New Orleans has a special place in my heart. Meat heavy dishes though? Not so much. I have been cooking up some meatless (or even veganized) versions of NOLA food for a while now, and this red beans and rice dish is definitely the top of the top. Like, possibly even better than the ones we ate in the deep south. Ok, no, I'm gonna go ahead and say it - these vegan creole red beans ARE better than the real thing. The best part is that it's mostly hands-off. A few simple ingredients followed by a long simmer on the stove. Absolutely worth the wait.

Traditional Louisiana red beans and rice recipes use sausage, which has a smoky, spice-laced flavour. I am NOT a fan of vegetarian or vegan sausage substitutes, so instead, I recreated the flavour beautifully with a few simple ingredients: smoked paprika, a pinch of anise seed & a little bit of liquid smoke. These few key ingredients elevate the dish from simple to awesome.

Pro prep tip: I always keep a bunch of chopped onion on hand - in my freezer! I cut it into a medium dice and freeze in a large freezer Ziplock style bag, ready for using as needed in any cooked dishes.

Vegan Creole Style Red Beans and Rice

1 cup onion, chopped
2 tbsp. coconut oil (or butter, if not vegan)
1 can red kidney beans
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp sweet or hot paprika (or both)
1 tsp spicy chili flakes (add more if you like it hotter)
2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
2 tbsp. vinegar
1 tsp liquid mesquite smoke
1/2 tsp anise seed
2 cups water
1 chopped ancho/poblano chile
1 tsp sea salt
2 cups cooked white rice, for serving.

Melt butter or oil. Add onion once pan is hot. It should sizzle! Reduce heat to medium and cook onion, stirring intermittently, until slightly browned. Add beans and spices, stir. Add vinegar, smoke & water. Add salt & parsley. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes on low heat. Uncover, stir, and mash a few beans against the side of the pot with the back of a spoon, or with an immersion blender. Cover and simmer another 30 mins.

Serve over fluffy white rice.
Garnish with more parsley if desired.

Beans reheat well if you have leftovers.
Can be stored in the fridge up to 5 days, or in the freezer up to 3 months.

Spanish-style rice. Red rice. Tomato rice. Spicy rice. Whatever you call it - this really is my absolute favourite rice, and it's made in the Instant Pot (which is not actually called the InstaPot, as I only recently learned...) We've made this easy instant pot vegan Spanish style rice every week for the past couple of months and it's now a staple in our kitchen. The best part is how EASY and FAST it is. All in one, very little prep and very little cleanup. Only 5 ingredients plus water.

This rice pairs very well with burritos, both as a filling or as a side dish. It also works nicely as a base for stir fry, stew or curry. Dice up an avocado, toss in some black beans and you've got yourself a full meal in a bowl. Garnish it with cilantro if you please, or leave it out if you don't ride on the cilantro bandwagon. Squeeze a bit of lime in for some tang, or add some chopped pickled jalapeno for a kick. The possibilities are endless. Ready in under 30 minutes, this rice is a game changer for easy weeknight meals. Also, like many of my recipes, it is naturally vegan!

5 ingredient instant pot spanish rice

Instant Pot Spanish Style Rice (Red Rice)
vegan recipe by Allison Sklar

2 tbsp. oil
1 small onion, diced
1 cup short or long grain white rice*
1 cup tomato juice
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp chili powder

optional garnishes:
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
lime slices
sour cream

*If using another style of rice, please check cooking times on the Instant Pot website.

method / instructions
Turn the sautée function on and add 1 tbsp. oil to pot.
Allow to heat for 1 minute and add onion.
Allow onion to cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to brown lightly.
Add 1 more tbsp. oil.
Add rice and stir.
Allow rice to toast for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and slightly brown.
Add water, tomato juice and chili powder. Stir.
Close and secure lid. Ensure the dial is in sealing position.
Cancel the sautée and begin the pressure cook setting.
Set for 6 minutes.
Once it is done, shut off and allow a natural pressure release for about 15 minutes.
Quick release if the pin has not fallen yet, open carefully and stir.
Enjoy warm.
Leftovers keep well in the frige for up to 5 days.

The moment that I posted this vegetarian croquette recipe online, I had a flood of messages in my Instagram & Facebook inboxes, as well as comments on my post. I've heard you loud and clear: you WANT this recipe, and you want it NOW! 

A few kitchen notes before getting started: 

Plan ahead - you'll need to set aside a couple of hours to roast and then cool the eggplant. This step can be done up to a day in advance. You can store the roasted eggplant in the fridge, covered, until ready to use.

The best kitchen tools to use for these: Your hands! And, some kitchen shears (scissors). Seriously. Just make sure your nails are trimmed and your hands are washed. Your hands are your best tools. You'll also find an ice cream scoop handy to measure out your meatballs and ensure they're the same size. I LOVE these ones, use them for everything, including measuring cupcake batter to drop cookies. 

You'll also want a large wide-bottomed saucepan for frying. I use a dutch oven for this. (On that note, I own both Le Creuset and Cuisinart, and I find the quality of the Cuisinart to be excellent, for a fraction of the Creuset price. If you don't yet own a dutch oven, this one is a nice starter, or a great budget option is this highly-rated Amazon Basics model.)

