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Creepy Crawly Nacho Mac ‘n Cheeze

Creepy Crawly Nacho Mac ‘n Cheese, a vegan antidote to the sugar overload of Halloween (all photos from Deborah Brooks)

Halloween is around the corner, which means sugar overload is on the horizon for many. To counteract that, here’s a nutritious dinner for the kiddos or a side dish for a party buffet that’s a trick and a treat. Mildly spiced nacho mac ‘n cheeze that’s crawling with ants (black sesame seeds) as the trick and oozy cheezy goodness thanks to a combination of plant-based dairy replacements as the treat.

This bowl of gooey noodles has another trick, a secret ingredient that will get veggies into the fussiest of eaters: Roasted pumpkin! It adds sweetness and creaminess as well as nutrition to the dish.

Roasted mini pumpkins add sweetness and creaminess as well as nutrition to the dish.

This cheese sauce is easy to make in a high-speed blender. No stirring up a roux over a hot stove while you’re answering the doorbell to dole out candy to the mobs. The sauce then gets mixed with buttered pasta and shredded vegan cheeses which all get heated through on the stove. Easy and cheesy!

I hope you’ll try this vegan version of a classic dish!

Here are some chef’s tips:

  • Plan ahead as you will need to soak the cashews in water. This can be done overnight in the fridge with cold water or a few hours ahead on the counter with boiling water.
  • Mini pumpkins are particularly sweet. You can use any orange-fleshed vegetable. Think carrots, kabocha squash or butternut squash. I used the skin of the pumpkin in the mixture as well as the flesh for it’s deep orange color. No worries about it being too tough. It softens and breaks down in the blender. You will need to peel the skin for kabocha and butternut squashes.
  • Whatever vegetable you choose, roast it versus boiling or steaming otherwise you will need to drain and squeeze out the water in cheesecloth. Plus, roasting brings out the sweetness.
  • Nutritional yeast is a B vitamin powerhouse and essential on a vegan diet as it provides a mega dose of Vitamin B12, in particular. It’s got a “cheesy” taste, which is why it’s used as a cheese replacement in plant-based dishes. My favorite brand is Bragg’s. Trader Joe’s has a good version as well.
  • Oat evaporated milk is available at Sprouts or online. I’ve also seen it at Whole Foods on occasion.
  • I find that Cholula hot sauce adds a mild bit of heat as well as a piquant flavor. Please note that if you add a spicier hot sauce you may want to adjust the amount.
  • This will make about 5 1/4 cups of cheese sauce. I used 3 1/2 cups for one pound of pasta. You may want to add more or make a larger batch of mac and cheeze. Any leftover sauce is also delicious on nachos, baked potatoes, or roasted veggies.

Creepy Crawly Nacho Mac ‘n Cheeze

2 pounds whole mini pumpkins
1 lb of fusilli or short pasta of choice
Neutral oil such as grapeseed or avocado oil
1/12 cups presoaked cashews, drained (instructions below)
1 cup water
1 can oat milk evaporated milk
4 T Nutritional Yeast or to taste
1 small can diced green chiles
2 tsp Cholula hot sauce or hot sauce of choice to taste
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp salt or to taste
2 1/2 T vegan salted butter
1/12 cups shredded vegan cheddar cheese
1 cup vegan shredded Mexican cheese blend
Black sesame seeds for garnish, optional

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash and dry mini pumpkins. Cut in 2 inch wedges removing stems, sinew and seeds. Spread on a sheet pan and drizzle with oil to lightly cover veggies. Roast 30-40 minutes until the pumpkin is lightly charring. Remove and cool a bit.

In a high speed blender add the cashews and water. Blend until almost creamy. Scraping sides during blending

Add the pumpkin and blend until the sauce is creamy. Scraping side during blending.

Add the evaporated milk and nutritional yeast and blend until well incorporated.

Add the chiles hot sauce, spices and salt and blend until well combined.

Taste for seasoning. Adjust to your palate. Remember it will get cheesier and a bit saltier with the addition of the butter and cheeses.

Meanwhile cook pasta of choice until al dente. Save a cup of pasta cooking water and then drain the pasta. Do not rinse.

In the pasta cooking pot melt the butter.

Add the pasta, stirring up to coat the noodles keeping the heat on low to medium low.

Add 3 1/2 cups of sauce and stir up thoroughly.

Add the cheeses and stir up to melt. Decide if you want to add more sauce and/or some pasta cooking water to thin it out. You will have to go by personal preference here.

Heat through until hot. Serve immediately in individual bowls sprinkled with black sesame seeds.

For a buffet put in a large serving bowl and top with the sesame seeds.

Leftovers keep in the fridge for about a week. Reheat in the microwave. Or can be frozen


Soaking Cashews:

For an overnight soak, cover the cashews in cold water in a large container. Cover and put in the fridge.

For a quick soak cover the cashews in boiling water in a large container and leave on the counter to cool. About 2 hours.

For either method you will need to drain and rinse the cashews before adding to recipes.

Plant-Based dairy replacements are available at Sprouts, Whole Foods or online.
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Deborah Brooks
Deborah Brooks
Deborah is currently a documentary film producer. She is also a former certified personal trainer and fitness nutrition coach. The shutdown of business due to Covid-19 and the implication of an animal wet market connection caused her to rethink her high animal protein food lifestyle. She has spent the last year exploring the world of plant based eating for her own health as well as the health of the planet and all of its sentient beings. Her recipes can be found on Instagram. She would love you to follow along on her journey.

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