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Rich & Creamy Low-Fat Vegan Cauliflower Mac & Cheeze

I love macaroni and cheese.  Actually, I love everything cheesy, except I don’t eat cheese – animal cheese that is.  But, I used to love, love, cheese!  Because I’m vegan, I don’t eat cow cheese or goat cheese (or dog cheese, gorilla cheese or human cheese!).  When I stopped eating animal cheese (and meat) almost 9 years ago, I lost 45 pounds and it literally transformed my life!

However, because I was raised eating cow cheese, I developed a taste for cheese (and cheesy sauces!).  Cow’s milk contains a protein called casein that breaks apart during digestion to release a whole host of opiates called casomorphins[i].  These opiates, including low levels of morphine, give us a feeling of pleasure when we consume dairy.  Because cheese is concentrated milk, it’s no wonder so many of us could never imagine giving up cheese!  Cheese and other dairy products are actually physically addictive and make us feel good when we eat them.  However, this is nature’s way to help cement the infant-mother bond between the calf and the cow.  Unfortunely, in our society it has become Pizza Hut’s way to cement a cheese lover’s pizza directly to our asses.

Although it’s considered ”normal” in our society, it’s not natural or healthy for humans to consume cow’s milk or the milk of any other animal.  Cow’s milk, cheese and butter are full of saturated fat and cholesterol, all of which (in combination with meat, processed foods, sugar and vegetable oils) are directly responsible for heart disease, stroke and diabetes.  Casein, the protein in cow’s milk has been called by Dr. T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted, “the most significant chemical carcinogen ever discovered”.  For more on the health concerns associated with dairy please visit this factsheet

Thankfully, we don’t have to sacrifice the rich, creamy, deliciously decadent taste of cheese in favor of our health, our waistlines or our conscience.  With this super-easy and kid-friendly recipe, we can still enjoy the comforting flavors and textures of mac & cheese and actually lose weight and improve our health in the process!

Here are my tricks for transforming and lightening any pasta dish.

  1. Remove all animal ingredients - that means meat, dairy, eggs and fish (that will cut out all cholesterol and will substantially reduce fat)
  2. Remove all vegetable oil (yes, even olive oil!)
  3. Use only half the pasta called for in the recipe.  Use whole grain pasta and substitute vegetables for the other half.  If a recipe calls for 1 pound of pasta, use 1/2 pound of whole wheat or other whole grain pasta and use 1-2 pounds of vegetables (any kind – fresh or frozen) for the other half.  This will increase the nutrient density and decrease the calorie density.  For more on nutrient density, I recommend Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s book Eat for Health.  For more on calorie density, check out Jeff Novick’s DVD Calorie Density.  Both are available here at  http://astore.amazon.com/emiwebdelgre-20.
  4. For the sauce, use a vegetable-based sauce, like an oil-free tomato based sauce or a creamy cashew-based sauce (see recipe below).  To reduce the fat in any cashew cream sauce, simply use only half cashews and half cooked yellow squash, thereby reducing the caloric density and increasing nutrient density yet again.  At www.emilywebber.com you’ll find another one of my recipes for a creamy alfredo type sauce.
  5. Serve a vegetable on the side (preferably a green vegetable).  Starting with a fresh green salad is always a good idea.  Fruit for dessert is always great, too!

Rich & Creamy Low-Fat Vegan Cauliflower Mac & Cheeze

If you are a former cheese addict like me who could easily go back to eating cheese (if it weren’t for the million and one reasons not to), this is just the thing to get you through those occasional cheese cravings.  It is the ultimate American comfort food – seriously rich and creamy, but lighter and healthier with a big nutritional boost coming from cauliflower – a vegetable rich in sulforaphane – a powerful cancer-fighting phytochemical.  Simply by replacing half the cashews with cooked yellow squash, the rich cashew cream sauce, which tastes remarkably cheesy, is lower in fat than a typical cashew cream sauce.  Serve with a green vegetable such as peas or green beans and a green salad.

Note:  The recipe for the sauce makes a little more than you need.  Use only about ¾ of the sauce to pour over the cauliflower mac & cheese.  Save the rest to drizzle over steamed broccoli later in the week.  The sauce will keep for about 5 days in the fridge.

Ingredients

1/2 pound whole wheat elbow macaroni

1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets

Cheese sauce

1/2 cup raw cashews

1 1/2 cups steamed yellow summer squash, (steamed for about 5-7 minutes) (about 2 cups raw)

¼ cup nutritional yeast

2 tablespoons yellow miso

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tablespoons ume plum vinegar (available at natural and health food stores)

A few turns freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup water (adjust quantity to make sauce thick or thin to your preference)

Directions

  1. Cook the pasta according to package directions, adding the cauliflower during the last 5 minutes of cooking.
  2. To make the sauce, place the cashews, cooked squash, nutritional yeast, miso, lemon juice, ume plum vinegar, a bit of pepper and water in a high-powered blender (a regular blender will do, it will just take a bit longer – stop periodically to avoid burning out the motor).
  3. Drain cauliflower and pasta and stir in cheese sauce.  Serve immediately.

Recipe by Emily Barth Webber, 2010.


[i] Breaking the Food Seduction by Neal Barnard, M.D.