Take heart, you sad gluten-free-dairy-free slobs. It’s now possible to enjoy mac & cheese. Start by throwing away the soy cheese and rice cheese, which are udderly pointless (haha!). Instead, get Daiya, a vegan alternative that finally melts and stretches in a convincing way.
Daiya is made from tapioca and arrowroot flours. The addition of safflower, canola and coconut oils gives it a greasy finish that eliminates the need for milk and egg substitutes — always an issue in vegan recipes. Add a wheat-free pasta like organic brown rice elbow macroni, then you’re in business.
Busy cooks will also be happy to hear that my recipe is insanely fast and easy. There are just two main ingredients: Daiya and pasta. I have also found my version of the classic comfort food to be kinder to the system; it doesn’t make me bloated or pimply like wheat-and-milk versions. Hard-core holistic folks will also be pleased to hear that while this dish has very little redeeming nutritional value, it’s not as energetically junky as the real thing, according to my Chinese medicine master and friend Jeffrey Yuen.
To truly enjoy this recipe, you must accept the truth that NOTHING tastes as good as “real” mac & cheese, whether you like it out of a box or made from scratch with wheat pasta and genuine cheddar. The proof was when I forced my daughter and three of her friends to be taste-testers. While the teens said they would never eat it again, they agreed that if you had no other choice due to dietary restrictions, this dish would do. Hey, it works for me. :)
2 cups brown rice pasta, uncooked
8 oz. Daiya Cheddar Style Shreds (1 bag)
A dash of salt
A sprinkle of olive oil
A piece of aluminum foil about the same size as the dimensions of your pan
Big or long-handled spoon for stirring
Pot for boiling pasta
— Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
— Boil a pot of water. Add a dash of salt and olive oil.
— Throw in the pasta and stir so that it doesn’t clump together.
— When the water starts boiling again, turn down the flame and simmer according to packaging directions (probably about 15 to 20 minutes) or until it tastes done to you.
— Drain and dump pasta in a bowl.
— Add the Daiya cheese shreds and gently mix (gluten-free pastas tend to fall apart with too much handling). Spoon it evenly into pan. Place the aluminum foil loosely on top (to keep surface pasta from drying out while baking).
— Bake for about 20 minutes or until the cheese looks melted.
— Remove from oven and let it set for about 15 minutes before serving.
If you want to dress up your mac & cheese, do it before baking. One option is to buy a second package of Daiya and sprinkle about half of it evenly across the top of the pan for extra cheese-y fun. If you like this idea, forget the aluminum foil; you won’t need it. Another idea is to sprinkle it with paprika to give it some color and a mild kick.
As for where to get these ingredients…Whole Foods is the only store in my area that stocks Daiya (about $4.99 per 8-oz. bag). But the gluten-free pasta is available these days at even many regular supermarkets.
For those of you who would like to see this fabulous snack up close, there are larger photos posted on my Flickr.com account for Betty Ming Liu.
And for more info on Daiya, please check out: We’re digging Daiya! This story by Chris Wytenus includes his taste test and review of three vegan cheese brands. (Follow him on Twitter @chriswytenus).
Chris was in the “Food Writing” class that I taught during NYU’s Fall 2011 semester. He always made us laugh with his wicked impressions of me. Now he’s graduated and on his way to a brilliant law career. Thanks Chris, for teaching me about Daiya, veganism and life. xo