Ever since my family moved to a diet with limited dairy, my girls have been begging for mac & cheese. This is a dairy-free version which satisfies all the cravings for the real thing. They love it so much I literally have to cut them off before they gorge themselves silly on it.
This recipe is my riff on a wonderful vegan mac + cheese recipe from minimalist baker. I love that she uses roasted garlic and vegan 'parmesan' (more on that in a sec). I also love that she blends the sauce up so it's silky smooth. Since my family is not vegan and I am obsessed with bone broth, I use my homemade chicken bone broth in the sauce. Hence, no longer vegan but still completely dairy-free which is perfect for us. And maybe you? For real, the chicken broth adds a savory depth that almond milk alone (ala minimalist baker's vegan recipe) didn't fully deliver for me. I also dialed back the roasted garlic as I preferred it a touch more subtle but added Dijon mustard and frozen peas - two crucial ingredients in the traditional mac + cheese I used to make. Mine is a little less saucy too. While a thicker sauce and higher sauce-to-pasta ratio looks more ooey gooey and instagram-worthy, I found that a little less and a little thinner actually tasted better to me. You can definitely adjust that very easily to your liking by adding less pasta and/or less liquid in the sauce. If you ever search 'vegan mac + cheese' online you'll find a myriad of recipes with their own wonderful variants. Some have potatoes or carrots or turmeric or even miso paste but there is ONE thing they can all agree on to achieve that "cheesy" flavor without any dairy. Nutritional yeast.
If right now you're like, EW, I totally get it. It sounds odd and unappetizing. Yeast. Who wants to eat that (besides in bread)? Why is it 'nutritional'...is it some kind of weird health food? What does it taste like? Does it smell like feet?
Mmmkay maybe that last bit was just me. Anyhoo, nutritional yeast (also called 'nooch' or humorously 'Cheetos Dust' by Bon Appetit once) is an inactive form of a yeast strain Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Although savory in flavor, it contains no sodium, is packed with protein and often fortified with vitamin B12 and other B vitamins. It is a vegan pantry staple that has been gaining popularity even in non-vegan food. Cheesy popcorn anyone? I buy Bragg's nutritional yeast which is readily available at well-stocked grocery stores, health food stores, Whole Foods and online at Amazon or Walmart. It's a fantastic item to have on hand if you consume limited dairy or just want to occasionally stray away from actual cheese for health or whatever reason.
Now that you're on board with nutritional yeast, we can talk about that vegan 'parmesan'. Also called 'faux parmesan', it is something that vegan food bloggers came up with as a substitute for parmesan cheese. I've seen it sold in stores but it takes only 5 minutes to make using simply three main ingredients: raw cashews, nutritional yeast (surprise!) and sea salt. Then add maybe a seasoning or two, such as garlic powder or turmeric powder which also gives it that orange-y hue. I've seen sesame seeds used instead of cashews too, as an option to those allergic to nuts.
You got your nutritional yeast ready? Let's get cooking!
MAKE AHEAD: The vegan 'parmesan' cheese can be made ahead and stored refrigerated for several weeks. The recipe makes 1 cup of vegan 'parmesan' but only 1/2 cup is required for the mac + cheese recipe so you will have extra on hand to either sprinkle on top of the mac + cheese (or other things like pizza or pasta) or you can reserve the unused half for the next round of dairy-free mac + cheese (that's what I do).
CHOOSING PASTA: Choose the appropriate type of dry pasta depending on your diet. Choose a rice pasta (like Ritztopia which I am a fan of and shown in the pictures in this post), red lentil pasta (we use this or this brand) OR chickpea pasta (love this brand) for gluten-free options. For a paleo-friendly version, mix it with zucchini noodles ala Carbonara style or for those less strict, use a grain-free / legume-free pasta like this.
DAIRY FREE MAC + CHEESE
Recipe serves 4; adapted from a vegan version by Minimalist Baker.
