In challenging times, cooking can bring a sense of calm and normalcy. Try this nutrient rich spin on a comfort food classic.
[Editor’s note: Bring the concept of a social meal into your life right now with one of the technology tools that lets you connect virtually.]
For me, the family table was an early introduction to the benefits of eating together. These days, the idea of long table eating, or sharing a communal meal with a large and varied group of people, is experiencing a resurgence, as restaurateurs and community event planners begin to recognize the many ways this longstanding tradition is good for us.
My family’s table could always stretch to accommodate more family members, friends and new acquaintances, and after my mother was diagnosed with cancer it often welcomed nurses, volunteer nurses, personal support workers and ministers, as well as friends and family members.
This to me is the essence of what a long-table meal means: people coming together who may or may not know one another, sitting down and sharing a wholesome, slow-cooked meal.
In all of my work, my mission is to share with others how they can improve their diets to prevent or manage chronic disease, particularly cancer. I also appreciate how important social and emotional support can be in optimizing health and managing disease.
In particular, social relationships and interactions, like preparing and eating meals together, with loved ones or even new friends, in a family-style setting not only provides health benefits, but promotes mental well-being as well. These types of support networks are not necessarily available to all.
Mac and Cheese with Coconut Bacon
Every great home cook, student, caretaker, grand-parent and boyfriend needs a go-to, leaves-you-dreaming-about-it, plant-based mac and cheese recipe in their repertoire. This is mine. Aside from being unforgettable, this dish is packed with loads of whole grains, orange veggies and mountains of garlic. To up your culinary nutrition game, the sweet, smoky and salty coconut bacon can also be used on sandwiches or sprinkled on salads and pastas. Note: If the large coconut flakes are difficult to locate, blanched sliced almonds can be substituted.
Preparation time 1 hour
cooking time 1 hour
1 small butternut squash, peeled, halved, and seeded
1 head garlic, top removed
1 package whole grain elbow macaroni, gluten free if desired
4 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
5 cups stemmed and sliced shiitake mushrooms
2 cups coconut milk
2 cups low-sodium vegetable stock
1 cup cashews, soak for 30 minutes, water discarded
2 tsp lemon zest
3 Tbs fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup almond meal or ground, blanched almonds
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/8 bunch parsley, roughly chopped
- Preheat oven to 400F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Place butternut squash and head(s) of garlic on prepared baking sheet. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes or until tender.
- Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and thoroughly rinse with cold water.
- Pour pasta into a 9 × 13-inch baking dish.
- Heat a sauté pan over medium heat, then add oil. Once heated, add mushrooms and sauté until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
- When the squash and garlic are ready, remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Reduce oven to 350F.
- Once the squash and garlic are cooled, carefully remove the skins from the garlic and add squash and garlic to a blender with ingredients. Process until completely smooth.
- Pour all of the sauce over the pasta and combine until all noodles are completely coated with sauce. Top with mushrooms and bake in the oven for 30 minutes. It may look like there is excess sauce, but the pasta will absorb it during baking— make sure to use it all!
- Remove from the oven. Sprinkle with parsley and coconut bacon and serve.
1 cup large unsweetened, sulphite-free coconut flakes
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 Tbsp maple syrup
2 tsp low-sodium tamari
1/2 tsp grapeseed oil
- Preheat oven to 325F (160C) and line a baking sheet (or two) with parchment paper.
- In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients and gently toss. Ensure that the coconut flakes are completely coated and the paprika is mixed in.
- Evenly spread the coconut on prepared baking sheet in a single layer. Place in the oven and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring after 6 minutes, taking care not to burn the flakes. Check every 2 to 3 minutes for the last half of the baking time. When the flakes are crispy, remove from oven and allow to cool. Once cooled, use immediately or store in a glass jar for up to 3 weeks.
Excerpted from The Long Table Cookbook: Plant-based Recipes for Optimal Health. Copyright 2020 by Amy Symington. Reproduced by permission of Douglas & McIntyre. All rights reserved.
For more comfort food, try this recipe for Portobello Bourguignon.