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.
1/2 C raw unsalted cashews (soak 3 hrs up to overnight, optional)
1 whole head of garlic, with about a third of the cloves pulled off
1/2 C onion, chopped
2 tbsp ghee or coconut oil
1 C unsweetened almond milk
1 1/4C chicken broth, homemade or a quality low-sodium store bought one
4 tbsp arrowroot starch / flour
6 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
2 1/4C frozen green peas
Approx 300g (about 2/3rd of a 450g / 1lb bag) dry pasta of your choice - see head note above
(Optional step) Soak cashews: Place the cashews in 1 cup of water and soak 3 hours up to overnight. If you don't have time, skip the soaking step and use the cashews dry. Drain and place cashews into the blender and proceed to the next steps.
Roasted garlic: Preheat oven to 400f. Pull off about a third of the garlic cloves and set aside. We're just roasting 2/3 of the garlic head. Cut off the very top of the cloves to expose the cloves and wrap the bulb in foil. Before closing up the top, put a bit of coconut oil or ghee and sprinkle of salt. Place directly on oven rack and roast 45 minutes or until cloves are soft and smushy when you poke them. Slightly unwrap and allow to cool.
Pasta water: Bring a large pot of water to a boil on the back burner while you proceed with the sauce.
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. Chop the onion. By now the pot should be hot. Add the ghee or coconut oil, onions, fresh garlic and sprinkle of kosher salt. Saute a minute or so until onions are softened.
Add almond milk and chicken broth. Immediately sift in arrowroot starch. I use a cheap hand-held strainer held over the pot and spoon tablespoons of starch directly into the strainer. Whisk vigorously. Tip: arrowroot starch seems to clump less when I sift it into liquid that isn't too hot aka tepid or even cold. In any case, some lumps are ok since we will be blending it soon.
Transfer mixture to the blender holding the cashews, being careful not to splash yourself with the hot liquid Invert the roasted garlic over the blender and squeeze the soft bulbs out and directly into the blender. Add salt, black pepper, dijon mustard and nutritional yeast. Blend on high until creamy and smooth ~ 1-2 minutes.
Taste and adjust seasonings as needed, adding more nutritional yeast, salt or black pepper. It should be fairly tasty and salty since it will be combined (diluted) with pasta. Return sauce back to same pot from earlier and reheat over a minimal heat until warmed and slightly thickened, about 2-3 minutes, whisking occasionally. As it warms back up, it will thicken further. Be careful not to leave it unattended for long, else the sauce will gum up a bit too much.
Cook the pasta and peas: While the sauce is reheating, salt the pasta water which should be at a boil by now. Be generous, remembering pasta water should be as salty as the sea. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions. Halfway through pasta cooking, add the peas to the sauce to heat it up. Once the pasta is ready, I position my pasta pot right next to the sauce pot and scoop the pasta/peas directly from the pasta pot into the sauce using a handled-strainer. This is the quickest and I also deliberately allow some of the pasta water to splash into the sauce. You can also strain it into a colander in the sink and then transfer it into the sauce but keep some of the pasta water in case you need to add to the sauce.
Stir to incorporate the pasta, peas and sauce. Let it warm up together for about a minute, but do not boil. Depending on desired consistency, you may thin slightly by adding either almond milk or chicken broth or the pasta water 1 tbsp at a time.
Serve with a good amount of freshly ground peppercorns and I like habenaro hot sauce too. SO GOOD :)
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 :)
Jan 2018: recipe has been updated with a few changes to make this faster and easier. You're welcome :)