For the vegan parmesan cheese (makes 1C, of which you will use 1/2C for the mac+cheese sauce below)
3/4 C (90g) raw unsalted cashews
3 tbsp nutritional yeast
3/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
For the mac + cheese
1 whole head of garlic, separated
1/2 C onion, chopped
2 tbsp ghee or olive oil if your ghee is not 100% dairy-free
1 C unsweetened almond milk
1 C chicken broth -- up to additional 1/4C more chicken broth to if too dry; or sub vegetable broth to keep it vegan
4 tbsp arrowroot starch / flour
5 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1/2 C of vegan parmesan cheese (see method below)
2 1/2 C frozen green peas
Approx 300g (about 2/3rd of a 450g / 1lb bag) dry pasta of your choice, based on any diet restrictions
1. Make the vegan parmesan cheese: Add all ingredients to a food processor and mix/pulse until a fine meal is achieved. Set aside until ready to use. Can be refrigerated for several weeks.
2. Make the roasted garlic: Preheat the oven to 400f. Pull off about a third of the garlic cloves and set aside. We're just roasting 2/3 of a head of garlic. Cut off the very top of the cloves to expose the cloves and wrap the bulb in some foil. Before closing up the top of the foil, put a bit of olive oil (or ghee) and a sprinkle of salt. Place directly on the oven rack and roast for 35-40 minutes or until the cloves are soft and smushy when you poke at them. Slightly unwrap and allow to cool.
3. Pasta water: Bring a large pot of water to a boil on the back burner while you proceed to the sauce.
4. Make the sauce: Heat a large heavy-bottom pot (i.e. dutch oven) over medium heat. While it's heating, mince the fresh garlic cloves you pulled off earlier in step 2 above. Once the pot is hot, add the ghee or oil and the minced fresh garlic. Cook for 1 minute, and keep stirring to prevent burning, until light golden brown. Add the almond milk and chicken broth and bring to gentle simmer. Meanwhile measure out the arrowroot starch into a small bowl and have handy next to the stove. Once the liquid is at a simmer, Scoop out about 1/2 cup of the hot liquid and slowly add it to the bowl of arrowroot starch, all the while whisking to minimize lumping. You should have a thick slurry. Some lumps are ok since we will be blending it soon. Add the slurry back into the pot and cook for 2 minutes over medium heat, stirring frequently. Transfer mixture to a blender, along with the roasted garlic. To extract garlic, push up from the base to release the softened cloves. Next add the salt and pepper, dijon mustard, nutritional yeast, and vegan parmesan cheese and blend on high until creamy and smooth ~ 2 minutes, scraping down sides as needed. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed, adding more nutritional yeast or salt. It should be fairly tasty and salty since it's going to be combined (diluted) with the pasta. Return sauce back to same pot from earlier and cook over low heat until warmed and slightly thickened - about 2-3 minutes - whisking occasionally. As it warms back up, it will thicken further.
5. Cook the pasta and peas: While the sauce is reheating, salt the pasta water which should be at a boil by now. Be generous - remember it should be as salty as the sea! Add the pasta and cook according to package directions, minus 1 minute of cooking time, as I like to finish it off in the sauce. Just before straining the pasta, add the frozen peas into the pasta water and stir everything around for, I dunno, 20 seconds. To strain the pasta, I like to position my pasta pot right next to the pot holding the sauce and scoop the pasta/peas directly from the pasta pot into the sauce using a handled-strainer. You can also strain it into a colander and then pour it into the sauce.
6. Stir to incorporate the pasta and sauce. Let it come to a medium boil. Depending on desired consistency, you may thin slightly by adding either almond milk or chicken broth 1 tbsp at a time. Serve with a good amount of freshly ground peppercorns! You can also top with more vegan parmesan cheese, if desired.
If you like this recipe, pin it to Pinterest! You can also leave me a comment below to let me know what you think of this post - I would love that. If you make the recipe and post it to Instagram, tag your post with #saltnpepperhere so I can peep you :)