My idea of vegetarian comfort food is this easy, 30-minute recipe for Grilled Poblano Corn Mac and Cheese with crunchy walnut crumbles.
There are so many different ways I'm inspired to create recipes for this website. Sometimes, I'm aiming to highlight a specific ingredient or type of cuisine, other times I want to create my own version of something I ate at a restaurant or while traveling.
For this mac and cheese recipe, it was all about the combination of grilled corn and poblano peppers. It's just something that feels so ideal for this time of year.
With sweet corn and poblano pepper as the base, cheesy pasta is the next natural step. Sure, tacos or quesadillas would be delicious, too, but I know you want some mac and cheese with grilled veggies right now. How could you not?
Grilled Poblano Corn Mac and Cheese Ingredients:
- Pasta is the foundation - Instead of the classic macaroni for the mac and cheese, I use penne. Either work.
- Cheese - I like a blend of freshly shredded cheddar and gouda with this recipe.
- Milk - This could be cow's milk or dairy-free plant milk, such as soy milk, almond milk, or oat milk. Make sure you use the plain unsweetened flavor. Don't use "original" plant milk because it'll make the pasta too sweet, and also skip anything with added vanilla to avoid that flavor getting mixed into your mac.
- Poblano pepper - poblanos are mild, falling in between bell peppers and jalapeños on the spiciness scale. They're grilled for extra smoky, tender flavor in this recipe. So good.
- Corn - Sweet corn on the cob is the ideal pairing with our poblano pepper. It gets the same sweet and smoky flavor treatment from the grill.
- Walnuts - Crunchy spiced nuts add texture and a big punch of nutrients, including alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the plant-based omega-3 essential fatty acid.
- Spices - Dry chili powder, cumin, paprika, and oregano give the walnuts plenty of flavor appeal. Use mild chili powder if you want to keep out all of the heat.
- Herbs - Basil, chives, and cilantro act as the final finishing touch for freshness.
How to Make Grilled Poblano Corn Stovetop Mac and Cheese
There are three main steps for making this mac and cheese.
- Prepping the crunchy walnut crumbles - This can be done in batches up to six months in advance. Store walnut crumbles in an airtight container and refrigerate.
- Grilling the vegetables - Use either an outdoor barbecue or a stovetop grill pan.
- Making the pasta - and stirring in the sauce, veggies, walnuts, and herbs
Prep the walnut crumbles:
The walnut crumbles add a crunchy texture and spicy, Mexican-inspired flavors to this mac and cheese. They're easy to prep in batches ahead of time or on the day of while you're waiting for the pasta water to start boiling.
To make the walnut crumbles, add walnuts, chili powder, cumin, oregano, paprika, and salt to the food processor. Cover and pulse a couple of times, or until the walnuts are evenly coated and chopped to the size you like.
If you don't have a food processor:
If you don’t have a food processor, you can also chop the walnuts by hand and then mix them with the spices in a bowl. (Also a good option if you don't want to deal with cleaning up the food processor!)
Grill the Veggies:
The next step is to grill the corn and poblano pepper. You can use an outdoor grill or grill pan on the stovetop preheated to medium-high heat.
Once the grill or grill pan is preheated, lay the poblano pepper and husked corn on the grates and cook for a couple of minutes on each side. Then, remove the grilled veggies from the heat and set them aside to cool.
Once the veggies are cool enough to handle, chop the pepper and shave the corn kernels off of the cob and set the vegetables aside until the pasta is ready.
Make the Pasta:
Once the water is boiling, cook the pasta, drain the liquid and then return the noodles to the pot.
Next, add the milk and cheese and stir until pasta is all evenly coated in the cheesy sauce.
Finally, stir in the chopped poblano pepper, corn kernels, fresh herbs, and half of the walnut crumbles.
To serve, transfer the finished mac and cheese to a dish or bowl and top with the remaining walnut crumbles. You can also serve the crumbled walnuts on the side if you prefer.
Can you Make Stovetop Mac and Cheese Ahead of Time? What's the Best Way to Store it?
I like this stovetop mac and cheese best fresh, but you can also store leftovers in an airtight container and refrigerate for a couple of days or freeze for up to two months if you want.
Potential Mac and Cheese Ingredient Substitutions:
If you don't have walnuts, try substituting pecans. For a nut-free version, use pumpkin seeds (also called pepitas) or sunflower seeds.
In place of the penne, you can use classic macaroni or any other type of pasta you have on hand. I recommend short pasta versus longer types like spaghetti or fettuccini for this recipe.
For best results, shred blocks of cheese yourself instead of using the pre-shredded cheese from the store. If you don’t have gouda cheese, substitute mozzarella or additional cheddar.
Instead of poblano pepper, you can substitute with a bell pepper if you want to take out all of the heat. To make this mac and cheese a little bit spicier, swap in a couple of jalapeños.
If you don't have fresh corn on the cob, use frozen kernels instead. One medium ear of corn is the same as about a half-cup of corn kernels. If you do this, just skip the grilling and warm the corn in a skillet or in the microwave instead.
If you don't have fresh herbs, try this cheesy pasta with finely chopped spinach.
- 1 cup walnuts
- ½ teaspoon chili powder
- ½ teaspoon cumin powder
- ½ teaspoon dry oregano
- ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- 1 poblano pepper
- 1 ear corn, husked
- 2 cups dry penne pasta or pasta of choice
- ½ cup plain unsweetened almond milk or milk of choice
- ½ cup shredded cheddar cheese (see note)
- ½ cup shredded gouda cheese (see note)
- ¼ cup chopped fresh herbs, such as basil, cilantro, and chives
Add walnuts, chili powder, cumin, oregano, paprika, and salt to the food processor container. Cover and pulse 3 times, or until the walnuts are evenly coated and chopped to desired consistency. (If you don’t have a food processor, chop the walnuts by hand and mix with the spices in a bowl.)
Preheat an outdoor grill or grill pan on the stovetop to medium-high heat. Once hot, lay the poblano pepper and corn on the grill and cook 2 minutes on each side, or until softened. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. Once cool enough to handle, chop the pepper and shave the corn kernels off of the cob and set aside.
- In the meantime, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta to the pot and cook 10 minutes, or until al dente. Drain and return the cooked pasta to the pot.
Stir in almond milk, cheddar cheese, and gouda cheese until pasta is evenly coated. Stir in chopped poblano pepper, corn kernels, fresh herbs, and half of the walnut crumbles.
Transfer to a serving dish and top with remaining walnut crumbles.
For best results, shred blocks of cheese yourself instead of using the pre-shredded cheese from the store. If you don’t have gouda cheese, substitute shredded mozzarella or additional shredded cheddar cheese.
Store leftovers in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 2 days or freeze for up to 2 months.
Looking for More Vegetarian Comfort Food Recipes?
- Easy Vegan Strawberry Milkshake
- One-Pot Butter Beans and Greens
- Bean Quesadilla with Avocado Crema
- Instant Pot Black Bean Soup
- Roasted Butternut Squash Curry
Did you try this recipe?
Rate and leave a comment below or tag me (@GratefulGrazer) if you share on Instagram.