Friends, I have saved the best for last.
In my pregan days, my summertime claim to fame was a cheddar vegetable and pasta bake served alongside burgers of some sort.
For years I have been unable to recreate this dish in a vegan-friendly way. It was the one measly thing that I simply could not make a decent vegan version of.
It was my Everest.
It bugged me. Oh, how it bugged me. I live in a "anything omnis can do, vegans can do better" world, which may be a bit conceited, but is good for the spirit when living in an often unaccommodating omnivorous society. So you can see why giving up on veganizing this old favourite was simply not an option. I would not concede to failure!
The problem was that the cheddar flavour is (obviously) the predominant force in this dish's deliciousness. Other cheese-based dishes can be more easily veganized if the cheesy taste is masked by another flavour in such a way that you don't notice that you're not eating dairy cheese. In those instances it doesn't really matter what kind of vegan cheese you throw in there.
In the case of this cheddar bake, any old vegan cheese would simply not do, since the vast majority of cheeses marketed to vegans taste absolutely nothing like dairy cheese. What good is a cheddar bake if all vegan cheeses make you gag, as they did me?
(Vegan) Cheddar Bake
3 cups whole wheat pasta (uncooked)
2 tbsp vegan friendly margarine (alternatively you could use olive oil but go for the margarine if you have it!)
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp whole wheat flour
1 cup rice milk (plus extra, if needed to thin the sauce)
2 1/4 cups cheddar Daiya
2 cups frozen mixed vegetables, thawed (I used peas, green beans, lima beans, corn and carrot - but it would be really great with frozen broccoli)
Salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper - to taste
1/4 cup breadcrumbs (optional)
1) Preheat oven to 375F. Cook pasta in a large pot in boiling water for about 8 minutes or until done al dente.
2) In a separate large saucepan, melt the vegan margarine over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook 1-2 minutes, until just browned (but be careful that it doesn't burn!). Stir in the flour and cook for another minute, the mixture should become paste-like. Slowly stir in the rice milk, until the mixture reaches the desired consistency (I usually use one cup plus a couple tablespoons). Add the salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper.
3) Increase the heat to a gentle boil (but be very careful that the mixture does not burn). Once boiling, decrease heat to low and stir in 2 cups of the Daiya. Stir continuously until the Daiya is melted.
4) Drain pasta and toss into the cheesy sauce. Add the thawed vegetables and mix well.
5) Place the pasta mixture in a lightly oiled casserole dish. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup of Daiya and top with breadcrumbs, if desired. Cover and bake for 10 minutes. Uncover, and bake for an additional 5 minutes.
Yields 4 large servings as a main dish, or 6 smaller servings as a side dish
I swear, this is even better than the dairy version, and I am not just saying that because I love veganism. It is actually better. While we were eating it Paul felt the need to say out loud, "Is it just me, or is this really good? Like, really good?"
And that comes from a person who has had dairy cheese more recently than I have.
It's lighter. It's creamier. And you don't feel disgusting when you're finished eating it.
I've reached the top of Everest and it feels (tastes?) goooooooooooood.
[In case you can't tell by the first picture, I will note that I have given up on making homemade veggie burger patties. Instead, we marinated a pair of absolutely massive portobello mushrooms from the market in barbeque sauce, grilled them on the barbeque and then topped them with chipotle guacamole instead. Perfect main dish to complement my beloved cheddar bake!]