A nice plate of mac and cheese is the poster child for comfort food, and going vegan pretty much meant giving it up. Sure, I can make close approximations using the soy or tapioca imitation cheeses that are easy to find these days, but they taste a little off and feel a little weird. They come close to dairy cheese, but there is just difference enough to make this classic cheese-centered dish feel horribly wrong to me. It’s like an Uncanny Valley for food.
The solution I’ve found is to aim for something reminiscent of mac and cheese but not a duplicate, much as the best veggie burgers fill the role of a hamburger without attempting to masquerade as meat. Cheese flavored sauces, like the cheesy gravy I made Saturday for the scrambled omelets, can come close enough to mac and cheese mood to please without falling into the Uncanny Valley trap.
I had lots of the sauce leftover from Saturday’s meal and a continued craving for comfort food (the growing stress ain’t going anywhere anytime soon, it seems), so I picked up some brown rice pasta during this week’s shopping run so that I could pair fake pasta with my fake cheese. Brown rice pasta lacks gluten and is therefore a little softer than the real thing, but it held up to the heavy sauce fine.
Since my phony cheese sauce is basically a cheese flavored gravy, it does not provide the protein that a real cheese, soy cheese, or even cashew cheese would have. To compensate for this, I added some diced seitan–the exploded seitan from Sunday did in fact turn out just fine despite the drama. I also tossed in a bunch of lightly steamed broccoli to bulk out the dish with something very low in calories but high in nutrition and then drizzled the lot with sriracha, because it is my personal belief that sriracha on mac and cheese (or the vegan alternative) is one of life’s great pleasures.
And then of course there was salad. Dinner almost always includes a leafy green, be it a salad, kale, or a cabbage slaw. Last night I went with mixed greens and grape tomatoes dressed lightly in olive oil and balsamic vinegar.