The Best Dairy Free Mac and Cheese
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 kitchen enjoying a simple bowl of mac and cheese. The first bite: This is…different?
You will notice a slight shift in flavor, after all, there’s no dairy. 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 for other dairy free recipes. Let’s try it with truffle oil, chilis, baked, or anything else my imagination can come up with.
This is totally processed free, without the help of dairy free cheeses, so you can definitely eat it regularly. 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 chefs’ 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. Utter failures.
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 by reading the ingredients. I realized the big thing here is the base ingredient: Whey.
Did you know most packaged mac and cheeses are mostly whey? 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 led me to thinking about what cheese I like best in my mac and cheese.
For this dairy free vegan recipe version I did not use nutritional yeast, even though I did try it during my recipe development phase. I felt it made my plant based recipes taste a little more on the queso side–not a good substitute flavor even for a vegan mac and cheese (unless you’re looking for that Mexican food twist). Instead…
THE INGREDIENTS YOU NEED FOR THE PERFECT DAIRY FREE MAC AND CHEESE BASE
Gold potatoes: Thanks to the lovely Brandi from Vegan 8, I learned that buttery potatoes are the perfect starchy base. If you want a recipe that only includes regular grocery store items, her recipes are 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 friends and family.
Chickpea Miso Paste: I know this isn’t a typical item in your pantry, but I tried nutritional yeast, aminos, etc. Nothing yielded that sharp saltiness that I wanted except for this. I really think this finishes the flavor perfectly. It’s worth it! You can absolutely use nutritional yeast, but I just don’t think it’s the same.
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 that’s why 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 more miso paste recipes and I’ll work on one. Maybe tell me what you’d like to see. 🙂
Unsweetened Cashew milk: You can probably do just water or your creamiest oat milk if you are nut free, 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 an EXTRA CREAMY vegan cheese sauce, I replaced the unsweetened cashew milk with 1 cup raw cashews soaked in water overnight, rinsed them, put them in my vitamix with 3 cups of water, a pinch of salt, blended and bottled in a mason jar. So easy since you don’t have to strain cashew milk.
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.
Another substitution could be cashew butter, but I haven’t done it that way. I think almond milk would be a mistake.
Pasta: I recommend a starchy pasta, not a gluten free pasta unless you have no choice. 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.
Brown rice penne or elbows would be fine, but not quite perfect. 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! We’re already eliminating cheese for this recipe and too much change can really mess with our senses.
This recipe is a nail biter for me after making it so many 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 .
And if you like this recipe, affiliate links ( disclosure) pay my website bills. 😉
The Best Dairy Free Mac and Cheese
- 1 1/2 cups gold potatoes baked (or boiled) and peeled
- 1 cup zucchini peeled, cut in chunks, raw is fine
- 1 1/2 cup unsweetened cashew milk
- 1 tbsp lemon juice fresh
- 2 tbsp chickpea miso paste
- 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 to taste
- dash ground black pepper to taste
- Elbow Pasta
- 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. *you can boil your potatoes if you prefer
- 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.
Preparing the Mac + Cheese
- Make pasta according to the directions, salt your pasta water. https://food52.com/blog/9991-how-to-properly-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 and 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.
- Check out the blog for more details, tips, and tricks.
Who the heck has Chickpea miso paste?