Winter is here and comfort food is near. Introducing this week’s installment of Meatless Monday…
Middle Eastern-inspired Macaroni and Cheese
I remember roaming the alleyways of the Al Hamidiyeh Souq in Damascus Syria and coming across some hole-in-the-wall bakeries that served the most delectable za’atar pizzas. Za’atar is often translated as thyme but is more commonly known as a spice mixture with thyme, sesame seeds and sumac as the common ingredients. It can be found in specialty grocery stores, Middle Eastern food shops and major grocery chains in big cities. It can also be found in its land of origin: countries of the Middle East.
I was lucky enough (and perhaps had the foresight) to travel to Syria prior to the uprisings and rebel action that are currently taking place there. Though it has been 2 and a half years since touring the highlights of this country I still fondly remember the food. Syria is definitely on my top ten list of countries that vegetarians can travel to and feast in. I ate copious amounts of za’atar and bought some from the spice market as a souvenir. That supply has long run out and I have since bought a supply of za’atar from Ten Thousand Villages. It found its way into my macaroni dish along with some goat cheese and halloumi, a rubbery-textured, salty tasting cheese from Cyprus.
The recipe was pretty standard i.e. some macaroni, some cheese, a white sauce (usually milk based) and some seasonings. I used a braided whole grain pasta of kamut and quinoa (step outside of the elbow macaroni box and use something different) along with the za’atar seasoning and salt and pepper (the usual spice suspects in savoury cooking). The white sauce was achieved with some butter, spelt flour, soy milk and a combination of organic goat’s milk cheese and the leftover chunk of halloumi I had sitting in my fridge threatening to turn green and fuzzy. To mimic the taste of a za’atar pizza (simply pita bread spread with an olive oil and za’atar paste then baked) I threw in a few chopped olives to complement the salty flavour. Bread crumbs can be used as a crusty topping if you wish.
The end result…delicious in my opinion. This dish can be served with a side of steamed vegetables to make a complete meal of good carbs, fiber, protein (kamut and quinoa are complete proteins) and some healthy fat. It can be veganized by substituting vegan ‘butter’ or olive oil for the fat portion of the white sauce, vegan cheese (Daiya melts well) and tofu for the halloumi.
Just a note when using halloumi, it holds it shape well when cooked and is often fried or grilled. With the heat of the oven, though it was persuaded to melt enough so that it blended with my macaroni and cheese.
With a little imagination and cultural inspiration you can turn any comfort food into a Meatless Monday meal.
Curious about another approach to veganizing comfort food?
Check out this link for the Hogtown Vegan–Vegan Comfort Food. I shall be indulging in their vegan poutine for my treat day.