Happy national mac and cheese day, July 14!
For a twist on the typical mac’n’cheese, try this warming, creamy mac and cheese chicken soup. It’s like a cheesy cream of chicken pasta soup with broccoli and gluten-free ditalini. It’s dairy-free, yet creamy from coconut milk. Nutritional yeast along with a touch of dijon mustard give it a cheesy flavor. Try this colorful, flavorful, vegetable-packed meal soon!
It’s pretty easy to stir this soup together on the stovetop, then simmer it until your family is ready to eat. You could also prepare this soup in the instant pot, using the saute feature to cook the vegetables, then the slow cook setting to simmer it until done.
How cheesy should mac’n’cheese soup be?
I grew up enjoying a layer of cheese on casseroles and soups. However, I learned later that’s not everyone’s thing.
It wasn’t until after my husband and I had gotten married that he told me he didn’t really enjoy gobs of melted cheese on top of casseroles like the tamale pie that was otherwise his favorite. I was so surprised! I didn’t know there were people who didn’t like all that cheese, much less that I had married one of them.
Fast forward to the current day and the recipes I make for my daughter-in-law, who’s lactose-intolerant. I’m learning more and more about making recipes without cheese and trying ingredients that give similar flavors.
What ingredients give a cheesy taste?
For gluten-free eaters, mac and cheese can be a land mine. First you have to sort out the gluten-free pastas – luckily there are lots of great options including Banza, Jovial and La Veneziane. Gluten-free pasta makers are making more and more shapes, which is why I wanted to try this corn ditalini.
The cheese depends on what you want it for, and you need to read your labels carefully. I could have used Daiya, which offers a large range of non-dairy cheese products, but my daughter-in-law says that she increasingly doesn’t enjoy the texture of it. Violife offers a great dairy-free feta, but that wasn’t the flavor I was after in this soup. Besides, these products, much as I wish to support them, can be expensive and hard to find.
I’ve learned that soups can taste cheesy with umami flavors from three ingredients.
Three ingredients give a mild cheesy flavor:
- Coconut-milk: especially the full-fat canned type, coconut milk makes the soup creamy and smooth.
- Nutritional yeast: adds a cheesy flavor and a mild golden color
- Dijon mustard: adds a little cheese umami without any cheese flavor of its own
Is mac and cheese healthy?
OK, I grew up making mac and cheese from the box. I’m sure that deep down I knew that orange powder in the cheese packet was the very definition of processed food, but it was so quick and easy!! And the plain, white-flour noodles just went along with it.
It took me some years – and someone else to cook for — to try alternatives. I actually have made macaroni and cheese starting from a white sauce and stirring in a good sharp cheddar and using whole grain noodles!! Even so, macaroni is full of starch, regardless of the source, and so I really look at any mac’n’cheese as a comfort-food dish rather than health food
This soup is a healthier alternative that is satisfying and nutritious because there is protein and so many vegetables to balance out the pasta.
What is nutritional yeast?
Nutritional yeast is produced by culturing a yeast, usually a strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, in a sugary nutrient medium for several days. Once it’s ready, it’s deactivated by heat, washed and dried.
Nutritional yeast is usually sold as yellow flakes or powder. It has a somewhat cheesy aroma and flavor. In fact, you can probably tell if you will enjoy it in food if you give it a sniff first.
Nutritional yeast gives a soup or quiche or even a dip (see my black bean dip) a cheesy flavor, though you can’t melt a bunch of it on top. And it’s possible to use too much – there is a yeasty, brackish flavor if you do.
What are the benefits of nutritional yeast?
According to Healthline, nutritional yeast is a nutritious vegan food product with several health benefits. It can be used to add extra protein, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to meals.
I’ve heard that nutritional yeast is a good source of Vitamin B12 for vegans and vegetarians, but I learned that’s only true if the B12 has been added to the yeast.
Can this mac and cheese soup be vegan?
You can make this soup vegan by using vegetable broth and leaving out the chicken or subbing tofu. It would also be great with vegan sausage.
I hope you will give this tasty soup a try, and I encourage you to use whatever vegetables you have on hand. Vary the vegetable content from the onions, bell peppers, broccoli and cauliflower I’ve used – it’s very adaptable.
If you try this recipe, please leave me a comment and let me know how it went!
Other gluten-free soups on A Meal In Mind
Shop Creamy Mac and Cheese Chicken Soup
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Creamy Mac and Cheese Chicken Soup - Gluten-Free
- 1 ½ cups gluten-free macaroni ditalini or other favorite pasta shape
- 1 ¼ pound boneless skinless chicken breast, cooked and cubed
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter divided
- 1 small onion chopped
- 1 small red bell pepper chopped
- 1 small head broccoli cut into small florets (about 4 cups)
- ½ head of cauliflower chopped
- ⅓ cup gluten-free flour I use King Arthur 1:1 flour
- 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock plus more in case the soup is thick (see note)
- 1 14- ounce can of coconut milk I use full fat
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- ¼ cup nutritional yeast
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 8 oz. extra-sharp cheddar cheese grated (about 2 cups), optional for anyone who eats dairy
- Sliced fresh chives for garnish
- Cook pasta according to package directions; set aside, reserving the pasta water.
- Season chicken with salt and pepper. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden and almost cooked through, 6 to 7 minutes. Remove chicken to a plate.
- Reduce heat to medium. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons butter, onion, and bell pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are just starting to soften, about 3 minutes.
- Stir in the cauliflower and the broccoli and continue to cook until they are slightly tender, about 5 minutes more.
- Add gluten-free flour to coat and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute.
- Slowly stir in stock, then coconut milk, mustard and nutritional yeast. Simmer until thickened and all the vegetables are tender, about 7 to 8 minutes.
- Stir in reserved chicken. Simmer gently until the soup is thickened and the chicken is cooked but still tender, 4 to 6 minutes. If it is thicker than you like, add more broth. Season with salt and pepper.
- Remove from heat. Stir in cooked pasta. Serve the cheese on the side for anyone who wishes to add it. Garnish with chives.
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