So, I'm fully aware that early spring probably isn't the perfect time to post a Roasted Butternut Squash Chili Macaroni recipe. In my defense, I cooked it and shot it down in February when it was raining and raining and hearty bowls of roasted squash, beans and pasta were all I wanted. Save this recipe for a cold, showy April day, or for a “I need STAT comfort food” day, or add it to your favorites for the first cold fall day. Whatevs. It's there when you're ready.
I'll be completely honest about why it took me so long to post this: This spring I'm going through a major life transformation and I've been struggling lately with the motivation to do the things that nourished me, lift me up and give me life. I love to write. I have always liked to write. It has always been a release for me, my favorite way to work my creative muscles. And for many years, food was one of my favorite subjects to write about. But these days it's very difficult for me to find great things to say about food. Concrete example: I have been working on this post for a month. For example, I've written and deleted it more times than I can count at this point. Maybe it will come back. Or maybe this blog will see its own transformation in its future. I wait to see where the universe guides me.
In this transformation, I reassessed my values. And I worked to align my habits and my lifestyle with my new values. This means I spent more time meditating, doing yoga (and doing yoga teacher training), journaling, spending time with friends, and lots of other little ones. self-care gestures. And all of that leaves less time for blogging and social media. I am still learning how to make these activities match my values.
Earlier this year, I took a manifestation workshop with a few dear friends, and today my dog Maeby reminded me to look at my notes from this workshop. She did this very subtly by pulling out my journals and notebooks and chewing on all the covers (luckily all of my journal pages and notes are still intact). As I glued the covers together in a delicate hodgepodge, I reread my notes from early January and was shocked. Almost everything I wanted to happen this year has already happened or is happening in the near future! I haven't even opened this notebook since January, and here it is, towards the end of April and I've accomplished so much. I have come this far and I am really proud of myself. It doesn't bother me at all that this is my second job of the year. I am on the right track in this life transformation.
So on this recipe. Full Disclosure: I made this recipe using a package of pre-cut butternut squash. Usually I would have bought the whole squash and chop it myself. But I injured my hand in early February. See, not only does Maeby love to read my newspapers when I'm not at home, but she also has the ability to run without looking where she is going. #mydogsgottalent So on one of our runs Maeby got distracted running behind me and the next thing I knew I was lying on the sidewalk after being trampled by a 50 pound puppy. She was really sorry. But my right hand didn't work for a little while, and I had to briefly resume take-out and easy-to-prepare meals.
During this time, I really started to crave a big bowl of chili and / or a big bowl of pasta. I was not picky. It just had to be hot and plentiful, healthy and fair, you know comforting. As soon as my right hand could maneuver a knife to cut up some easily sliced vegetables, I made my craving come true. And you watch it. The list of ingredients may seem long, but you probably have a lot of them in your cupboard and the others are not exotic and are easy to find. This chili mac is very easy to prepare (especially with pre-cut butternut squash), and it does a lot. In fact, I still have half the pan in my freezer for the next time I don't feel like cooking.
And this chili macaroni is delicious! It's bold in flavor and texture and boy, is it hearty! This is one of those recipes that, while alluring with its burst of salty goodness, the sweetness of roasted butternut squash, chewy pasta, and hearty bean mix, it's hard to eat more than one. small bowl without feeling stuffed. Which just means more leftovers, which means less time in the kitchen and more time doing the things that are really important.
Roasted Butternut Squash Chili Macaroni
- 2 pounds of cubed butternut squash
- olive oil or coconut oil spray
- 3 teaspoons smoked paprika, divided
- 2 teaspoons of garlic powder
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 teaspoon of olive oil
- 1 red onion, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 Anaheim pepper, finely diced
- 1 red pepper, chopped
- 8 ounces of crimini or white mushrooms, sliced
- 3 tablespoons diced Hatch green peppers
- 1 15-ounce can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 15-ounce can white beans, rinsed and drained
- 2 15-ounce cans diced roasted tomatoes (no added salt, preferably)
- 1 15-ounce can tomato sauce (no added salt, preferably)
- 4 tablespoons of tomato paste
- 4 tablespoons of maple syrup
- 2 teaspoons of cumin
- 2 teaspoons of ancho pepper
- 1 teaspoon of dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon of dried parsley
- 12 ounces of macaroni pasta (use gluten free if necessary)
- 4 cups of vegetable broth
- 4 tablespoons of nutritional yeast
- 1 teaspoon of liquid smoke
- green onions sliced to serve, optional
- grated vegan cheese for serving, optional
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Distribute the butternut squash cubes on the baking sheet and spray with the olive or coconut oil spray. Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of smoked paprika (reserve remaining teaspoon for later), garlic powder, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix the cubes until they are all completely coated. Roast in the oven for about 25 minutes, turning once halfway through cooking to cook evenly.
