No-Guilt Comfort Food

One of my coping mechanisms at the beginning of the pandemic was watching GBBO (for those in the know), aka the Great British Baking Show on this side of the pond. (The Pilsbury Bake-Off doesn’t take copy infringement lightly.) I learned a lot about baking – mostly that I could not possibly do it in England, et al. “After I mix in the golden syrup, I’m going to bake it at 160 fan.” Um… what?

However, unlike millions of people who caused a shortage of yeast when they decided to bake their way through our sheltered spring, I was not inspired to do my own home-baking. Granted, I make pumpkin pie nearly year-round but it’s crustless and sugar-free so that doesn’t count. At all.

Still, I craved comfort food during that [this] unsettling time. I wanted hearty comfort food like shepherd’s pie (hmm, there’s that “pie” again). I also wanted it to be fairly quick to prepare and simple enough for weeknight dinners.

I found the perfect savory dish in a “Plant Powered” email series by Sonja and Alex Overhiser. They created these recipes for people who [want to] eat a lot of plants but also think meat tastes really good. Their plant-based macaroni and “cheese” spiced with mild green chiles, Spanish smoked paprika, and cumin quickly became my go-to dish. Part of what makes it taste so good is their focus on creating the taste of umami. Officially, umami describes “the taste of glutamates and nucleotides.” In layperson’s terms, that equates to savory – “meaty, brothy, mouthwatering.” The secret in this recipe is nutritional yeast (a cousin of the kind that stores ran out of, thank goodness!). Not only does it bring a complex flavor, but it’s also bright yellow which helps you forget you’re not eating that most beloved of umami foods – cheese.

Other ingredients that contribute to the sauce’s full flavor are garlic, Dijon mustard, salted cashews and mild green chiles.

The dish is best eaten the day you make it. If you actually have leftovers, you can refrigerate them up to 2 days and reheat on the stove with a drizzle of oil and an optional pinch of salt.

[Note: For those of you tracking, I did indeed eliminate pasta from my diet several years ago after studying Traditional Chinese Medicine. TCM eschews pasta since it’s made from flour and water which is essentially – paste, and as such it can gum up your gut. But this year has been about sacrifices. I found that postponing my personal pasta ban was one of the easier ones I’ve had to make in 2020.]

Green Chile Mac

Serves three. Official prep time: 10 minutes. Official cook time: 15 minutes. [It always takes me longer than 25 minutes. Maybe 30.]


  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
  • 8 ounces dried pasta shells (medium-size)
  • 1/4 cup full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2/3 cup low-sodium vegetable broth, or more as needed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 1 clove garlic, quartered
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika (pimentón), plus more for garnish
  • 6 ounces (1 1/2 cups) frozen cubed butternut squash
  • 2 ounces (1/3 cup) roasted salted cashews
  • One 4-ounce can diced mild green chiles, drained
  • Ground cumin, for garnish


1. Bring a pot of generously salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, according to the package directions, then drain.

2. While the pasta cooks, make the “cheese” sauce: Whisk together the coconut milk, oil, broth, Dijon mustard, nutritional yeast, garlic, onion powder, smoked paprika and the ½ teaspoon of salt in a medium saucepan. Add the frozen butternut squash and cashews. Cook over medium-low heat, barely bubbling at the edges, for 10 minutes. [Kim’s note: In a pinch, I’ve substituted fresh sweet potato for the squash, and toasted walnuts for the cashews.]

3. Transfer the sauce ingredients to a blender, add 3 tablespoons of the green chiles and puree to form a smooth, cheesy-looking sauce. (A high-powered blender such as a Vitamix makes quick work of it; if you’re using a standard blender you may need to add a splash more vegetable broth.) Taste, and add more salt as needed.

4. Return the drained pasta to the pot, then stir in the sauce and the remaining green chiles. Scoop into bowls or on plates, garnish with a sprinkle of smoked paprika and cumin, and dig in.

Calories per serving: 520. Click here for more nutritional information.