The Best Vegan Mac and Cheese in Three Simple Steps
For now, we’ll be sidestepping the debate as to whether it’s ‘mac and cheese’ or ‘macaroni cheese’. You can call it what you want, but we’re still talking the same silky-dreamy concoction the entire world knows and loves.
Contrary to popular belief, going vegan does not have to mean giving up this all-time classic. With a whole world of plant-based cheese products up for grabs these days, you can basically follow the standard recipe with just a few simple substitutions.
Nevertheless, making your own from scratch is not only more satisfying, but so much better for your health. It’s also way easier than you’d expect, calling for little more than a few everyday staples most vegan pantries are stocked with.
And just to quickly address the elephant in the room, the answer is yes - vegan mac and cheese tastes practically identical to the real thing. You genuinely would not be able to tell the difference in a blind taste test, however sceptical you may be about the whole vegan cheese thing.
What Makes Vegan Mac and Cheese Cheesy?
One of the most remarkable discoveries you make when going plant-based is a little wonder that goes by the name of nutritional yeast. This is basically a form of deactivated yeast, which along with being perfectly healthy and 100% vegan also has a distinctive cheesy flavour.
Basically, you can add this stuff to just about anything that would normally call for cheese and it will do its thing as a great substitute. You can even increase or decrease the quantity added to suit your taste, depending on how cheesy you want it.
Hence, make this stuff with a bunch of blended cashews and you’re instantly looking at a mouth-watering concoction that can be used in the same way as any other cheese sauce, with none of the guilt involved!
What if I Don’t Have Any Nutritional Yeast?
Nutritional yeast is widely available these days, so picking some up comes highly recommended. You’ll find so many uses for it that you will genuinely wonder how you got by without it.
Still, it’s not to say you can’t make this vegan mac and cheese without nutritional yeast, as it’s used exclusively for flavour. You can still make a silky and creamy sauce for pasta with no nutritional yeast added, but it will lack a cheesy taste.
You’ll be looking more at a classic white sauce with no immediately discernible flavour, which in its own right can be a hugely versatile piece of kit in the vegan kitchen.
What Kind of Pasta Should I Use?
You can use pretty much any type of pasta you like, but there are two things to bear in mind when shopping for your ingredients:
1. A lot of standard store-bought pasta contains eggs, so it isn’t vegan
Other than this, the sky’s the limit. Though there’s something to be said for using traditional macaroni for making mac and cheese - pasta twists just don’t have the same appeal!
What Else Can I Do with This Sauce?
Absolutely anything you like! Once you have mastered the basics of the sauce, it will become your go-to as the basis for dozens of decadent dishes. Pour it over broccoli or cauliflower, use it as a silky-smooth spaghetti sauce, make it as the basis for vegan lasagne - it works in so many ways.
You can even get as creative as you like with the sauce itself, pepping it up with herbs, spices, garlic and anything else you fancy.
Ultimate Vegan Mac and Cheese: Ingredients and Method
There’s nothing in the mix that’s difficult to come by - all staples most vegan pantries are generally socked with. This is what you’ll need to make the best mac and cheese ever:
- 250 g of cashew nuts (soaked in water for at least 2 hours)
- 180 ml of water
- ½ teaspoon of mustard (optional)
- 3 tablespoons of lemon juice
- 1 good teaspoon of salt
- 20 g to 40 g of nutritional yeast (as preferred)
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ½ clove of crushed garlic
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric (for colour)
- One good pinch of black pepper
- Paprika for a final sprinkle
- Around 500 g of macaroni
As for putting it all together, it really couldn’t be easier. Particularly when you consider you are also making your own vegan cheese from scratch in the process, you’d expect a far more challenging method than this:
- Cook your macaroni in accordance with the instructions on the package. Meanwhile, drain the cashews well and pat them down with a piece of kitchen towel to remove excess moisture.
- While your macaroni is doing its thing, place everything else in a blender (reserving just a couple of tablespoons of water) and blitz in at a high speed. Check the texture once it is smooth, and add a little more water if it is too thick for your liking before blending once more.
- Drain the paste and return to the warm pot, before stirring in the cheese sauce and finishing with a sprinkle of paprika as an optional garnish.
That’s it - three steps to mac and cheese heaven!
Of course, there’s limitless room for experimentation with the above, and this recipe also makes the perfect basis for a gorgeous baked mac and cheese. Place the finished product in a deep dish, sprinkle with breadcrumbs and pop in the oven until crisp and golden.
Vegan Mac and Cheese Q&A
1. Sure, but does it genuinely taste like the real thing?
Yes, it does - slide a plate of this stuff to just about anyone and they would not be able to tell it apart from a dish made with real cheese. Once you’ve nailed it with the nutritional yeast to get just the right amount of cheesy taste into it, you’ll never look back.
2. Can I make vegan mac and cheese ahead of time
Not only is this dish easy to put together, but you can also make the sauce in advance for even greater convenience. Once the source has been put together, you can store it in a suitable container (a sealed glass jar is best) in the fridge for up to three days.
However, it’s important to remember to allow the sauce to come up to room temperature, after removing it from the fridge. It will be a little too hard to work with when it is cold, and can make it tricky to heat it through to an even temperature.
3. Is there an alternative to nutritional yeast?
If you do not have nutritional yeast or simply don’t like the taste of it, you can experiment to your heart’s content with all different types of vegan cheeses. There are endless options available to play with, just as long as you include those that are designed to be melted.
Add vegan cheese to the sauce while combining it with your hot pasta for an even richer and more decadent final product. Nevertheless, the inclusion of nutritional yeast gives you total control over just how cheesy or otherwise you want your pasta to be.
4. Is this dish suitable for a gluten-free diet?
Yes - all of the ingredients in this cheesy sauce are naturally gluten-free. It is therefore a fantastic recipe to use as the basis for a wide variety of gluten-free dishes, just as long as you use gluten-free macaroni instead of the standard stuff.
It’s particularly delicious when lathered over a dish of your favourite roasted vegetables - absolute heaven!
5. How long does the finished dish last?
You can technically store your leftover mac and cheese for the same three days as the sauce itself, in order to be reheated later. It’s best enjoyed fresh as the pasta can become a little soft over time, but it tastes just as good, nonetheless.
It’s also perfectly possible to freeze the finished article, or just the sauce. Whipping up a batch of this vegan cheese sauce and freezing it in portions comes highly recommended, though it’s easy enough to whip up a fresh batch when needed.
6. Can I use different nuts?
Cashews are really the only nuts available that have the desired effect when soaked and blended with the other ingredients in the list. There are some alternative vegan cheese sauce recipes that exclude nuts and use coconut milk instead, if you cannot or would prefer not to eat nuts.
However, switching out cashews for a different type of nut isn’t really an option.
7. What should I serve with my vegan mac and cheese?
There is almost nothing this fantastic recipe doesn’t go perfectly with. A crisp side salad, a wedge of vegan garlic bread, or even just on its own with plenty of freshly chopped chives on top.