- While the butternut squash is in the oven, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 to 4 minutes or until the onion is just starting to turn translucent. Add the Anaheim chili, red pepper and mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, an additional 3 to 4 minutes or until the mushrooms become slightly tender.
- Add green peppers, red beans, black beans, white beans, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, maple syrup, cumin, ancho pepper, thyme, parsley and the rest of the smoked paprika. Stir until well blended and increase heat to high. Stir in the pasta and vegetable broth. Once the chili is boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer and continue cooking, stirring occasionally until the pasta is al dente and the chili has thickened, about 10 minutes. You can add the butternut squash as soon as it's roasted in the oven, this will likely be around the time you add the beans or soon after.
- Stir in nutritional yeast and liquid smoke. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately topped with green onions and / or vegan cheese, if available. Leftovers will keep in an airtight container for a week in the refrigerator or a few months in the freezer. Enjoy!
I got fanciful and used Vegan Queen Kitchen sharp cheddar cheese to garnish this chili. It's super delicious, but any grated vegan cheese will do.
What kind of spring transformations are you making in your life?
Photograph by Kristy Turner
It’s easy to be cynical about the idea of New Year’s resolutions, but there is a lot of undeniable and powerful energy surrounding the idea of change at this time of year. For many of us, that change starts in the kitchen.
Maybe it means resolving to cook at home more often, to keep a well-stocked freezer and pantry, to waste less, or to make slightly more wholesome choices. Maybe, for you, this is the year in which you’d like to give veganism ( or vegetarianism ) a try.
Whether you’re trying to dip your toes slowly into the world of plant-based eating, or you’re ready to make a total shift, it can be helpful to keep a few things in mind.
Some people go vegan overnight, and they never look back. But for many others, a slow transition is more sustainable ( and pleasurable ) than a 180-degree turn. If the idea of going vegan feels daunting, start with a couple of small steps, like a Meatless Monday challenge at home, or switching one of your daily meals to a meatless and dairy-free option. ( You’d be surprised at how easy it is to trade your turkey sandwich for hummus, tempeh bacon, and avocado ).
I’m quick to say that vegan food is just food. While there are a couple of secret weapon ingredients to have on your radar ( nutritional yeast, I’m lookin’ at you ), for the most part a healthy appetite for céréales, beans, and produce is all you really need to get started. With that said, any dietary shift can be tricky, and veganism is no exception. So, before you get started, take just a little time to go over the basics of plant-based alimentation. Find a useful, all-in-one resource, like Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina’s Becoming Vegan, or Ginny Messina and Jack Norris’ Vegan For Life. At some point, someone will ask you where you get your protein ( or your iron, or your calcium ), and while you could laugh the question off, it’s a lot more powerful to supply a quick, confident answer.
Going vegan expanded my palate dramatically : I learned about all sorts of global cuisines, warmed up to my spice rack, and tried ingredients I’d never considered before. But my culinary repertoire was pretty meager when I made the switch. If you already have some culinary experience, don’t assume that you’ll need to acquire an entirely new bag of tricks to eat vegan or vegetarian.
In fact, one really useful place to start is by looking at some of your favorite dinner recipes and thinking about how you might adapt them to be meatless and/or dairy-free. It may be as simple as removing some cheese ( or replacing it with cashew cheese ). It may mean trading the central protein for beans, soy foods, or even a hearty vegetable, like mushrooms.
Until I went vegan, I had never tried tempeh, soba noodles, kimchi, kabocha squash, nutritional yeast, millet, mulberries, or buckwheat…and the list goes on. Becoming vegan encouraged me to explore new ingredients, and it also introduced me to more global dishes.
