Korean food is everywhere in Metro Manila.
When I was in my 30s, I lived in a business district where there was a Korean grocer, cafe, canteen, fast food restaurant, and dive bar all within two minutes of my building. Needless to say, Korean food became a staple food in my flat, with both Korean ingredients and ready-to-eat dishes always easily on hand.
Kimchi and cheese are a perfect pair
One of my favorite quick meals back then was kimchi and cheddar cheese on whatever starch I could get my hands on: potato, pasta, bread, rice, you name it.
I think the combination ticks off all the boxes: salty, creamy, funky umami, filling, convenient, and with a bit of heat. Complex tasting but oh so easy to make. When I turned vegan, I knew I needed to make a dairy-free version.
The cheese sauce used in this kimchi mac and cheese is a variation on the popular vegan cheese sauce using potatoes and carrots. The carrots are mainly for color and a bit of sweetness. I took them out of the original recipe, given the bright yellow-orange color will now come from the kimchi and the sweetness from a bit of sugar. I then doubled the amount of potatoes.
No potatoes? No problem. I’ve also tried the cheese sauce with other root crops like gabi (taro) and cassava, and they worked fine. Take note that taro and cassava will need half the amount of tapioca starch.
You can also use the flesh of the orange sweet potato or squash (remove the peel!), but you will need to adjust the sugar given those two are quite sweet. If you are using squash, I suggest you steam rather than boil it. Squash tends to absorb a lot of moisture and can break down when simmered or boiled.
When I make this kimchi mac and cheese, I like using relatively “young” kimchi, around two to three weeks old, that’s why I need to add some vinegar.
If you will make it using aged kimchi, which will be quite sour, I suggest you just remove the vinegar and adjust the sugar content to get the taste you want.
If you use kimchi with loads of radish or made entirely of it (which we did at work one time), you will get something like a wasabi-flavored cheese sauce, which we were pleased with.
Make a big batch!
The vegan cheese sauce recipe is so easy to make and freezes well, so I usually make a big batch. I then portion it out in smaller containers, and store them in the freezer whenever I need a quick fix of kimchi mac and cheese.
Yield: 4 servings
- 200 grams elbow macaroni
- 100 g potatoes (or taro or orange sweet potatoes), peeled
- 1 c water
- ¼ cup tapioca starch
- 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
- 1/4 c neutral oil
- 1 Tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp muscovado sugar
- 1 tsp onion powder
- ¾ tsp tsp garlic powder
- ½ cup kimchi, drained and roughly chopped (Find our recipe here)
- ¼ cup kimchi juice
- 1 tsp vinegar (optional, depending on age of the kimchi)
- salt and pepper
- Sliced spring onions
- Toasted nori flakes
- Sesame seeds
- Sesame oil
1. Cook the macaroni according to package directions. Drain and set aside, along with a half a cup of pasta water.
2. Chop the potatoes into smaller pieces so that they don’t take long to cook. Cook them in gently boiling water. You can also steam them. Once fork tender, drain an let them cool for five minutes.
3. Tip the potatoes into a blender along with the rest of the ingredients. Blitz until everything is smooth. (Note: It’s best to use a high-speed blender for this, but if you don’t have one, don’t worry. It will just take a little longer for the sauce to become smooth. Just be patient. Stop the blender regularly and use a spatula to wipe down the sauce from the sides of the blender jar before turning it on again. Do this until you have the desired consistency.)
4. Pour the sauce into a pot and stir regularly over medium heat until it is thick, smooth, and glossy, and the taste of raw tapioca starch is cooked out.
5. Lower heat, add the macaroni and toss gently until everything is coated with the sauce. If the sauce is too thick, splash some pasta cooking water, a tablespoon at a time, to thin it and loosen the pasta a bit. Season to taste.
6. Remove from heat and add your topping of choice. We like spring onions and nori. Finish with some sesame seeds and a bit of sesame oil.
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