Let’s face it, vegan cheese is… less than exciting. You finally find that one brand that doesn’t taste like garbage and you’re like wow! I can tolerate this one! Delicious! But, vegan mac and cheese doesn’t have to be the same old thing every time. There are tons of plant based options that can give you that creamy, salty, “cheesy-ness” that you have been missing. And there are also tons of different versions out there, which just get more and more confusing as you read more and more recipes. Like, how does almond milk and vegan parm make mac but also potatoes and lemon juice? It’s all about hitting the criteria for the cheese sauce. You need the creamy, buttery texture (unless you preferred the watery easy macs of course), you need a certain sweetness, but also a saltiness and umami flavor. I also call part of the “cheese” taste, musky. You know, it’s just so much more than a bunch of blended vegetables, and without it you will only get close to the cheese taste. But you can’t just throw whatever you want in there, it also has to resemble mac and cheese, while still tasting cheesy! So for you, I have comprised a full list of all the ingredients that I have seen recommended, that I also believe work in some way. Note that most of my comments are regarding sauce for about 6 servings. My favorites are marked! (*) Instructions follow at the end.
For the Noodles-
You want to choose something that can hold some sauce. After all, you aren’t making this amazing, cheesy sauce for nothing! I find that these work best, if I do choose a gluten-free noodle, I have been enjoying the Banza chickpea noodles.
For the Sauce-
Thickeners: pick one
I usually add the thickener at the end. After all the other ingredients are blended together and I’m reheating the sauce, I will mix one of these in over medium low heat. Mattering on which one you choose, you could need 1-3 tablespoons to get the desired thickness.
vegan cream cheese (I use kite hill plain)*
“Buttery-ness”: pick one or two
I suggest at room temperature, and mixing it in towards the end. You will need 1-2 tablespoons.
vegan butter or margarine (I use Miyoko’s cultured vegan butter)*
Bases: use 2-4
You want something to give it the texture you are going for, plus something to give to the “sweetness” that milk would give non-vegan mac. If you are going for a more watery consistency (think easy-mac) then you could skip this category all together. You also need something to add yellow or orange color, if you are not using something like turmeric for color later on. If you are using a couple different vegetables, I would suggest dicing them and boiling all together for about 10 minutes, or roasting in the oven until they are soft enough to easily blend. My favorite combo is yellow onion, yellow potato and carrots.
butternut squash (adds both texture as well as sweetness, so prepare to add lots of umami and salty flavors)
sweet potato ^^
red or orange bell pepper (will add color, as well as water, so don’t use a water “creamer” with this ingredient!)
cannellini beans (or any soft, white bean)
soaked cashews (overnight, or boil for 10 minutes)*
silken tofu (will require lots of flavors, but blends well and doesn’t require a thickener)
vegan cheese (I suggest against this unless you are using a really high quality vegan cheese, Daiya unfortunately just won’t cut it. I have included this option just because most online recipes will list this as an ingredient. So if you do go for this option, I like the Field Roast Chao Original slices, most of the Miyoko’s cheese wheels or vegan mozz, maybe even Violife mozzarella or provalone. Remember to be patient and let it melt all the way!)
Creaminess: use 2-3
What you use as a base will determine what you should use to make it creamier. You might find that your base was chunkier, and that adding a liquid creamer would help. I usually use at least some kind of soaked nuts, they don’t add a whole lot of flavor, so you can go anywhere from there. If you do use the nuts, you should add about 1 part liquid for every 2 parts nuts.
vegetable broth (low sodium works best so you can add salt to your taste)*
salted water or if you are boiling veggies, the left-over veggie water
unsweetened cashew milk (or any unsweetened, non-dairy milk, except I suggest against almond)*
full fat coconut milk (surprisingly doesn’t make this taste like coconuts!)
coconut oil + vegetable broth (1:2 ratio)*
vegan cream cheese (kite hill plain)
soaked pine nuts, or other nut of choice (overnight or boil for 10 minutes)*
avocado (you should only use 1-2 tbsp, so you don’t turn your “cheese” sauce a gross green color!)
Flavors: choose as many as you would like! Good starters are always garlic, onion, nutritional yeast and salt. From there you can really go anywhere! I have separated the seasonings by “category”, the flavors will work best if your choose a couple different types to get to the full on cheese taste. Don’t be shy with experimenting! I have tried all of these atleast once, all giving their own unique vegan cream sauce.
For color– you will not need a lot. Keep in mind these may add a little flavor, so add something that goes well with whatever other flavors you use.-
dijon (“liquid”) mustard
Basic tastes– Adding these will add depth to your sauce, instead of letting it taste just like nutritional yeast and mustard.-
green onion (chop small, boil for 5-10 minutes and make sure blended throughout sauce)
red onion ^
Cheesy– these flavors give either that nuttiness or umami flavor, add a couple to get to what you’re craving.
white miso paste*
nutritional yeast + lemon juice to take away from the nuttiness (2:1 ratio)*
noni juice (think sharp cheddar)
Acidic– These flavors also help get rid of some of the nuttiness you may have in your sauce. Start with as little as a tsp, and add as needed.
apple cider vinegar*
white wine vinegar
Spicy– even if the mac you’ve made is real sh*tty, it’s nothing some spice can’t take over!
jalepenos (canned with juice)
Greens: mix in some steamed greens at the end for that “mom’s mac and peas” feel.
Toppings: choose as many or as little as you like! If baking, mac’s always taste amazing topped with garlic, bread crumbs, and nutritional yeast.
vegan bacon bits*
vegan ranch dressing*
minced dried onion
Putting it all together- (making about 4-8 servings of sauce)
These are basic instructions intended to give you somewhere to go off of when creating your own vegan mac. It may be helpful to look at other recipe’s online for measurements and ratios.
- Cook noodles according to package instructions, drain and let cool while making sauce.
- Choose your bases and creamers. Prep as needed (boiling, roasting, chopping, measuring). You should have 1-2 cups base all together, and around 1 cup creamers, more or less mattering on the texture you prefer. Add ingredients to a blender, add more to get the desired texture, the taste should be neutral, maybe slightly sweet. If you do not want to add something such as turmeric or mustard for color later on, make sure you are satisfied with the appearance of your sauce.
- Now choose your flavors, as well as any toppings or greens you may want to add at the end. If you are adding vegetables, prepare them as needed. I suggest adding in most of the flavors about 1/2 tsp at a time. Anything in the “cheesy” category can start with about 1 tbsp at a time. Add as much as needed! Keep blending to get an even taste throughout the sauce. Keep in mind that if the tastes you have chosen really aren’t working out, you can always add more salt or nutritional yeast to cover it up, or mask the taste with whatever toppings you choose.
- Once you are satisfied with the taste, return the sauce to a pot over low heat, and begin slowly mixing in your thickener until it is completely mixed with no chunks, and your sauce is heated throughout. Now mix in the noodles and butter or oil. Taste!
- Serve in bowls and top with greens or other toppings. If baking, add to a baking dish, and top with bread crumbs, garlic, nutritional yeast, even paprika and bake at 350*F until its reaches your desired thickness or crunchiness on top. Enjoy!
- Left over sauce can be saved in a glass jar for 3-7 days. Reheat in a pot over low heat with extra butter.