Since I have a race coming up this week – my biggest in over a year – I decided that now would be a good time to make a big batch of shells and cheese and have it on hand for a pre-race meal. For most everyone born in the US, it’s also a comfort food, hence its inclusion in this month’s comfort food series.
Most competitive runners already know to load up on carbs the day before a race, and pre-race pasta dinners are ubiquitous at big events attracting runners from around the world. What might not be so well-known is that pasta dishes like mac and cheese (shells and cheese in this post) are easy to veganize, so you can get the carbs, enjoy some cheesy flavor (if you want) without any of the animal fat or other yucky stuff found in conventional recipes.
Benefits for Vegan Runners
As stated above, mac and cheese supplies easily digestible carbs which, consumed the night before a race or other hard effort, will be in your bloodstream and ready to use when you need them.
Whereas conventional mac and cheese recipes are heavy on cheese – a mediocre source of protein considering how many not-good-for-you things come with it – many vegan mac and cheese recipes, including mine below with a tofu cream sauce, are high enough in plant protein to give you the 4:1 carbs to protein ratio recommended for recovery. (More on that here and elsewhere on the Interwebs.) Protein also slows gastric emptying, so the 4:1 ratio is also ideal pre-workout to ensure extended carb release the morning of your big event.
Most vegan cheesy pasta dishes use copious amounts of nutritional yeast, which contributes to the cheese flavor of the dish and is a vegan-friendly source of B-12.
So here’s the recipe!
Shells and Cheese with Tofu Cream Sauce
1 16-oz box of pasta shells
1.5 blocks of firm or extra firm tofu
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp turmeric
¼ cup nutritional yeast
1 tbsp mustard
¼ cup corn starch
Salt to taste (try 1.5 tsp to start)
2 cups soy milk
8 oz. vegan cheese such as Chao, Daiya or Follow Your Heart Vegan Gourmet, shredded
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Grease a 9 x 13” baking dish and set aside.
Bring 3 quarts of salted water to a boil. Stir in pasta and add 1-2 tbsp oil to the cooking water to prevent sticking.
Cook according to package instructions. Drain, return to pot, cover and set aside.
Meanwhile, place tofu and all dry ingredients in a food processor.
Mix the above ingredients until they appear to be blending. Scrape down sides as needed, then drizzle in soy milk from the top. Blend until the mixture achieves a uniform consistency.
Combine the tofu mixture and shredded cheese with the drained pasta in the pot. Stir until all ingredients are evenly distributed.
Transfer the pasta to the baking dish and spread out into an even layer. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly.
Remove from the oven, plate it up and enjoy!
Yes, making your pre-race pasta dinner is just that easy. Try it yourself on an upcoming Friday and let me know in the comments how it turned out!