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A vegan love story starring Ryan Poli

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8-4-10_Hein_tofu_1.jpg (Ryan Poli with tofu. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times)

With a few exceptions, chefs aren't exactly the picture of healthful eating in their down time (or even on the clock, for that matter).

Which is why this vegan mac and cheese recipe on Perennial chef Ryan Poli's blog -- sprinkled with such phrases as "brown rice pasta," "vegan cream cheese" and "nutritional yeast" -- gave me pause.

Say wha? Ryan Poli, have you turned vegan?

"God, no," he says. "But my girlfriend is."

Ah, that explains it. Poli's love, Kelli Zink, an entertainment reporter for, is actually a "self-proclaimed seafood vegan -- a sea-gan," Poli says. "She loves when I cook for her. But I can't just riff off whatever I've got in my fridge. It's really tough. Every Sunday, we cook together and it's like a Top Chef challenge."

And because love makes you do crazy things, Poli has started fiddling around with vegan cooking. (It should be said that Poli respects tofu.) Nutritional yeast? "I had no idea what it is," Poli says. "I was like, what do you people eat? But it's actually very common. I got it at Whole Foods in the bulk section, and it's pretty cheap. They use it in place of Parmesan cheese. I think brewers use it for beer."

The first version of Poli's mac and cheese came about at Zink's parents' house during Christmas. Poli made a generous amount ("what I thought was too much") of gluten-free pasta with this cheesy vegan sauce, as well as a chefy, non-vegan version made with aged Gouda and all sorts of other lovely, stinky, artisanal wonders from Pastoral.

"Everybody chose the vegan pasta over the regular one," he says.

Poli revised the vegan pasta even further last weekend. This is how much he likes this dish: "We're actually considering putting vegan mac and cheese on the menu [at Perennial]."

Recipe after the jump.

Vegan Mac Sauce

3/4 cup soy milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup vegan cream cheese
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 (6-ounce) block firm tofu (try Tiny Greens Farm at Green City Market in Chicago)
2 garlic cloves
1/2 tablespoon smoked paprika
1/2 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cups nutritional yeast
Pasta (any kind works, but to really health it up, try brown rice pasta)

Blend everything together in blender until smooth.
Pour over pasta, and heat in oven at 325 in ovenproof pan until hot.
Or, bring pasta and sauce to a simmer over stove in a pot.

And: Enjoy.

1 Comment

I plan to share this story with several vegetarians (not vegans, but likely will enjoy!)

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About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.



About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Janet Rausa Fuller published on January 6, 2011 1:37 PM.

2011 food trends blah blah blah, and by the way, it's not just about cupcakes was the previous entry in this blog.

A few new food trucks: whoopie pies, mac 'n' cheese and yes, more cupcakes is the next entry in this blog.

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