Introduction: Vegan Green Chile Mac & Cheese
Being a New Mexico transplant in upstate New York, I'm always missing my green chile. That canned green chile stuff? I'm sorry, but that stuff does not hold a candle to Hatch green chile. Luckily, every time my sister visits, she brings me a few containers of autumn roasted, chopped Hatch green chiles.
Let's talk about Hatch green chile and why they are so special.
Chile grown in the Hatch Valley, in and around Hatch, New Mexico, is called Hatch chile, although according to Wikipedia, no one cultivar of chile is specific to that area, which is smaller than the acreage used to produce chile with the "Hatch" label. New Mexicans don't necessarily eat them for their heat factor (although some varieties can be quite spicy) -- they eat them for their rich, smoky, almost sweet flavor. It's a staple for any New Mexican. Altitude, climate, soil, and acreage affects a crop's taste and heartiness, making the New Mexican region unique for plant propagation. The Rio Grande bosque, mountains, and high deserts provide the appropriate regional environment for growing chile. In and around Hatch, the soil and growing conditions create a unique set of environmental factors which contributes to the flavor of chile grown there.
In the autumn, many grocery stores set up chile roasters outside by the entrances and roast the chiles to perfection. The roasting process usually involves an operator turning a cylindrical cage drum over propane fueled flames, ensuring the chile pods are heated on every side, as they shed their skins; this ensures the chile skins blister appropriately, to allow for easier peeling of the chile. The scent of roasting green chile is intoxicating and can be smelled around town. I remember volunteering for a fun run one autumn in downtown Albuquerque and smelling the amazing scent of roasting green chiles -- I wish I could bottle it up!
New Mexicans put green chile on or in everything: enchiladas, burritos, burgers, pizza, casseroles, grilled cheeses, hot dogs, papas, cornbread, soups, stews... even ice cream! It's a pretty versatile pepper.
I decided I wanted to make some dairy-free mac and "cheese" to use up some of the green chile my sister brought me. The end result was delicious, creamy, spicy, rich, and also completely vegan! A couple of quick modifications could also make this gluten free, if you desired.
- 16 oz. pasta (elbow macaroni or shells)
- 3/4 cup cashews
- 1/2 cup boiling water (I used my electric tea kettle for this)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 2 tablespoons veggie broth
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 white onion, chopped into small squares
- 4 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups almond milk (unsweetened)
- 2/3 cup green chile (Hatch is best)
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs (optional)
Step 1: Making the Sauce
In a large pot, start boiling your pasta. Like I said, I used shells, but elbow macaroni would be a more *classic* choice. You can do a lot of other steps while your pasta is cooking, like chop up the white onion and mince the 3 garlic cloves. Once your pasta is cooked, strain it and set aside.
In a separate container, (I used a small pot, but I could have just used a bowl as I didn't heat up any of the contents on the stove) cover the 3/4 cup cashews with the 1/2 cup of boiling water and let it sit for ten minutes. After that ten minutes is up, stir in the nutritional yeast and salt. Set aside. My cashews look quite crumbly because my husband smushed them with a fork for a long time, but that's not entirely necessary.
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add 2 tablespoons of veggie broth, garlic, and onion. Stir occasionally over a 4-5 minute period, or until the onion starts to become translucent. Sprinkle the 4 tablespoons of flour over the onion + garlic and stir. Then slowly add the 2 cups of almond milk and stir. Then stir in your 2/3 cup of green chile and 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper. Cook that mixture for about 12 minutes over medium heat, stirring frequently. You don't want the sauce too thin, but you also don't want it too thick. You can always add more almond milk, but you can't take any liquid out, so if it's too thick for your preferences, add in just a little almond milk at a time.
Step 2: Blending the Sauce
Transfer both the cashew/nutritional yeast mixture and the onion/green chile mixture to a blender and carefully blend on low, increasing as you go, until smooth. Return the sauce to your pot (or in my case, my cast iron skillet) and simmer on low for a couple of minutes while stirring.
Add in your cooked pasta and stir until all the pasta is covered with sauce. Top with breadcrumbs, if desired, and season with more black pepper and salt.
Step 3: Finished!
This pasta will knock your socks off, it's so good. It's not too spicy, which is good for my husband who isn't as used to spicy foods. Honestly, if my friends and family back home were to make this recipe, I could easily see them adding in an additional 1/3 cup of green chile. (They might also add some cilantro, but I'm one of those weirdos who thinks cilantro tastes like icky, poisonous soap.) It's a very stick-to-your-ribs kind of comfort meal, which is my favorite kind of meal. I stored my leftovers in a tupperware container in the fridge and we consumed them (easily, I might add) the next day, but I'm sure they could store for a few more days.
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