Baked Vegan Mac & Cheese

vegan mac and cheeseSeriously, is there any more basic comfort food than mac & cheese? This would be my new favorite kind, even if I weren't vegan. I haven't found a vegan mac & cheese in a box that's even worth finishing, and most of the recipes I've come across just substitute expensive (and marginal) vegan cheese for dairy cheese. This one is soooooooo good that my non-vegan friends and co-workers are amazed to find out what's actually in it, and always come back for seconds. We like to freeze single servings for grab-and-go lunches.

Chef's note: This recipe makes a very full 9x13 pan, which makes about 7-8 single servings to freeze for lunches and dinners. DO NOT DOUBLE this recipe. Trust me, I've tried and it doesn't taste the same by a long shot, even though the math says it shouldn't make any difference. (I don't know why this is, and it bugs me, but it's true of many recipes. This is one of them.)

Allergen Alert: This recipe contains tree nuts (cashews).

If you don't need this to be gluten-free, you could substitute regular or whole wheat bread/crackers and macaroni noodles for the GF ones.

If you don't need this to be soy-free, you could substitute organic, original, Omega-3, or other neutral-flavored Earth Balance for the soy-free Earth Balance.

Shopping List

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Spices & Seasonings

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Equipment

Ingredients & Directions

  1. Cook the macaroni.
    • 16 oz. GF rice elbow macaroni
    • Water for boiling noodles
    • NO salt, even if the package says to use it
    In one large pot, cook macaroni according to package directions until al dente (just barely done, not too soft). For GF macaroni, immediately drain and rinse it with cold water when the cooking time is done. Set aside.
  2. Cook the veggies.
    • 1 shallot - peel and chop in quarters
    • 3 medium red or yellow potatoes - remove eyes and dirty spots (or peel completely if you prefer) and chop into 1-inch cubes
    • 2 medium carrots - peel and chop into 1-inch pieces
    • 1/2 crown cauliflower - remove stems, chop into 1-inch pieces
    • 1/2 yellow onion - peel and chop into 1-inch pieces
    • 1.5 cups water
    In the second large pot or skillet/saute pan, combine these veggies and water. Bring to a boil. Once it boils, cover with a lid and simmer (medium-low) for 15 minutes or until vegetables are very soft.
  3. Make the breadcrumbs.
    • 4 slices GF bread, torn into large pieces OR one package plain GF rice crackers
    • 2 Tbsp. soy-free Earth Balance vegan butter
    While the vegetables are simmering:
    In a food processor, make breadcrumbs by pulverizing the bread or crackers and Earth Balance to a medium-fine texture. Transfer the finished crumbs out of the food processor (because you'll need it for something else) and into a small bowl. Set aside.
  4. Start the cheese sauce
    • 1/2 cup raw unsalted cashews
    • 2 teaspoons sea salt
    • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
    • 1/3 cup (5 Tbsp.) soy-free Earth Balance vegan butter - melted
    • 1/2 teaspoon regular yellow mustard (or spicy if you prefer)
    • 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
    • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
    • 1/16 teaspoon cayenne
    • 1/8 teaspoon paprika
    Combine these ingredients in the food processor. Process until as smooth as it will go. (It will be thick and fairly chunky, don't worry.) Leave it in the food processor.
  5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
    Grease the 9x13 pan with Earth Balance vegan butter or canola oil.
  6. Finish the cheese sauce.
    When the vegetables are finished simmering, slowly add the softened vegetables and some of the cooking water to the cashew mix you already started in the food processor. (You probably won't need all of the cooking water, but keep it just in case.) Blend until perfectly smooth. It should be pourable but not liquidy, thinner than hummus but not too runny, approximately like muffin or cake batter. This becomes your "cheese" sauce.
  7. Put it all together.
    Pour the macaroni into the greased 9x13 pan. Pour the "cheese" sauce over the pasta and carefully mix until the pasta is completely coated. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs evenly over the top.
  8. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes. The cheese sauce will be bubbling and the top will be golden brown.

Source: Adapted from AlisaInAlaska's recipe for The Best Vegan Mac and Cheese