Haitian Macaroni CheesePosted: May 20, 2023 Filed under: Gluten-Free, Mains, Sauces, Seasoning, Side Dishes, Traditional, vegetarian | Tags: cheese, easy, gluten free, pasta, quick, simple, Traditional, vegetarian 2 Comments
Macaroni Cheese is comfort. Not just comfort food, but comfort in the real sense of being hugged from within. After all, what’s not to love? Cheese? Good. Carbs? Good. Gooey, melty cheesy sauce and pasta, as a meal in itself, eaten with a spoon, is one of life’s simple pleasures.
And yet, it is so much more. A cheese sauce is deceptively simple and sometimes you find it hasn’t quite worked. I’ve had some shockers of a macaroni cheese in my time: too much pasta to too little sauce renders it a solid block with doorstep properties. Go too far the other way, and you have cheese soup with pasta floating dejectedly in it. Fail to cook-out your flour roux results in a pasty sauce that clags the tastebuds. The wrong type of cheese, too much, too little – all can ruin your sauce, which, let’s face it, is key to a good macaroni cheese. The worst I’ve had, from a pub, for which I paid honest coin of the realm, didn’t even have a sauce – it was just a bowl of pasta shells with a handful of ready-grated cheese flung on top.
I stumbled across this variation recently, and was intrigued by its complexity. Having read around of the subject, I was compelled to try it for myself. Dear Reader, to paraphrase a well-beloved northern comedian: it’s a taste sensation!
With the best wishes in the world, British macaroni and cheese can be a little heavy on the palate as well as the stomach. Not so with this version. It is deliciously cheesy, but at the same time is bright and vibrant with herbs, spices and added vegetables. It’s a major hit in this household.
More than this, it is versatile. Although this recipe is for a pasta dish, you can slosh the sauce over almost anything and create delicious new flavour combinations: cauliflower, broccoli, potatoes and eggs…
Essentially, this is a recipe for a roux-less cheese sauce – which you can then slather over whatever takes your fancy and have a very delicious time.
From my researches, I have gathered what seem to be several key components to Haitian Mac and Cheese (also known as Macaroni au Gratin)
- Pasta: the favourite, or that which most commonly appears in recipes is penne pasta/quills, but you can use whatever you prefer. Whilst I’m not suggesting you can’t use the long pastas such as tagliatelli, spaghetti, linguini – for ease of serving as a main or side dish, smaller shapes are best. I made the one pictured with gluten-free pasta and it was delicious.
- Peppers and onions: these bring brightnes, freshness and texture to the dish and prevent it becoming too heavy. If you like the heat, you can add in some fresh chillies, with or without their seeds.
- Evaporated Milk: Not to be confused with swetened condensed milk. The base for the sauce isn’t a roux, rather a tin of this almost caramelised, creamy, shelf-stable milk product.
- Cheese: and lots of it. Whilst some recipes advocate a single type, many recipes suggest using a range of cheeses, helpful if you have several odds and ends to use up. The number and quantity used seems very much down to personal taste.
- Seasoning: aside from the obligatory salt and pepper, there a number of additions with which you can gild your creation. Cayenne, paprika, hot sauce, dried pepper flakes – all good. Many recipes also use a general seasoning mix like Tropical Sun All Purpose Seasoning or Aromat. Others opt for one or two Maggi stock cubes, but you have to be careful with the salt as the cubes are excessively salty and it’s easy to then over-salt.
There are also optional additions, according to your taste/budget:
- Meat: Yes, a regular component of Haitian Mac and Cheese is some kind of meat additon. This is very much open to interpretation and the choices I have seen in recipes include seasoned mince (beef/turkey), spam, smoked ham, smoked bacon (of various meats), even shrimp and lobster.
- Mayonnaise: a lot of recipes include up to a cup or more of mayonnaise to enrich the sauce.
- Epis: this Haitian seasoning base is the definition of flavour bomb. It is the go-to seasoning for a great number of Haitian dishes, the most famous probably being the pork dish Griot (pronounced gree-oh), where it is used as a marinade. Epis is a complex mix of fresh vegetables, herbs and spices, which you whizz up in a blender/food processor/pestle and can keep in your fridge for several weeks, to slather on whatever takes your fancy.
This version is vegetarian, as I think there’s more than enough going on with the fantastic cheesy sauce, but feel free to adapt this to your own taste.
Bonus: this freezes very well. If you need it in smaller portions, freeze in an oven-safe tray/dish and wrap in plastic, or use a ziplock bag. Thaw, then top with cheese and bake at 180°C, 160°C Fan until heated through. Brown under a hot grill as below.
What Else To Do With Epis?
For a great dressing for cold vegetables, cooked potatoes or salad stuff, mix equal quantities of mayonnaise, plain yogurt & epis. Great also as a dip for raw veggies.
Haitian Macaroni & Cheese
You can prepare the epis, the cheese sauce and the vegetables beforehand and comfortably store them in the fridge for 2-3 days.
I use a blender to make the epis, but if you think you might prefer more texture, use a food processor.
1 large bunch fresh parsley
10 sprigs fresh thyme
4 heads garlic – 20-30 cloves, peeled
1 bunch spring onions – chopped
1 brown onion – chopped
3 peppers (capsicum) – red/green/yellow
2 fresh red chillies – de-seeded & chopped
2 fresh green chillies – de-seeded & chopped
3 tbs vegetable bouillon powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp coarse ground black pepper
60ml lime juice
125ml vegetable oil
- Chop the parsley roughly – stalks and all – and add to a blender.
- Strip the thyme leaves from the stalks and add to the blender.
- Add all of the remaining ingredients to the blender.
- Secure the lid of the blender and turn on the machine.
- Run the blender until all ingredients have been liquidised.
- Store in a wide-mouthed jar in the fridge.
1 large (410g) tin evaporated milk
6 triangles Laughing Cow cheese
150g cream cheese
50g grated parmesan
100g grated vintage cheddar
125ml epis seasoning
1tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp Aromat (optional)
2tsp hot sauce (sriracha or similar, according to taste)
- Add the evaporated milk and the cheeses to a medium saucepan and heat gently, stirring, until well combined.
- Use a stick/immersion blender to ensure the sauce is smooth.
- Add the epis and seasonings and stir well.
- If not using immediately, pour into an airtight container and store in the fridge.
3 peppers – 1 each of red/green/yellow
1 brown onion
2tbs vegetable oil
- De-seed and chop the peppers into 2cm square pieces.
- Chop the onion into similarly-sized pieces.
- Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat and add the chopped vegetables.
- Saute for 8-10 minutes, or until the peppers have started to soften and the onion become translucent.
- Store in an airtight container in the fridge until required.
This will serve 4 as a main dish (with salad/vegetables and crusty bread), or up to 6 as an accompaniment.
250g dry pasta
100g vintage cheddar cheese – grated
meat/fish (optional) – ham, spam, seafood, etc.
chopped parsley to garnish
- Cook the pasta until al-dente, then drain.
- While the pasta is cooking, add the vegetables, fish/meat if using and cheese sauce to a pan and warm over medium-low heat, stirring gently.
- Put the pasta into a large bowl and pour the warmed cheese sauce mixture over, and stir gently to combine. There should be plenty of sauce.
- Pour the mixture into an ovenproof dish and sprinkle over the grated cheese.
- Place under a hot grill for 5-6 minutes until the cheese is melted, golden brown and bubbling.
- Sprinkle over the chopped parsley and serve.