Sunday, September 1, 2013

Mac-and-Cheese Monday ... er ... Sunday*

A Sea of Pumpkins (CC) by Flickr user Quiltsalad
I feel really happy starting Vegan Month of Food shouting out to one of my favourite vegan books - John Robbins Diet for a New America.What I really like about Robbins' book is that because it was written in 1987 the recipes, which make up the second half of the book, rely heavily on wholefoods rather than meat surrogates. I love surrogates as a quick meal or for the barbecue but I find them really salty and processed. What I realise more and more is that nothing makes me happier than a big ole plate of lentils and crisp vegetables.

But, you won't find any pulses in this recipe. While I'm sure you could add some cooked split red lentils if you wanted, this lack of ingredients we would normally associate with protein is a nice illustration of one of Robbins' main beliefs which is, we don't need as much protein as we're being told we do. Robbins argues that a human diet needs less than 5% of it's calories as protein. He bases this figure on the percentage of calories as protein in breast milk.

'How hard is it to get 5 percent of your calories as protein? Not hard at all [...] If you ate nothing but wheat (16 percent protein), or oatmeal (15 percent protein), or even pumpkin (12 percent), we would easily be getting enough protein.' - John Robbins, Diet for a New America, p.50

I'm not a scientist or a nutritionist so I don't know how robust Robbins' claim is but I love the way this book continues to shift my idea of dinner away from protein and three veg. This new way of thinking about protein means our meals are way more flexible and often lighter and more interesting than when I try to mimic a meat-based meal.

The other great thing about this recipe is that it's a great way to sneak vegetables into a small person's diet. The main ingredient is pumpkin (which there is a lot of around at the moment for a reasonable price), but I've also added broccoli, cauliflower, onion, carrot, celery and all manner of greens from kale to spinach to this recipe and it tends to be eaten. If I'm adding a leafy green I just pop it in with the 'sauce' when it's hot. If it's a more substantial vegetable I cook it with the pumpkin.

One thing about the recipe, Toki (who is seven) as a life-vegan has a very low tolerance for anything that tastes 'cheesey' with this in mind I tend not to add the nutritional yeast to the recipe. I think this is a the case if I'm serving this to non-vegans as well. Fake cheese tastes are not fun for non-vegans I reckon. However, on the yeast front, I have been known to use Marmite when I don't have any miso (I use way less Marmite if I do this, like maybe only a tablespoon).

One last thing I really love about this recipe is that it is very easy to substitute gluten-free pasta because the paste is cooked separately from the sauce. Okay, here it is. Also, for the three of us I find these amounts a bit much, so I usually half the recipe.

If you like this recipe, I'd really recommend Diet for a New America.

(Adapted from John Robbins, Diet for a New America, p.356)

About 1 kg pumpkin
1/4 cup white miso
1/4 cup hot water
1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes (As I said, I often don't use nutritional yeast)
3 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoon tahini
3 tablespoons tamari (I tend to use less than this as I normally use Braggs)
1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
500g pasta
1/2 cup herbed bread crumbs (I normally grind up some rice bubbles and add herbs like oregano, smoked paprika, oregano and salt - although, there is quite a bit of salt in nutritional yeast flakes and miso)

Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius. Lightly oil a round 1 1/2 quart baking dish.

Cut the pumpkin into, say, 1 inch square pieces (I peel it generally, or you can cook it skinned then scoop out the pumpkin - apparently it keeps more of its nutrients that way). Steam pumpkin (I often boil it and maintain the water as the 1/4 cup hot water, I've also baked it in the oven whole and then scooped the flesh out because I can't be bothered cutting up the pumpkin).

Put half the pumpkin, miso, hot water, yeast flakes, mustard, tahini, tamari and pepper in a bowl and mash or hand blend it (is that the right word? I mean one of those wands with the blades on the end of them). Mash or blend until smooth.

Meanwhile, in a large pot cook the pasta until tender and then add it to the bowl of pumpkin 'sauce' and then add the rest of the pumpkin.

Transfer this macaroni mix to the baking dish. Sprinkle the top with 'bread' crumbs. Sometimes I spray the bread crumbs with olive oil so they brown a bit.

Bake until heated through, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

I like it with a green salad.

PS. My friend Sarah reminded me of this DELICIOUS Mac-and-Cheese recipe on Isa Chandra's blog Post Punk Kitchen.

* Vegan Months of Food is run from America. I got my date-days mixed up.


  1. This recipe sounds awesome! I've been going through some bad IBS lately and my doctor recommended a diet called the low FODMAPS diet. There are some restrictions which wouldn't be too onerous (no dairy, no gluten) but there are some that are terrible - you also have to avoid all beans, lentils and pulses, onions, garlic, most fruit other than bananas and berries, and some veggies like broccoli. I don't know what to do for protein. But this recipe sounds like it would fit the bill!

    1. I wonder if this blog might be useful. Meredith who writes it is a Hare Krishna Bhakti (actually, I just read on her blog she recently became a disciple). This means that it is free of onions and garlic. Meredith does a lot of gluten-free baking and although there are plenty of recipes with pulses there are also some really good vegetable only recipes. I hope you have some support concerning protein and all the other important things our bodies need. Anyway, I hope there is something in here that takes your fancy:

  2. Thanks, hon. I can still do eggs nuts and tofu, so all is to not lost! I'm also looking for a vegetarian-friendly FODMAPS nutritionist so I can get some good advice. Thanks for the conscious kitchen blog - looks great! -