A great many dietary traditions around the world are already plant-based, which means that vegans and vegetarians have many rich, exciting culinary folklores to draw upon. If you’re new to plant-based cooking, explore meatless dishes and recipes from other parts of the world ( Indian, Ethiopian, and Middle Eastern dishes are some of my personal préférés ). Dust off your spice rack and add new flavors to your food. Use your transition to plant-based eating as an excuse to try new céréales, legumes, and vegetables.
A lot of folks assume that adapting a recipe to be vegan means replacing the meat or poultry with a faux meat, a block of tofu, or tempeh. That’s cool, but it can also be fun to think creatively and imaginatively about how to capture the essence of a traditional recipe without animal protein. No, lentil Bolognese isn’t really Bolognese, but it does capture the heartiness of the original; cashew banana yogurt is a far cry from dairy, but it does evoke the same, sweet creaminess.
Many people are surprised by how easy it is to go meatless. Cheese, on the other hand, is a different story. I myself used to utter the same words I hear constantly from readers, friends, and alimentation clients : ' I’d love to go vegan, but I can’t give up cheese. '
While I won’t pretend that giving up dairy is easy—it’s not, especially because it’s so ubiquitous in restaurant dishes—I will say that I had a much easier time living without it when I learned to make my own substitutes. Store-bought soy and almond cheeses weren’t cutting it ( especially nine years ago, when the options were limited ), and soy creamers and yogurts left me feeling equally flat. Making my first batch of cashew cheese—which authentically captured the tanginess and matière of goat cheese—was a revelation. Homemade nut milk let me create creamy porridge and muesli far more authentically than did store-bought, non-dairy milk.
Over time, I’ve experimented with tofu paneer, tofu feta, and cashew yogurt, and the list is growing. Homemade dairy substitutes are creative, fun, and cost-effective, and I think they’re a big step up from what you can find in the store.
While I’m the first to point out that vegan proteins extend far beyond soy foods—encompassing tonalités of different céréales, legumes, nuts, and seeds—you really can’t beat tofu and tempeh for ' meaty ' matière and complete protein in meatless dishes. Both ingredients can be either memorable or mundane, depending on how you prepare them. I definitely recommend pressing tofu if you’re not already in the habit; it’ll create a firmer, more toothsome texture that most people prefer.
When preparing tempeh, be sure to use a boldly flavored marinade or sauce to help balance tempeh’s earthy taste, and if you find it bitter, you can steam it before marinating, too.
For the most part, I try to feature whole foods and homemade ingredients in my cooking. But in spite of the fact that I love to create my own dairy substitutes and I’d usually rather eat a scoop of lentils than a block of faux meat, I don’t eschew vegan products, and I think that keeping an open mind about them can really enrich the authenticity of your food.
This is especially important when you’re transitioning and vegan cooking still feels like a brave new world. Nine times out of ten, I’ll opt to use cashew cheese in a recipe rather than Daiya ( a melty, commercial vegan cheese ) ; coconut oil in place of Earth Balance ( vegan butter ) ; or grilled tofu in place of Beyond Chicken ( grilled strips of soy and pea protein that taste shockingly like chicken ).
But when I’m aiming for totally authentic, precise results, vegan substitute products can go a long way, and it’s comforting to know that they’re an option if I feel like taking a shortcut.
Over time, I learned to create vegan food with greater sensitivity to others’ tastes and traditions. I love a lot of really crunchy fare, from the aforementioned raw kale salad to tofu, sprouts, and grain bowls. And I know a lot of other folks who love these dishes, too. But sometimes being an ambassador of vegan food means knowing how to create dishes that feel familiar and appeal to a wide array of more conservative palates, like vegan lasagna, shepherd’s pie, or sloppy Joes.
And, if you’re trying to dispel the idea that all végétaliens eat is salad and prove that vegan food can be filling and hearty, then it’s all the more important to create dishes that evoke a sense of comfort.
Change feels a lot less daunting when you have company. If your family and friends aren’t exploring veganism along with you, then find community in other ways. Explore a vegan meetup or potluck in your community. Become a regular commenter on vegan food blogs. If you do have a friend who’s interested in plant-based cooking, convie him or her over for some recipe testing.
Studies show that failure to stick with a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle is often attributed to feeling ' different ' or isolated. Food is all about community and sharing, so do your best to share this lifestyle with people you care about—even if they’re not making the change along with you.