These mushroom and eggplant croquettes are a great vegetarian meatball substitute and would go lovely with a nice tomato sauce on top of spaghetti. Bonus: they contain no soy, and they are made without any other fake meat substitutes. 100% whole food croquette / meatless meatballs. 

Don't like eggplant? You don't taste it. Like, at all. What it does do is give these some wonderful moisture that is often lacking in other veggie meatballs.

This recipe makes about 36 to 40 mushroom and eggplant croquettes. Have leftovers? These freeze extremely well for future meal prep. Simply allow to cool to room temp, place on a baking tray lined with parchment, and freeze individually. Then, pop them into a freezer bag to use at a later date. When you're ready to re-heat, Heat from frozen at 350F for about 15 to 20 mins, until centers are hot.

The flour truly helps these vegetarian meatballs form their crunchy crust. Don't skip this step!

Ingredients are important: panko is different from other breadcrumbs as it helps the croquettes to crisp on the outside. You can find it in most large grocery chains, or in Asian grocery stores. 

FAQ: Can I make these vegan? Absolutely! You can replace the cheese with vegan cheese, or omit the cheese entirely. You can replace the egg with two flax or chia "eggs". (Or, you can make these tried and true vegan eggplant falafels instead!)

Porcini and Eggplant Croquettes
aka. soy-free vegetarian meatballs 
recipe by allison sklar, adapted from Domenica Marchetti on Food52

for croquettes
2 medium eggplants, roasted (see instructions below)
1 cup dried porcini mushrooms
2 cups boiling water
6 garlic cloves, microplaned
2 eggs, beaten
4 tbsp chopped parsley
2 tbsp chopped basil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
3 cups panko breadcrumbs
1 cup grated fresh parmiggiano
Scant 1/4 cup of AP flour
vegetable oil, for frying

for gravy
2 cups reserved porcini liquid
1 tbsp. tamari 
2 tbsp dehydrated onion
1 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup water

Begin by roasting your eggplants: Cut in half lengthwise. Massage with good olive oil. Place face down on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake in 375F oven for 1 hour. Remove from oven and allow to cool. 

Meanwhile, boil water. Place porcinis into large bowl and pour 2 cups of boiling water on top. Allow to sit until ready to use. Do NOT discard liquid. This is precious gold for your gravy.

Scoop out eggplant flesh and combine with soaked porcinis. Use kitchen shears, as well as your hands, to break the mixture up into small pieces. 

Add garlic, eggs, herbs & spices. Mix well by hand. Add breadcrumbs and cheese. Mix once more. 

You should now have a very moist ground-beef like consistency. 

Prepare a large sheet pan with parchment, sprinkled with flour. Use your smallest ice cream scoop to measure out your croquettes, and use wet hands to roll them into balls. Place on tray until ready to cook. Use a fine mesh sieve to dust with flour.

Now is the time to heat up your oil. Find the widest bottomed saucepan that you have and fill it about one inch deep with vegetable oil. I used my large Le Creuset dutch oven, as it has high walls that helped to prevent splatter on my stovetop. (See notes above about that!) Make sure your oil is nice and hot as this will help the balls to not stick, as well as to form a nice crust on the outside.

Use tongs to place balls into the hot oil, careful not to splatter yourself - do not drop them too quickly!

Cook for about 3 mins on each side, until brown. Remove and place on parchment-lined baking tray. You may want to keep these in a low oven (200F) to keep warm until ready to serve, or prepare ahead and reheat later. 

GRAVY TIME! Vegan gravy instructions:
Combine 1/4 cup water and 2 tbsp. cornstarch until starch is dissolved into a milky consistency. 
On the stovetop, combine porcini water, tamari and dried onions, and bring to a boil. 
Once boiling, lower heat to medium and stream in the cornstarch water mixture, whisking constantly. 
Continue whisking until mixture begins to thicken, about 5 minutes.

Serve hot croquettes with hot gravy and enjoy!

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Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links. By clicking on them and making purchases through Amazon, you help support me & my blog, and I can continue to provide all of this original content at no extra cost to you. I am not paid to promote any specific items, and as always, I only share links for products that I truly use at home. 

I have (literally) travelled the world in search of the best macaroni & cheese. A few summers back, we travelled to the mac & cheese mecca that is the Southern U.S.A. From Nashville to New Orleans, we ate mac & cheese every chance that we could get. It is amazing how a dish SO simple can be done SO wrong in SO many places.

Let me start by talking about what mac & cheese is NOT: Macaroni and cheese is NOT penne and cheese. It is not rigatoni and cheese. It especially isn't orzo and cheese. Macaroni and cheese is meant to be made with, you guessed it, macaroni. Stop trying to change this. Stop lying to me on your menus. Your penne in bland béchamel sauce with parmesan on top? IT'S NOT MAC AND CHEESE.

There. I've said it.

Now. Here is why THIS mac and cheese works best. Mac and cheese needs to be creamy - and it needs to not congeal and separate after 10 seconds of serving. A big problem that most recipes have is their lack of understanding of basic food science - more specifically, cheese science. Yes. There is science behind mac and cheese. The geniuses over at Serious Eats / The Food Lab discuss this in detail in their book. (You can find that book, which I HIGHLY recommend HERE!) The secret is in the proteins.

