February 7th, 2012

Sunflower Mac

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Serves 4
Time: 30 minutes (not including sunflower seed soaking time)

Sunny Mac

The most important people in my life are my recipe testers. Luckily, my sister and mom are included in their numbers, so all of my bases are covered.

Recipe testers are why my cookbooks work. Before a recipe gets to you, it has already been tested by a bunch of people, all over the world. They all have different levels of experience, from beginner cooks to lifelong kitchophiles. Some live in rural areas and harvest their own kale, while others lug huge bushels home from the farmer’s market on the subway. And there’s a happy medium in between.

But not only do testers test my recipes, they also give me inspiration. I can ask if there’s anything I’m missing, anything they’re craving, or just any ingredients they need to use up. It’s a great way to get ideas!

And over the years, I’ve learned many of their quirks, likes, loves and allergies. One of my most favoritest testers who has been there with me from the very beginning is Jess Sconed. I can’t say enough about her amazingness! I mean, not just as a recipe tester but as a friend and as a person. She is always creating something, always making the vegan community a better, more awesome, and more fun place. She started Vegan Iron Chef and is one of the organizers of Vida Vegan Con. She has like 20 blogs, but you might know her from Get Sconed, where she’s been blogging for ever. This recipe, created in her honor, is totally fitting because she’s a lot like a sunflower. One with dyed black pigtails and purple nail polish, but a sunflower all the same! Just a glowing ray of tofu light.

I know how she feels about raw onions and cilantro (not too good), and so I often come up with recipes keeping that in mind. And recently Jess has developed a tree nut allergy! I can’t imagine a worse fate right now, what with the cashew craze and my out of control almond butter lust. Knowing how much she loves vegan macs, I wanted to experiment with a sauce that I knew Jess would love, using ingredients that would be good for her, too. And so I pulled out the sunflower seeds.

I really wasn’t sure what to expect. Was this going to taste very 70s health-foody? I mean, it’s sunflower seeds. Our grandparents put them on their oatmeal. Would they even blend well? Cashews slurp up water and get tender and ready to puree. Sunflower kernels seem so hard and unwelcoming. I had my doubts, to be sure.

But all those doubt washed away as I poured the perfectly creamy sauce over the little macaronis in a positively cheddary orange waterfall. Sunflower seeds have a mellow nutty quality that fit right into a cheezy sauce. The backdrop of garlic and onion, with a hint of vegetable sweetness from carrots, and the rich toastiness from the sunflowers had me at the first creamy forkful. Bottom line: I really dug it! And from now on, I’ll have a canister of sunflower seeds standing proudly beside the cashews in my cupboard. Thanks for the inspiration, Jess!

I love to serve my mac with some steamed kale, so here was my plate.

Sunny Mac

The mac is under there somewhere! Steamed broccoli would be a good choice, as well. PS If you’d like to see all the testing that Jess did for Veganomicon, you can check out her post here.

8 oz macaroni pasta (I used whole wheat, use brown rice pasta to make it gluten-free)

1 cup unroasted sunflower seed kernels, soaked (see directions)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup thinly sliced carrots
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt

3 cups vegetable broth
2 tablespoons organic cornstarch
1/4 cup nutritional yeast

2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon lemon juice                                                              
Sweet paprika for sprinkling                                                        

Place sunflower seeds in a bowl and submerge in water. Let soak for about 2 hours and up to overnight. Drain well.

Boil a pot of salted water for your pasta.

Preheat a sauce pot over medium heat. Saute carrots and onions in oil with a pinch of salt for about 10 minutes, until onions are translucent and carrots are slightly softened. Add garlic and saute for 30 seconds or so, then remove from heat.

Place the carrots and onions in a blender or food processor. Add vegetable broth, corn starch, nutritional yeast, tomato paste and sunflower seeds. Blend until very smooth. This could take up to 5 minutes depending on the power of your machine, so give your blender  motor a break every minute or so and test the sauce for smoothness. It should be very smooth, with only a slight graininess.

If your water is boiling, prepare the pasta according to package directions.

In the meantime, transfer the sauce back to the sauce pot. Turn the heat up to medium and let cook, stirring very often, until thickened. This should take about 15 minutes. Add the lemon juice and taste for salt and seasoning.

The pasta should be done while the sauce is thickening, so drain and place back in the pot you cooked it in. Set aside.

When sauce is thick, pour most of it over the pasta, reserving some to pour over individual servings. Mix it up, and serve with extra sauce and paprika for sprinkling.

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