Considering macaroni and cheese’s creamy and rich reputation, Michigan State University Registered Dietitian and Culinary Coordinator Gina Keilen and her team had quite a challenge on their hands when they set out to develop a vegan version that would meet students’ approval.
Keilen knew the key was making MSU’s sauce from scratch. After researching recipes and speaking with vegan students, she hit upon a combination of cashews, coconut milk, nutritional yeast, potatoes and aromatic vegetables. “Once we had the flavors down, it was a matter of getting it creamy instead of grainy,” Keilen says. “Soaking the cashews [in water] helped to give them a pseudo-milk consistency.” The sauce then is poured over a vegan pasta.
The next challenge was selling the skeptics. While vegan students were enthusiastic, it took more effort to change the “noodles” of some omnivores. “We started out by serving bite-size samples,” Keilen says. The vegan version proved popular among many nonvegan students, and since last summer the dish has been expanded to three on-campus dining halls, where it’s served once a week.