PROS: reasons why this mac and cheese is better than all the others you've ever made.
NO BÉCHAMEL NEEDED. No. Seriously. We are going to make a mac and cheese that is absolutely creamy and delicious without white sauce.
ULTRA GOOEY - no separation of oils here.
ONE POT WONDER - No joke. This is all made in one pot. You cook the pasta AND the cheese sauce in the same pot. Can't be easier.
REHEATS DECENTLY - I won't say "well", because you it is BEST served the day it's made, but of all the macaroni & cheeses that I've made, this one reheats the best when you add a little milk.

CONS: Are you kidding me? There is no con to good mac & cheese. Except for maybe that it isn't the healthiest item on the menu - but come on. This is comfort food that nourishes the soul.

Calling in your unexpected superstar: evaporated milk. Yes, that's correct. That canned weird stuff that you thought was only for baking in the 1970s? That one. The proteins are concentrated and will result in a much creamier mixture than a starchy floury béchamel. (Be careful when shopping though, you want evaporated milk and NOT sweetened condensed. Two very different foodstuffs. I recommend using Carnation Brand 2%.) You also want to choose a cheese that holds together as it slowly melts - not one that separates. The right blend of processed yellow (also known as American) cheese and something like processed smoked gouda (or just regular young gouda, if you aren't a smoked fan). Do not choose any cheeses aged more than a year. Though they have a powerful flavour, they will separate as they melt and won't work well here. For the American cheese, try to find a deli block if you can. It has a nicer flavour than those individually wrapped singles. My personal preference is to use Kraft Extra Cheddar cheese slices. (I find them at any grocery store, but they are also online here.)

Now - if it's all tl;dr to you, or if you actually read all the way up to here (awesome!) and you just want the recipe - here she is, folks!

Best Classic Stovetop Macaroni & Cheese
recipe adapted from "The Food Lab" by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

454g (1lb) macaroni noodles
114g (1/4 pound or 1 stick) butter
1 can (12oz) evaporated milk
2 eggs
1 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp cornstarch
400g grated smoked gouda *
* (or young gouda or young gruyère, or jack cheese or a mixture of any of these)
225g cubed, torn or shredded American Cheese (I like to use deli cheese or Kraft Extra Cheddar)
1 cup chopped green onions / scallions

Place the macaroni in a large, wide-bottomed pot. Cover with about 2 inches of water.
Bring to a boil & stir. Cook 6 to 8 minutes, until al-dente.
While pasta is cooking, in a separate large bowl, beat eggs and add evaporated milk, mustard and cornstarch. Whisk until combined, and toss with cheeses.
Once pasta is cooked, drain and return to the pan. Add butter and stir until melted.
Add cheese / milk mixture. Stir.
Cook until mixture is melted and creamy. Add in green onions at the end and stir.
Serve hot, preferably while wearing elastic-waist pants.
Growing up in a Jewish household, we never had white sliced bread.
No. Seriously. Never. We had challah. Or onion rolls. Or pumpernickel. But white sliced? Never. The first time I tried white sliced bread was at a non-Jewish friend's house. Slathered with mayonnaise and bologna... I really didn't get the appeal.

30 years later, and I am still a rather large bread snob. The thing is, we've now moved to a predominately Italian area - which is an amazing place to be if you're looking for pizza, but not the best place to find a babka, let alone some kosher bread.

Good thing I like to cook.

Bread baking really isn't my forté, but I never stop trying new recipes and new techniques. It turns out that some of my favourites are actually some of the easiest to make. I recently started to perfect my pumpernickel, and last week I came across a really awesome Kaiser roll recipe. Slightly dense inside, crisp outer crust, bathed in eggwash and poppy seeds - they are incredibly reminiscent of the ones that I had in my school lunches as a kid.

These make excellent burger buns, or hearty sandwich bread alternatives. They are slightly dense and are a great base for something saucy, like a lentil sloppy joe or some pulled-pork style jackfruit.

Homemade Kaiser Rolls
a.k.a. Easy Bread Buns
a.k.a. The Most Excellent Burger Buns
recipe adapted from Taste of Home


8g active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (110°F)
1 tbsp sugar
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tsp salt
3 cups AP flour

1 egg (or 1tsp cornstarch if vegan)
2 tbsp. water
poppy and/or sesame seeds (for sprinkling)

In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add sugar and oil. Let stand for 10 minutes. 

Mix the flour with the salt. Add flour mixture a little at a time until it is all combined. If dough is extremely sticky, add up to 1/4 cup more flour.
Turn dough onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour. 
Punch dough down. Turn onto a lightly floured surface; divide into 6 to 8 pieces. Shape each into a ball. Place 2 in. apart on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes. 

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400°F. 
Beat egg and cold water; brush over rolls. 
Sprinkle with poppy and/or sesame seeds. 

Right before placing in oven, slash tops with a lame, razor, or very sharp knife.
Bake at 400°F for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown. 

Allow to cool fully before slicing.