Chef Howell with Copper in front of her food truck, Plum Burgers.

JUST TRY TO KEEP UP WITH CHEF MAKINI HOWELL. She has been running Seattle’s much-loved vegan hot spot Plum Bistro for a number of years now (along with its sister eateries, Plum Café, Plum Juice Bar and Quickie Too Tacoma); earlier this year she released her first cookbook, Plum: Gratifying Vegan Dishes from Seattle’s Plum Bistro; and now, she is quite literally on the move. That is because Makini recently unleashed Plum Burgers on the streets of Seattle—the city’s first vegan food truck, and the nation’s first vegan burger truck. She’s a bit of a trailblazer, this lady. “A food truck is NOT for the faint of heart! I have run out of gas on a hill, had to stand up to (really big guys) for my spot on the street, and work lightning fast to lock down all of the best spots to park in town,” Makini told us. “Once you get it on the road, though, you feel like girls rock!” She raised the money for the truck via a charming crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter last year, and finally made her dream a reality over this summer. The truck’s menu and visual identity all skillfully tie in with the well-defined branding of Plum. “The design is simple with a usable clean look and a classy logo. I saw a lot of trucks around town with screaming logos and I wanted to keep ours understated,” Makini explains. “The color of the truck is connected to the cookbook, and we have two burgers from the book on the truck—the Jerk Yam and the BBQ Oyster Mush.” Before she was a chef, Makini worked for years in New York City as a menswear designer at Jay-Z’s Rocawear fashion label, which explains her eye for branding. The truck also features her infamous Mac & Yease, and while she keeps the recipe for it under wraps (a girl’s gotta leave some things to the imagination, right?), she does have a recipe for the equally-delicious Smoky Mac in her book, and shares it with us here—perfect as a side dish for any holiday dinner party. (And we all know that side dishes are really the main dishes.)

PLUM’S SMOKY MAC

Ingredients:

FOR THE PASTA:
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 pound elbow macaroni
1 tablespoon canola oil
3 ounces smoked tofu (such as Plum
brand), minced to roughly resemble
bacon bits
1 large onion, diced
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

FOR THE SAUCE:
3 cups unsweetened soy milk
4 to 6 sprigs fresh thyme
4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
3 tablespoons unsalted vegan buttery
spread (such as Earth Balance
brand)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup Savory Soy Cream (recipe below)*
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
5 cups (22.5 ounces) shredded vegan
mozzarella or cheddar cheese (such
as Daiya brand), divided
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
½ cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)

Make the dish:

To make the pasta, bring a large pot of water and the salt to a boil
over high heat. Add the macaroni and cook according to the package
instructions, until al dente. Drain and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In a medium sauté pan heat the oil over medium heat. Add the tofu
and cook until crispy, about 2 to 4 minutes. Put the onion, garlic, and
thyme leaves in the same pan and cook for about 5 minutes, or until
the onion is soft. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove the pan
from the heat and set aside.

To make the sauce, in a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the milk
with the thyme and garlic until hot but not boiling, about 7 minutes.
Strain out the solids using a fine-mesh sieve and set the milk aside.

Melt the buttery spread in a deep sauté pan or Dutch oven over
medium-low heat. Whisk in the our and cook for about 1 minute,
stirring constantly. Make sure this roux doesn’t darken; turn down
the heat if it’s in danger of browning.

Whisk the milk into the roux. Continue to whisk over medium-low
heat until the roux is smooth, about 1 minute more. Stir in the soy
cream until it is thoroughly incorporated, about 1 minute. Season to
taste with salt and pepper, and remove the pan from the heat.

Add the cooked macaroni, 4 cups of the cheese, and the red pepper
akes, and fold together until the macaroni is coated. Scrape the
mac into a large baking dish (3 quarts is about right, or use 2 smaller
dishes). Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup of cheese and tofu-onion mixture
over the top, then dust with the panko. Bake until the mac is bubbly
in the center, crispy on top, and heated through, about 30 minutes.
Makes 6 to 8 servings

*SAVORY SOY CREAM
Ingredients
1 Cup unsweetened soy milk
2 Cups canola oil
1 Tablespoon agave syrup
1¼ Tablespoons freshly squeezed
lemon juice
Vanilla extract, for sweetening (optional)
Ground cinnamon, for sweetening (optional)

Put the milk in a powerful blender, such as a Vitamix. (The more powerful the blender, the creamier the consistency of the final cream.) With the machine running, drizzle in the oil very slowly, until it is thoroughly blended with the milk. Continue blending for another minute or so, until the mixture has the consistency of heavy cream.

Pour the mixture into a medium bowl and whisk in the agave syrup, lemon juice and vanilla and cinnamon to taste.

Store the cream in a tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator for up to a week. It will firm up to about the consistency of mayonnaise.
Makes about 3 cups.

For Plum Burger’s latest locations, follow Plum on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram

Written by Julie Gueraseva

Photo of Makini Howell courtesy of Angel Ceballos
Photo of Smoky Mac courtesy of Charity Burggraaf