I finally did it…I admit, this month of finding the perfect dairy free mac and cheese has made me feel like I’m cracking codes instead of recipes. But as I’m sitting here with my final batch of mac and cheese, I feel so accomplished. Like I’m back in my childhood coming home to a simple bowl of mac and cheese. The first bite: This is…different? You will notice a slight shift in flavor. The bites after: I ate the whole bowl in under 10 seconds. Don’t judge me. It’s so creamy! It’s exactly what I wanted. That “almost” boxed junk food taste with a perfectly creamy flavor. The best part? All I want to do now is customize it. Let’s try it with truffle oil, chilis, baked, or anything else my imagination can come up with. And this is totally processed free, which for me, is guilt-free. By itself, you may not think it’s “perfect” but once you start putting your own tastes in it, you will find it does make the perfect base.
This recipe was not a cake walk. I tried everything! I sampled other chef’s recipes, dairy and not, I’ve made about 6 batches of my own as well. The first 4 were absolute failures. Like, there was nothing I could’ve added to make it taste good failures. To the trash can bad.
But after hearing my cauliflower batch tasted like vegetables instead of the creamy comfort food it was supposed to be, I went back to my favorite boxed mac and cheese and had the light bulb moment I was waiting for. I realized the big thing here is the base ingredients. Did you know most packaged mac and cheeses are mostly whey? Neither did I. So then I started thinking, classic mac and cheese is all about the creamy. It’s light and creamy. Then I started thinking about what makes me enjoy a mac and cheese the most. I like my mac and cheese a little bit on the sharp side. Which lead me to thinking about what mac and cheese recipes used what types of cheeses.
For this recipe I did not use nutritional yeast. I felt it made my recipes taste a little more on the queso side. Instead…
The ingredients you need for the perfect dairy free mac and cheese base
Gold potatoes: Thanks to the lovely Brandi for her Vegan 8 recipe, I learned that buttery potatoes are the perfect starchy base. If you want a recipe that only includes just regular grocery store items, her recipe is worth checking out.
Zucchini: You know I always add vegetables to my dishes, so I tried just about every vegetable under the sun for this dish. But I knew I wanted to use zucchini from the beginning. It’s mild, full of nutrition, and does not add color when peeled. Tested much better than cauliflower or sweet potato with my Mr. Wonderful.
Chickpea Miso Paste: I tried nutritional yeast, aminos, etc., but nothing yielded that sharp saltiness that I wanted except for this. I really think this finishes the flavor perfectly. You can absolutely use nutritional yeast, but I just don’t think it’s the same. Seriously. I was looking up how people make nut cheeses for gruyere and other sharp cheeses and miso makes the magic. Personally, I don’t like to add soy, so I used chickpeas. I do not know if regular miso will taste the same, so please try to go to Whole Foods for this one or order online. It’s no more expensive than if you bought a block of cheese. I found it in the refrigerator by the raw nut butters and kimchi at Whole Foods. So you don’t waste this product, you can use this to make other cheeses, dressings, soups, etc. Please comment below in the post if you want another miso paste recipe for next month and I’ll work on one. Maybe tell me what you’d like to see. 🙂
Unsweetened Cashew milk: You can probably do just water if you can’t do nuts, but the cashews make it SO CREAMY. Cashew milk is something you can buy in the store when you are in a hurry, or, you can soak your cashews overnight and throw in a high speed blender. For this recipe, I did 1 cup raw cashews soaked in water overnight, rinsed them, put them in my vitamix with 3 cups of water and a bit of salt, blended and bottled in a mason jar. So easy since you don’t have to strain. If you need a visual aid, I did a How to Make Nut Milk post. I’ve been obsessed with cashew and hemp milk lately because you don’t have to strain…hemp you don’t even need to soak. Talk about fast! I made my milk while I was making this recipe.
Pasta: I recommend a starchy pasta. I cook mine at the max amount of minutes, I do not rinse, and I leave a bit of liquid in there. This maximizes the starch. I think brown rice penne or elbows would be fine. If you are using a protein pasta, like chickpea elbows, I’m not sure it will taste the same, but go for it if you know you like it! Mini shells would also be tasty.
- Cooked elbow pasta (add salt to pasta water)
- 1 1/2 cups gold potatoes, baked and peeled (no need to peel if you have a vitamix, do not use russet potatoes)
- 1 loosely packed cup zucchini, peeled (raw is fine)
- 1 1/2 cup unsweetened cashew milk
- 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 2 tbsp chickpea miso paste (from Whole Foods, look at food notes above)
- 1/2 tsp tomato paste (I use the tube)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
- 1/2 tsp ground mustard
- 1/2 tsp garlic
- 1/2 tsp onion
- dash nutmeg
- dash chili powder
- pepper to taste
- In the oven, bake your gold potatoes (no need to oil) until soft - I did 350 for an hour It took about 3 potatoes for me to fill 1 1/2 cups
- While baking, prep your blender with the PEELED zucchini and the rest of the ingredients/spices for the sauce.
- Once the potatoes are done baking, add the warm potatoes to your blender, blend until completely creamy, no clumps. You can stop here if you want to just prep your sauce for later.
- To prepare your pasta:
- Make pasta according to the directions, make sure you salt your pasta water.
- Once pasta is cooked, strain, but leave about 2 tbsp-1/4 cup of pasta water (depending on how much pasta you made and how thin you like your sauce)
- Add enough sauce from the blender to coat the pasta, save the rest of the sauce for later.
- Taste test and decide what toppings you want to do, if you want to bake it, etc. Or eat it as it is for a simple meal.
BLENDER UPDATE: I have asked one of my friends to test this in the regular blender. Although she thought it made a "solid recipe for a vegan mac" she didn't think it was as creamy/cheesy as it should've been. Therefore, I now think a high-speed blender is really the best method for this recipe to achieve a more "cheesy" consistency. If you think it is still not "cheesy" you may want to consider adding salt a little at a time. My tastebuds do not require a lot of salt.
I divided the sauce into 2 glass containers, one for now, one to freeze for later. Probably could divide into 3 if you want to just do a cup of sauce in each container, just mix with a little extra pasta water to make it go further.
This dish is best served right away, not cold.
This recipe is a nail bitter for me after making it 6 times…Does it make you think of your childhood favorite mac and cheese? Did I get pretty close? Please make it and let me know! I’d also love to see your pictures on Instagram #thevanillaplum @thevanillaplum .