Being from the Midwest, I grew up with a genuine and unending love for a little place called “Steak n Shake”. Ok, so it’s not a “little place” at all. The restaurants themselves are pretty spacious and there’s like 100 of them within an hour of my childhood home, but Steak ‘n Shake still always felt like a family-owned neighborhood burger joint, no matter which location I ended up at.
For Midwesterners, Steak n Shake is a staple for breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert as well as late-night hunger pains. In fact, if I had a dollar for every time I was in a Steak ‘n Shake after midnight, I’d definitely have a dishwasher and a spare bedroom in my current apartment. Sadly, you don’t get paid for being an obnoxious teenager with no regard for a curfew. These days, I no longer live in St. Louis (for now at least) and I no longer eat steak, but that’s all the more reason to recreate and reinvent one of my absolute favorite Steak ‘n Shake indulgences, Chili Mac.
Chili Mac can be interpreted in countless ways. But in my head, Chili Mac should look like it does from Steak n Shake, which is spaghetti noodles covered in Chili Sauce, then smothered with a spicy beef mixture, and finally, if you want to upgrade to Chili Mac Supreme, topped with shredded cheddar and white onions. Ah, memories.
While I kept the layering aspect of Steak n Shake’s version, there are a couple changes I made. First is to the noodles. I’m switching to Organic Whole Wheat Elbow Macaroni instead of spaghetti noodles. This is because I like the idea of eating this dish with a spoon and spaghetti can get a little messy. Or it could be because I had elbow macaroni on hand and it sounded better to me. Basically just use any kind of pasta you want. The second change is to the spicy beef (shocker!). No beef for this girl, so I chose to make a spicy bean mixture (double shocker!).
My spicy bean mixture is the perfect complement to the sweet and smokey chili sauce I whipped up in about 2 minutes flat, which tastes similar to a bottled chili sauce from the grocery store, only without additives and preservatives. So with the spicy bean mixture and the chili sauce handled, the rest of the dish is pretty straightforward. Just pasta and toppings. To keep it vegan, eliminate the cheddar cheese, or choose a vegan cheese variety. And to make this dish gluten-free, just change up the pasta. I love dishes with easy tweeks that cater to diet-restriction (or lack there of), and this is one of them for sure. Additionally, layers make my Chili Mac ridiculously good looking, and really showcase all the levels of flavor. But in the end, it’s all mixed up anyways. So if you prefer, go ahead and add the chili sauce and pasta to the finished bean mixture and serve it as more of a flavor-packed macaroni stew. As always, do your thing and do it proudly.
If making Chili Mac doesn’t get me excited for our trip to St. Louis this weekend, nothing will. See you soon, STL! Can’t wait!
Vegetarian Steak ‘n Shake Style Chili Mac
Serves: 6 Start to Finish: 30 minutes
For Spicy Beans
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
2-3 cloves Garlic, minced
1 medium White or Yellow Onions, diced
1 15-oz can Diced Tomatoes**
3 15-oz cans Organic Beans (I used 1 can Pinto and 2 cans Black)
2 teaspoons Chili Powder
1 teaspoon Red Wine Vinegar
1 teaspoon Hot Sauce (I used Frank’s)
1/2 teaspoon Paprika
1/2 teaspoon Cayenne Powder
2-3 cups Chili Sauce (get my 2-minute recipe below)
1 pound Whole Wheat Elbow Macaroni (or any other preferred pasta)
1 1/2 cups Shredded Cheddar (vegan or dairy), optional
1 small-medium diced Yellow or White Onion, optional
Homemade Chili Sauce
1 15-oz or 2 8-oz cans All Natural Tomato Sauce**
1/3 cup Tomato Paste (or about 6 tbs)
1/4 cup Agave
1 tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
2 teaspoons Chili Powder
1 teaspoon Garlic Powder
1 teaspoon Soy Sauce
1 teaspoon Hot Sauce
1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon
Boil a large pot of water for pasta.
Now, start on the beans. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add 2-3 minced cloves of garlic and 1 medium diced onion, plus 1/2 tsp salt. Cook for 3-4 minutes. Add canned tomatoes, 1/2 cup water and 1 tsp salt. Cook for another 3-4 minutes.
Add 3 cans of beans, drained and rinsed. Stir to combine. Cook for 5 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons chili powder, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1/2 teaspoon paprika, 1 teaspoon hot sauce, and 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar. Cook for an additional 5-10 minutes (add water 1/4 cup at a time if needed).
While the bean mixture cooks, cook the pasta (salt the water before adding the pasta) and make the chili sauce by combining all ingredients in a medium bowl. Also shred the cheese and chop the onion for topping.
When bean mixture is complete, layer pasta, chili sauce and beans. Each portion should be about a cup of pasta, 3/4 cup chili sauce, and 3/4 cup bean mixture. Or mix everything together in the large skillet. Top with cheese and raw onions, if desired.
*I’ve listed my salt measurements but always add salt to taste!
**When using canned beans, fruits and vegetables, I always choose organic and I always make sure that the can’s lining is BPA free.