When I was a kid, macaroni cheese was one of my all-time favourite comfort foods. Sadly this childhood favourite turned into the ultimate ‘discomfort’ food for me in my 20s, when my intolerance to dairy became acute. With almost instant flare ups of eczema, stomach cramps and joint pain, the pay off for indulging in this dairy-laden dish just wasn’t worth it.
It was probably a good ten years before I tucked into a cheesy pasta dish again. And it was thanks to the highly creative vegan food blogger community that I discovered how cheese sauces could be replicated using non dairy ingredients.
These past few years, I’ve tried a whole host of non dairy ‘mac n cheese’ recipes and have experimented with a few of my own. I now have a favourite self-devised vegan ‘cheese’ sauce recipe which I use for pasta dishes, which the family absolutely loves (and has hidden veggies inside!) but I’m always on the lookout for new ones to try. So when I saw the tantalizing macaroni cheese shot on the cover of November’s Vegan Life magazine, I couldn’t wait to check out the recipe.
I was intrigued to find that the ‘cheese’ sauce is actually a dry mix that you can make ahead of time and store in the pantry. It was devised by Miyoko Schinner (the blogger behind Artisan Vegan Life) and appears in her recently published book The Homemade Vegan Pantry: The Art of Making Your Own Staples.
The recipe sounded so simple to make. I couldn’t wait to give it a try! It’s dairy-free and gluten-free so this is a great dish to serve to anyone that’s vegan or gluten / dairy intolerant.
I popped the ‘cheese’ sauce ingredients in my food processor and whizzed them for about a minute until they formed a powder. The recipe makes 5 servings so I weighed the mix before transferring it to an airtight jar. I then divided the weight by 5 so I knew how much to use per serving (about 54g).
When ready to make the pasta dish, you simply whisk together the ‘cheese’ sauce mix and liquid and gently heat through. It starts off really runny but as it heats up, it thickens fast.
You don’t have to stick with macaroni pasta for this dish. You can use any pasta shape you like, though tubes work best for soaking up the sauce. I love Amori, which are twisted tubes. They look good and have great texture when you bite into them.
You can use regular wheat pasta or gluten free pasta, if needed. The range of gluten free pasta seems to be constantly growing at the moment. You can now get brown rice, millet, buckwheat, quinoa, even chickpea pasta. You’ll find them on the ‘free from’ aisle in major UK supermarkets, though I find that independent health food stores tend to stock the widest selection of organic gluten free pastas.
You can serve the dish straight away, or bake it in the oven. Baked is our favourite way to serve it. We transfer it to individual oven proof dishes, sprinkle on some herby breadcrumbs and bake for about 15 minutes, until the topping is crispy.
We typically serve it with a big dish of crispy kale (which I bake ahead of time or while the pasta’s cooking). I also think roasted tenderstem broccoli could work well as a side for this dish. I’ll definitely try this next time round.
It’s amazing how ‘cheesy’ this dish tastes and smells, considering it hasn’t got any cheese in it! It’s been a huge hit with the family.
Big thank you to Miyoko Schinner and Vegan Life for sharing the recipe. It’s definitely one I’ll be making again and again.
Vegan Macaroni Cheese Mix
Lightly adapted from from Miyoko Schinner’s Well Crafted Macaroni and Cheese Mix, published in Vegan Life Issue 10
Hands-on time: 5 minutes Cooking time: 5-10 minutes
Ready in: 15 minutes
For the ‘cheese’ mix (enough for 5 servings)
140g / 5oz / 1 cup cashews
45g / 1½ oz / ¾ cup nutritional yeast
25g / 1 oz / ¼ cup rolled oats
30g / 1 oz / ¼ cup tapioca flour
1 TBSP paprika (I use smoked)
1 TBSP unrefined sugar (I use coconut sugar)
2 tsp mustard powder
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp salt
Add all the ingredients to a food processor and whizz into a powder. There should be no discernible chunks or pieces of cashew. Store in an airtight jar or portion out into 5 servings and put them in ziplock bags. (I weigh my mix then divide by 5 and make a note of the weight of mix needed per portion (approx. 54g), then store it in a kilner jar in the pantry).
Stored in an airtight container, this mix will keep for a couple of months in the pantry, or up to six months in the refrigerator.
When you are ready to serve:
1 serving of the ‘cheese’ mix
240ml / 8 fl oz / 1 cup non dairy milk or water (I use half and half)
100g / 3½ oz / 1 heaping cup dry pasta per person
Prepare the pasta as per the instructions on the packet.
Meanwhile, prepare the ‘cheese’ sauce. In a saucepan, whisk together the ‘cheese’ mix and milk/water. Gently bring to a simmer, whisking regularly. Simmer for 1 minute, or until it has reached the desired thickness. Taste test, and add seasoning, if desired.
Combine the sauce and pasta. It can now be served immediately, or baked in the oven. For the baked version, preheat the oven to 180C (160C fan) / 350F. Place the macaroni cheese in one large or individual-size oven proof dishes. Sprinkle with herbed breadcrumbs and bake for 15 minutes or so, until the topping is crispy. Be careful with the dishes as they will be extremely hot!
Crispy Herby Breadcrumbs
These breadcrumbs make a tasty, crunchy topping for pasta dishes. They’re a great way to use up old bread. I often make a double batch and store them in the fridge or freezer, where they keep for weeks.
Hands on time: 5 minutes Cooking time: 5-8 minutes
Ready in: 10 minutes
50g / 1¾ oz wholegrain bread or 1 cup breadcrumbs
1 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
1 TBSP Italian dried herbs (rosemary, oregano, thyme, sage, basil)
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 180C (160C fan) / 350F. Line a large baking sheet with baking paper.
To make breadcrumbs, simply crumble your bread and whizz in a food processor. Tip the breadcrumbs and herbs into a bowl and stir to combine. Drizzle in the oil and stir until the breadcrumbs are coated. Season with salt and pepper.
Spread out the breadcrumbs on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 5-8 minutes, until completely dry and crispy. Leave to cool then transfer to an airtight container.
Products used in this recipe
I bought the following products from my local independent health food stores. They can also be purchased online for those of you that don’t have health food stores nearby.
– Marigold nutritional yeast with B12, bought from Harvest in Bath (also available online)
– Organic tapioca flour, bought from Green Ginger in Corsham (also available online)
– Organic coconut sugar, bought from Harvest in Bath (also available online)
– Onion powder, bought from Harvest in Bath (available by free weight, or can be ordered in 500g package) (Onion powder also available online)