When you're craving comfort food, sometimes only mac & cheese will do. The good news is that you can make a healthy and satisfying macaroni and "cheese" without any cheese or other dairy products. Our knock-out Vegan Mac & Cheese recipe relies on a blend of vegetables, nuts and seasonings such as nutritional yeast to create a rich and creamy sauce that's full of flavor. We're also sharing tips to help you save time and cut down on dirty dishes—because it's not really comfort food if it's a hassle to make!
Watch our IGTV series, Veganize It, to see how to make this recipe and more vegan versions of your favorite dishes.
Instead of the traditional cheese and milk or cream called for in traditional mac & cheese recipes, our vegan mac & cheese calls for a blend of cauliflower, butternut squash, cashews and seasonings such as garlic powder and nutritional yeast to create a sauce with that classic gooey texture and cheesy flavor you expect.
I don't like doing dishes and I don't like being wasteful, and our vegan mac & cheese reflects that "laziness." For example, instead of soaking the cashews overnight—the first step in many sauce recipes in which cashews are used—we boil the cashews for just 15 minutes. And the cashews are boiled right along with the squash and cauliflower, saving pans and time. Then that same pot is used to cook the pasta and to combine the pasta and sauce. A win-win-win.
Once the vegetables and cashews are softened, they're blended with an array of flavor boosters, including no-chicken broth (my favorite vegan broth staple), nutritional yeast (which adds a cheesy Parmesan-like flavor without dairy), Dijon mustard, cider vinegar (for a little acidity), garlic powder, onion powder and a bit of salt. Simply puree until smooth. Tip: If you have a high-speed blender, use it for the silkiest sauce.
After you combine the sauce and pasta, transfer the mixture to a baking dish and top with a mixture of whole-wheat breadcrumbs, parsley and olive oil. Then bake until the casserole is bubbly, hot and crispy on top.
Pictured Recipe: Vegan Mac & Cheese
For a look at the difference in price between traditional mac & cheese and vegan mac & cheese, we turned to Dustin Harder, aka the Vegan Roadie (@theveganroadie). Harder points out that the nuts and vegetables in the vegan mac & cheese actually make it cost about 15 cents more per serving than traditional mac & cheese. But when you factor in the vegetable servings you're getting with the vegan mac & cheese, that seems like a pretty fair trade.
In terms of the environmental impact, vegan mac & cheese has the edge over traditional mac & cheese, according to Harder. "Dairy actually has a bigger environmental impact than poultry or pork, when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions per gram of protein," Harder explains. "So by swapping dairy for cauliflower, butternut squash and cashews you're doing your part to help save the planet!"
Compared to a typical serving of mac & cheese at a restaurant, our vegan recipe saves you 600 calories, 33 grams of saturated fat and 1,500 mg of sodium! However, since cheese and dairy are good sources of protein, the traditional version of mac & cheese does have about 20 more grams of protein than the vegan version.
Related: Top Vegetarian Protein Sources
Mac & cheese is delicious served alongside a salad or garlicky green beans—or eaten straight out of the pan. Check back in with Veganize It soon—we'll be rolling out a new vegan version of a favorite dish every week on IGTV.
Culinary nutritionist and EatingWell Test Kitchen manager Breana Killeen is a Le Cordon Bleu–trained cook, dietitian and sommelier who loves dogs, classic cars and a cool glass of rosé.