Update 5/20/18: I entered this recipe into a vegan mac-n-“cheese” cooking competition and tied for 1st place in the judges choice vote! In the people’s choice vote, I came in 2nd!
I grew up, like most children of the 90s, eating that blue box macaroni and cheese sold by a dinosaur -you know the one I’m talking about. I loved that shit but it was indeed shit. Thankfully, I realized this (albeit it took me a little while) and I began to seek out better, tastier, more “grown-up” versions of this comfort food classic. Then, at some point along the way, I got it into my head to start making my very own mac-n-cheese from scratch and, after that, my love for noddley-cheesey goodness knew no bounds. Naturally then, when I went vegan, vegan mac-n-cheese was at the top of my list of foods to try and try I did. I tried the mac-n-cheese at a local vegan restaurant, I tried some frozen varieties, and I even tried the vegan version of the blue box kind but I found that nothing could compare to the homemade stuff that I was enjoying before I went vegan.
Just as I was starting to question if I’d ever find a vegan mac-n-cheese as good as the non-vegan ones, a thought popped into my head: Why am I not trying to make it from scratch? I mean, I had been making it from scratch before I went vegan but then, for some odd reason, when I went vegan I simply wrote off making it from scratch altogether. (Hence my efforts to find one that I liked at a restaurant or grocery store.) I thought about it some more and realized that there was no reason why it couldn’t be done so I decided to give it a go. And now here I am, sharing with all of y’all my recipe for what I’m deeming the best mac-n-cheese I’ve ever had. Why is it the best? Because it is everything a great mac-n-cheese should be. It’s thick, rich, creamy, gooey, cheesy, and flavorful. It’s also super quick (as in just 15 minutes quick) and insanely easy to make despite it being made in a very old-school, traditional way by first making a roux and then transforming said roux into a béchamel sauce. But we’ll get into all of that in a minute.
First, let’s talk pasta. While “mac” (as in macaroni) is in the title of this dish, we’re going to be using cavatappi or cellentani pasta. I find these noodles to be more substantial and easier to eat than traditional macaroni pasta. I also find that they hold more of the “cheese” sauce than traditional macaroni pasta -and who wouldn’t want their noodles to do that?!
I cook my pasta in accordance with the instructions on the pasta packaging but I make sure to add a little oil and a whole lot of salt to my pasta water. The oil is added to help the pasta not stick together and the salt is added so that the pasta gets a little flavor cooked into it. While the pasta is cooking you can go ahead and make the “cheese” sauce.
For the “cheese” part of my mac-n-“cheese” we are going to first make a roux -a mixture of butter and flour used to thicken gravies and sauces. I toss some vegan butter into my dutch oven and let that melt down. When it’s fully melted I then toss in an equal amount of flour and stir to combine. That mixture gets cooked for a minute or two until it is foamy and very light brown in color.
Next, some unsweetened almond milk gets added and the heat gets turned up. The addition of almond milk transforms our roux into a Béchamel sauce -one of the 5 “mother sauces.” We want to boil our Béchamel for a few minutes to help it thicken slightly but be sure to stir fairly frequently while it’s boiling.
Once the Béchamel has thickened a little it’s time to reduce the heat and add the “cheese,” or rather the “cheeses,” since we’re using two different kinds. (The addition of the “cheeses” now turns our Béchamel into a Mornay sauce.) The first kind of “cheese” that you’ll be adding is Daiya’s cheddar-style sheds which will give us that classic mac-n-cheese flavor. The other “cheese” you’ll add is Follow Your Heart’s parmesan-style shreds which elevates the flavor a little more and provides a sharper, creamier bite.
Now, I feel like I should just take a moment here to say something to you haters of vegan “cheese” out there. Please, please, please trust me and don’t run from this recipe just yet. I served this recipe to not 1 but 4 non-vegan people who are vegan “cheese” haters (2 were self-proclaimed Daiya haters) and, I kid you not, each one of them said how amazing this mac-n-cheese was. More so than them saying it was good, they showed me that it was good when they came back for 2nd and 3rd servings. So give it a try with the “cheeses” I recommend and I’m sure you too will be comin’ back for more!
After the “cheeses” are all melted in, in goes the seasonings. We’re adding nutritional yeast (aka nooch) to help boost the cheesy goodness (cause it tastes like cheese in case you didn’t know), and we are also adding salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and paprika.
Toss those in and then give the whole mixture a good stir.
The final step is to add in your cooked and drained pasta. Gently fold the pasta into the sauce to help the two become best friends and that’s it -it’s ready to serve!
Credit: Compassion is the Secret Ingredient, http://www.citsiblog.com
- 3 cups of cavatappi or cellentani pasta
- Oil and salt for pasta water
- 3 tablespoons vegan butter
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 3 cups unsweetened almond milk
- 1 1/4 cup Daiya cheddar-style shreds (about half the bag)
- 3/4 cup Follow Your Heart parmesan-style shreds (about half the tub)
- 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- In a pasta pot, or other large pot, start pasta cooking in accordance with the instructions on the pasta’s packaging for al dente pasta. Be sure to add a little oil to the pasta water (1-2 tablespoons) to help prevent the pasta from sticking together as it cooks and also add a decent amount of salt (2-4 tablespoons) to infuse the pasta with a little flavor as it cooks.
- While pasta is cooking make the “cheese” sauce. In a dutch oven, or other large pot, melt vegan butter over medium heat. Once melted, add flour and stir to combine. Continue stirring until mixture is foamy and very light brown in color -about 2 minutes. Add almond milk and turn the heat up to bring to boil. Boil, while stirring frequently, for 2-3 minutes to thicken sauce base a little. After 2-3 minutes, reduce heat to low and add in the two “cheeses.” Stir until they have fully melted into the sauce base -about 1 minute. Add the nutritional yeast, salt, pepper, garlic, onion, and paprika and stir to combine. Continue to cook on low heat, stirring occasionally, until pasta is done and ready to be added to the sauce.
- When the pasta is done cooking, drain it and then add it to the sauce. Gently fold the pasta into the sauce to coat each noodle then serve. Mac-N-“Cheese” will keep fresh in an airtight container in fridge for 3-4 days.