By Ali Lopez
MRG Contributor

Winter running in Michigan means give me all the comfort foods! Oh, let’s be honest: winter means comfort foods, whether you are running or not. Everyone has their favorites, but I’d guess mac and cheese is up there on most folks’ top ten list. 

But what to do if you are trying to eat a bit healthier in 2021? Maybe you are trying to eat a more plant-based diet. Can you have your mac and cheese and eat it, too? Well, I say yes you can. I am constantly experimenting with mac and cheese recipes and I think this one is pretty darn good. No, it does not taste like boxed mac and cheese, and you probably won’t fool anyone into thinking it is the “real thing,” but it’s creamy and tasty AND bonus points … you can feel good about eating it. 

Mac 'n' cheese

This mac and cheese recipe would also make a great dinner the night before a long run, or a recovery meal post-long run. It’s got protein, carbs, and healthy fats, and you can even throw in some green veggies (I always do!) to boost the nutrition factor. I like to roast some broccoli or Brussels sprouts and add them on top or mix them in. Your choice. You can also make a double batch of the sauce and the next time it will be just as quick to make as that “boxed stuff.”

Vegan Mac and “Cheez” 

Ingredients

  • 12 oz. pkg. macaroni elbows or your favorite shaped pasta
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 large carrot, grated
  • 1 cup peeled and grated russet potato (1 small/ medium potato)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • Sea salt and black pepper to taste
  • 2/3 cup raw cashews (soaked for at least an hour), drained
  • 2 cups water, more as necessary
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons apple cider vinegar, to taste

Method

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil for the pasta. Cook according to package directions. Save a cup of the pasta water. Drain and transfer the contents to a large serving bowl. 

Meanwhile, in a medium-to-large saucepan, warm the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook, until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Add the grated potato, carrot, garlic, mustard, 1 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Stir to combine, and cook for a minute or two. 

Add 1 cup water. Let the mixture come to a simmer and cook until the potatoes and carrots are completely tender and cooked through, about 10 minutes. While this cooks, add cashews and 1 cup water to a blender. Blend well. 

Mac 'n' cheese

When veggie mixture is ready, add to the blender, carefully, along with the yeast and vinegar. Blend until the mixture is completely smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides if necessary. If the mixture won’t blend easily, add pasta water in ¼ cup increments, blending after each one.

Taste, and blend in additional salt until the sauce tastes how you like it. If it needs a little more zip, add more vinegar or hot sauce. Blend again. Pour the sauce into the pasta. Eat!

mac 'n' cheese with broccoli

Ali Lopez is a northern Michigan runner, chef and health coach. You can learn more about her at her website Healthy Chef Ali. She’s also on Facebook here »

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