Friday, January 9, 2015

Light mac and cheese with greens: gluten-free or not

Enjoy this lightened yet rich and creamy mac and cheese, loaded with good-for-you collard greens, two ways: gluten-free or not.

light mac and cheese with collard greens -- gluten-free or not

Eating lighter and adding veggies to your diet doesn't have to mean giving up the foods you love. Case in point: mac and cheese.

Regular readers know I'm pretty much addicted to pasta. Even though I know the carb-loading is doing nothing for my waistline, I'm powerless against the pull of cheesy, filling comfort food (seriously: I may need a support group). To make my addiction slightly less bad for me, I've been embracing healthier styles of pasta, like whole wheat pasta and brown rice pastas.

The good thing about brown rice pasta is that it's also gluten-free, which I know is an important recipe element to many of you. So, whenever I can, I like to share recipes that can be made gluten-free if needed but don't exclude those who don't eat gluten-free.

You've got a love a pasta recipe where everybody wins. So you're definitely going to love this win-win lightened mac and cheese with collard greens.

Collard greens, I hate to say, are terribly misunderstood. If you're one of those people who has only ever tried them braised (I think praising them for their "liquor" is rubbish), with the life cooked out of them so that they're a nasty, sickly green color, I won't blame you if you say you hate them. I hate them cooked that way, too.

But you've got to give them another try. Hey, I used to claim to hate pork chops, too, because the only way I ever ate them was the way my mother cooked them: dried out to the point of being inedible unless immersed in a side of applesauce because 1970s cooks worried that pinkish, juicy pork would give us worms ... or worse.

Cooked lightly, gently, or even, frankly, not at all, collards are wonderful -- gorgeously green and a bit crunchy, with a heartier flavor than kale. My favorite way to eat them is raw, sliced into ribbons in a summer slaw.

But, given that they are packed with vitamins and lots of good-for-you calcium, they are a perfect addition to your favorite pasta dishes, like macaroni and cheese.

light mac and cheese with collard greens -- gluten-free or not

If you need further convincing, this mac and cheese with collards is Mr. Ninj-approved -- and, given that he has yet to meet a vegetable he actually likes, that's saying a lot. (He didn't even eat around the collards, as he usually does when I throw in something green.)  But, if you truly don't want to include collards (or can't find any), feel free to substitute kale or mustard greens. 

Whether you are eating gluten-free or not, you're going to love this rich and creamy -- yet still light and healthier -- mac and cheese. You can take Mr. Ninj's word for it.

What's your stance on collards? Have you tried them raw? Leave a comment: The Ninj wants to know.

light mac and cheese with greens -- gluten-free or not

Light Mac and Cheese with Greens: Gluten-Free or Not

Adapted from Eating Well
If collards aren't available, kale or mustard greens make great substitutions.

8-9 ounces brown rice pasta (non-GF: whole wheat pasta)
3-4 cups chopped collard greens
4 ounces sliced mushrooms
1 3/4 cups skim milk, divided
3 tablespoon gluten-free multi-purpose flour (non-GF: all purpose flour)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese (I use Cabot Seriously Sharp)
2-3 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1/3 cup gluten-free bread crumbs (non-GF: plain panko)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/8 teaspoon Sriracha hot sauce

Cook pasta in boiling water according to package instructions. In the last 2 minutes of cook time, add the collards and mushrooms to the pasta water. Drain.

While the pasta cooks, bring 1 1/2 cups of the milk to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 1/4 cup milk, flour, salt, pepper and cayenne, then add the mixture to the simmering milk. Reduce the heat and whisk the mixture constantly until thickened (only about a minute or so). Remove the saucepan from the heat and add both the cheeses and the vinegar. Continue to stir until all the cheese is melted. Gently combine the pasta-collard mixture and the sauce and spoon it into a prepared casserole dish.

Preheat the broiler. In another small bowl, stir together with a fork the bread crumbs, oil, paprika and hot sauce (add more or less to taste). Sprinkle the mixture over the pasta and broil the dish about 6-8 inches from the element until the crumbs begin to brown (this happens pretty quickly, so keep a close eye on it).
-- print recipe --


  1. Collard greens are a part of my comfort food repertoire and I'm ashamed to admit that I can still eat the "cooked to death" braised version because that's what I grew up eating. The health-seeking, adult me, however, loves undercooked or raw collards too! I've had mac and cheese on my mind the last couple of weeks and your healthier version looks amazing! Trying this soon!! Great photos, btw!!

    1. OK, I forgive you, Bill, because you grew up on them. ;-) Hope you enjoy this version, even with some crunch still left in them!

  2. This looks amazing! I've always been a little intimidated by collard greens, but this looks heavenly, and something I could get behind for sure!

    1. Just don't overcook them, Rachael, and you'll be hooked! Enjoy.

  3. Love the idea of Mac and Cheese with greens!

    1. It's an easy way to make it a complete one-dish meal, Kalyn!

  4. Such a yummy, comfort food recipe. I'm a big fan of collard greens, so this one really caught my eye. Can't wait to try it!

  5. Putting greens in mac & cheese is one of my favorite ways to eat them! I did one with collards, beet greens, and I think maybe some spinach a few weeks ago -- super tasty. I definitely agree that collards shouldn't be boiled for hours! There are so many more delicious ways to eat it.

    1. Beet greens would be another great sub for this recipe, Eileen. YUM!

  6. I don't cook my collard greens to death. I chiffonade (is that the word where you cut it into very thin slices?) and then do a quick saute in olive oil with some red pepper flakes and a splash of vinegar. Yum.

    1. Yes, chiffonade -- love the technique almost as much as saying the word. :-)

  7. I haven't been able to move collard greens into the "Like" column yet. Perhaps, this will help them get over there! :-)

    1. Five bucks says it's because you've only ever had them overcooked (BLECHHH!). Hope you give this one a try, Jeff! (Tell Lorraine there's Cabot cheese in it, now that she's a big Cabot fan!!)