Sunny Days + (Vegan) Sweet Potato Mac + ‘Cheese’

[Pt. Reyes Station, Calif., January 2013.]

The Bay Area currently is experiencing a string of brilliant days (weeks?) of sun and clear skies that have seemed to stretch on endlessly. This is not something I take for granted, mind; I covet these fog-free mornings and noons and feel grateful I’m able to take advantage of them a bit. I have my early coffee on the outside step of my apartment building to soak up the rays and plan my runs so that I’ll be out in the warmish afternoons. I don’t think I’ll get over this ability to run during the daylight hours – it’s one aspect of self-employment that continues to rock my world and no doubt will for a long time (or until I have a more traditional job again).

Seriously though – these are halcyon days. I’m not running the Kaiser half-marathon on Sunday but if I were it would be probably be similar to the first weekend of February two years ago when I did: hot, sunny, bright and crashing along the coast. I’m a little sorry I’m not participating this year but will go for a long run down there tomorrow before cooking the rest of the day away for a dinner party. I’ll take a few minutes to sit along the sea wall and watch the waves and blink the sweat out of my eyes. I don’t mind running in the fog, rain, mist etc., but a run in the sun with a cool breeze is pretty much my idea of heaven. Or at least absolute happiness. (We’re going to Yosemite at the end of the month to get some proper winter in, however; it would be just too weird not to see snow once this season.)

Meanwhile, I’ve accepted that sweet potatoes apparently are my winter thing. Way back in the dark ages of 2006 I spent a few weeks in Iceland with my then-boyfriend. I was chilly (and downright cold) nearly all of the time, the light faded early, and all I could think about were sweet potatoes, not available even at the health food store up the street I frequented. … there has been a lot of lentils and pasta and soup and bread and cheese concoctions, I wrote, — delicious in their own ways, but not what I am really craving [which, to be honest, is a big pile of wilted spinach, a mashed sweet potato, a fresh tomato, and a portabello mushroom. I don’t know quite why, but that is what I want right now.] Minus the fresh tomato, I still do crave these things in February. Lately I have piled mashed sweet potatoes on top of vegetarian sheperd’s pie, baked them in the oven and eaten them simple alongside sauteed chard and baked beans, folded them into an addictive quinoa-arugula salad. Poor DW is a champ but I know he is sick of them at this point. Still, I can’t seem to stop …

I can’t say why exactly this is – is there some vitamin lacking in this winter sunlight that’s only found in sweet potatoes, thus creating my hankering for them? – but there you have it. The the other afternoon whilst trawling the Internet, as sometimes happens, I found a recipe for vegan mac and cheese using sweet potatoes (and some other stuff) in place of the cheese. What caught my eye immediately, of course, was the use of the sweet potatoes.

It’s an easy enough recipe: steamed (or roasted, if that’s more to your liking) sweet potatoes pureed with nutritional yeast (which sounds odd but it somehow works), a splash of lemon juice plus a splash of soy sauce, mustard, garlic powder, salt. I’ll caution that it really doesn’t taste like cheese, but I liked it all the same and was comforted by the reduction in calories (have I mentioned how many baked goods I’ve been churning out?) by the omission of the dairy. This should, then, not be seen as a substitution for ‘regular’ macaroni and cheese but rather as its own entity. I folded in some roasted broccoli (spinach would also be nice, inside or alongside) and sprinkled the top with breadcrumbs and baked it all for about 20 minutes. It was lovely.

Next week perhaps I’ll mix things up a little and use some sort of winter squash or go rogue and stick with winter greens only but for this sunny Friday I’m committed to sweet potatoes and loving every bite. Hope you do, too.

Join the Conversation

  1. Oh, yum! Always yum. I agree that sweet potatoes do hit the spot in a way that nothing else can. Whether it’s the combination of fiber, retained warmth and density with their many vitamins, I do feel that my quest for nutrition is pretty well-covered when they are present on my plate.

    Thanks, as always, for posting these lovely pictures and recipes!

  2. I feel the same way about sweet potatoes in the winter! This dish sounds really great- a must-try!

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