and manganese. Fresh corn is a great source of protein, fiber, potassium, and vitamin B6. Lastly, arugula contains vitamin A along with other nutrients and antioxidants.
“Grown Up Mac and (Hold the) Cheese” (yields 8-10 servings)
1 head of cauliflower
1 C nutritional yeast
1 Bag/box whole wheat pasta (I prefer rigatoni or shells) approx. 12 oz.
4 cloves of garlic (approx. 2 tsp minced)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Salt to taste
2 C arugula
2 ears of corn
OPTIONAL: 1/4 C cheddar/mozzarella for topping
OPTIONAL: Sriracha to taste
Stock pot (or similar size)
Medium or large bowl
Immersion blender (highly recommended!!!)
Wooden spoon or spatula
Knife for chopping
Measuring cups & spoons
Start by chopping up the cauliflower and tossing it in a big pot of water with some salt. Bring to a boil then let simmer until soft (try mashing it a bit with a fork to test consistency). Meanwhile, peel and clean corn.
Once the cauliflower begins breaking apart, lift cauliflower into bowl with slotted spoon and place corn into water, return water to a boil. If easier, you can drain the cauliflower and start with a new pot of water for the corn.
Allow cauliflower to cool in bowl before using the immersion blender to cream it. Slowly add in cup of nutritional yeast, constantly blending. Add garlic, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
Bring a new pot of water to a boil and add pasta. When cooked through, drain and let cool. Meanwhile, slice corn off cob and add to cauliflower sauce. Slowly mix pasta into cauliflower sauce. Add shredded arugula and voila!
Variations include adding a small amount of shredded cheese on top for flair.