Why is macaroni and cheese one of the most favorite comfort foods around? Two words: Cheesy. Pasta. (That's basically a mic drop in the comfort food camp, in case you're wondering.) But whether you’re making a batch out of the box or whipping up a gourmet home-style version, mac and cheese may be delicious, but it's certainly not a great pick for providing any kind of real nourishment.
Yet what if this classic dish could actually offer you some real-deal benefits, as well? As it turns out, with a little creativity and an open mind, you actually can have it both ways. But first, you'll need to reconstruct the dish from the ground up.
That’s right: change the macaroni, change the cheese, and while you're at it, change the ingredient construct entirely ... all the while (amazingly!) offering the must-have comfort you crave. This was the path we took (alongside a LOT of testing!) to create a vegetable-rich version that’s surprisingly well-balanced in nutrition, and in savory satisfaction. And not only are we sharing our favorite recipe, but we’re also serving up our top tricks for making mac and cheese nutritionally better than ever so that you can play around with your own version too.
So amp up the comfort this week with a dish that’s pretty much an automatic YES PLEASE. Because really, who can’t use a little extra healthy TLC right now?
WATCH HOW WE MAKE OUR CREAMY TURMERIC MAC & CHEESE:
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OUR TIPS FOR MAKING A BETTER, HEALTHIER MAC & CHEESE:
All the tricks you need to majorly upgrade your next macaroni masterpiece.
Replace the dairy. Mac and cheese without the cheese? Turns out you don't need dairy to make a rich and indulgent sauce. We like combining cholesterol-free plant-based fats like coconut oil with a little nutritional yeast to create a cheesy flavor that offers some bonus B-vitamins.
Sneak in veggies. Not only do you not need any cheese or cream, but believe it or not, you can use cooked veggies to make a surprisingly creamy base instead. In our recipe version, we incorporated cauliflower, red bell pepper, and onion into the mix to reduce calories and add antioxidants.
Turmeric brightens everything. Even mainstream brands have caught on that turmeric helps enhance yellow and orange colors, totally naturally. We use a liberal amount of this spice in our mac and cheese for its powerful anti-inflammatory benefits.
Upgrade that pasta. See ya bleached white flour pasta. There are so many great new pasta varieties available these days, which can fit into all kinds of nutrient-dense diets. From brown rice pasta, lentil pasta, chickpea pasta, and even low calorie noodles made out of yams, the options are oh-so many. (We love this one.)
Try different toppings. Bread crumbs are delish, but nuts, seeds, and chopped herbs make alluring topping as well, while upping nutrients.
Ready to try? Scroll down for the exact recipe version we’re making in the Luminberry Kitchen.
MORE COMFORTING HEALTHY PASTA DISHES:
Creamy Turmeric Mac & “Cheese”
Turn your mac and cheese cravings into a genuinely nourishing meal. This creamy, dreamy, veg-infused rendition is stocked with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, and gets a thumbs up from even the pickiest of eaters. Tip: For faster cooking turnaround, start heating the water for cooking the pasta while (or even before) you cook the vegetables in step one.
Prep Time: 10 minutes | Cook Time: 25 minutes | Total Time: 35 minutes Servings: 6 Author: Julie Morris
3 tablespoons coconut oil, divided
¼ yellow onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, sliced
½ small cauliflower, chopped into small florets (2 cups)
1¼ cup unsweetened almond milk, plus extra as needed
1/3 cup tahini
Sea salt and ground black pepper
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
2 tablespoons yellow miso paste
12 ounces high protein macaroni (we love this one)
1 cup frozen green peas
1/3 cup hemp seeds
1. Warm 2 tablespoons of the coconut oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion and red bell pepper and sauté until softened—about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for a minute longer. Stir in the cauliflower and almond milk, reduce heat to low, and cover. Cook for 10 minutes or until the cauliflower is very soft. Remove from heat.
2. Add the cooked vegetable mixture to a blender, along with the tahini, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, turmeric, mustard, nutritional yeast, and miso. Blend into a smooth sauce.
3. Fill a large pot with salted water and bring to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the manufacturer's directions. Drain, and return the pasta to the warm pot.
4. Pour in the blended cheesy sauce, add the peas, as well as the remaining 1 tablespoon coconut oil. Cook over low heat to defrost the peas and bring the sauce to a warm temperature, stirring in a splash of additional almond milk as needed to keep the sauce at the desired level of creaminess, and adjust seasoning to taste if needed.
Serve warm, topped with hemp seeds.
Creamy Turmeric Mac & Cheese will last for up to 5 days when stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator. Warm gently before serving.
Make ahead: Prepare the cheesy sauce ahead of time and refrigerate for several days (or freeze for several weeks), then combine with pasta or steamed vegetables for an almost-instant meal. (Thank you to our reader Sam for bringing up this time-saving tip!)