My friend Luke and I were having one of our movie nights, drinking a few beers/ciders, and as per usual I was whipping up a batch of mac n cheeze. We were wondering what it is about mac n cheeze that makes it such perfect comfort food, and landed on a theory that it’s the creaminess, the stodginess and the simplicity of the stuff that really hits the spot. It’s just the perfect anytime dinner, especially to share with friends so you can both ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ as you’re eating it!
Mac n cheeze and I have a long love affair. Sometimes, when I was young, my parents would ask my brother and I what we would most love to eat on Christmas Day, and once in a while our dream menu would come true. The most vivid memories for me of those fantasy dinners are the mac n cheeze ones, right down to the red and green peppers my Mum would add in for festive flair.
This got me to thinking about what my fantasy mac n cheeze dish would contain these days. Certainly no dairy cheese, and to be honest it’s pretty great just with a beer, some good company and lashings of chipotle Tabasco. But I reckon that there’s another key thing to consider…
Isabel from The Mighty Food Fight and I eat a fair amount of mac n cheeze (when we’re not scoffing nachos, that is) and she’s been loving the chipotle and miso version from Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s Post Punk Kitchen. It struck me: oh right, it’s all about the umami, that’s the key to mac n cheeze deliciousness. Umami, that wonderful fifth taste, which accounts for my love all of things fermented, Vegemite out of the jar and other more nefarious comestibles (BBQ Pringles anyone?!) And so a rich and tasty mac n cheeze recipe with all the spice, umami, crispy bits, pickled bits and greens was born…
Right there in that photo, that’s my little gang of flavoursome umami additions. If you’ve not tried putting schichimi (on the left) or gochujang (on the right) on anything and everything I would definitely recommend it. Gochujang is a spicy umami paste made of red chillies and fermented soybeans, which is used frequently in Korean cooking. I’m pretty sure I came across it whilst working out of Sky Kong Kong, Bristol’s organic Korean Cafe, last year. It’s the perfect easy addition to mac n cheeze, and gives it warmth and a gentle savoury tap on the taste buds.
Schichimi is a spice mixture of ground chillies and sanshō (‘Japanese pepper’), roasted orange peel, sesame and hemp seeds, ginger and seaweed and here I reckon it gives something extra to the coconut bacon topping I love so much. I picked up my spicy things from Wai Yee Hong in Bristol, and I think they should be simple to track down in any city.
Gochujang Mac n Cheeze with Miso Spinach, Pink Pickled Onions + Coconut Bacon
For the Mac n Cheeze
200g macaroni (for this recipe which serves two hungry humans)
200g cashew nuts (soak them for half an hour in boiling water if you don’t have a blender that destroys iPhones… you know the one)
5 tbsp nutritional yeast (or whatever you’ve got left, tbh if you leave it out it’ll still taste great!)
2 tbsp cornflour
1 tbsp gochujang
2 tsp vegan bouillon powder
1 tsp mustard powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp each salt and pepper (or however you like to season)
For the Pink Pickled Onions
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
6 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp granulated sugar
Pinch of sea salt
For the Coconut Bacon
2 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp schichimi
1 tsp smoked paprika
70g coconut flakes
For the Miso Spinach
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp miso
Juice of a lime
1 tbsp water
Two big handfuls of spinach
Salt and pepper to taste
THE NUTS + BOLTS
For the Pink Pickled Onions
- Combine apple cider vinegar, sugar and salt in a medium bowl.
- Thinly slice half moons of red onion and submerge in the vinegar mixture. Set aside for a quick pickle.
Make all the sauces
- Combine all ingredients for the mac n cheeze in the blender, leaving out the macaroni of course, which you can pop in a pan ready to be cooked. Blend at an intensity and long enough for a smooth sauce to be formed.
- In a medium bowl mix all the ingredients for the coconut bacon, aside from the the flakes themselves.
- Once you’ve done this you can add the coconut flakes. Pre-heat the oven to 180C at this time too.
- In a small bowl combine these ingredients for the miso spinach: miso, water, lime juice and seasonings.
Get your mac n cheeze on!
- Start boiling the macaroni in the pan as everything is going to come together in the next ten minutes (during which time your mac will be cooked)
- Heat the sesame oil for the miso spinach at a low-medium heat in a frying pan or wok. Add the crushed garlic.
- Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Spread out the coated coconut flakes on the tray and pop in the oven. Pop a timer on for 4 minutes.
- Once the garlic in the frying pan has lightly browned throw in two handfuls of spinach and stir.
- When the coconut bacon timer goes off remove the tray from the oven and turn the coconut flakes. Place back into oven and set the timer again for 4 minutes.
- Continue to stir the spinach and as soon as it starts to wilt a little at the edges chuck the miso mixture into the frying pan and stir.
- The macaroni should be cooked at this point. Drain the water from the pan but keep the pan out and leave the hob on too, though on a lower heat. Return mac to the pan and stir in the cheeze sauce, popping back on the hob.
- When the coconut bacon timer goes off remove the tray from the oven and place on the side whilst you stir the mac n cheeze and spinach.
- Once the mac n cheeze has thickened (a couple of minutes) you can dish everything up, grabbing some pink pickled onions as the final garnish!