The secret to a great vegan mac and cheese isn’t fake cheese – it’s all about the sauce

There’s plenty of vegan mac and cheese recipes out there. Joe Yonan raises the bar

Tuesday 04 January 2022 19:43
<p>A warning: this recipe makes a lot </p>

A warning: this recipe makes a lot

The best traditional mac and cheese recipes rely on more than just the cheese. They use a bechamel to create a cheese sauce that enrobes the pasta and keeps the dish wonderfully creamy.

It follows, then, that the best vegan mac and cheese recipes rely on more than vegan cheese, too. In fact, plenty of them don’t use any vegan cheese at all, instead enlisting cashews to create the sauce and other powerful ingredients (such as nutritional yeast, miso and mustard) to bring nutty, deep and sharp flavours to the party. Some recipes add tapioca or potato starch to approximate the stretchiness of cheese, vegan or not.

This recipe, which I adapted from the new book by the folks at Goodful (part of BuzzFeed’s Tasty family), brings other nice touches to the standard vegan technique and might just raise the bar.

Here, you cook potato, carrot, garlic and onion in a frying pan with water and the requisite cashews, then the whole thing gets pureed with the aforementioned flavour boosters to become the sauce. The potato brings that starchiness, the carrot a hint of colour.

I added a couple of my own touches to the blender. When I first tested this recipe, the only nutritional yeast left in my pantry was one flavoured with “nacho” spices, including cayenne pepper and smoked paprika, and I loved the result. So the next time, I tried adding plain “nooch”, plus the separate spices, and again loved the hint of heat and smokiness.

One warning about this recipe: it makes a lot, filling a deep 30cm cast-iron pan. If your household is small, feel free to eat whatever portion you’d like, refrigerate some for the following few lunches and/or freeze some for even longer.

But if you have a ravenous teenager in the house, like my husband and I do now that we welcomed a foster child, the quantity will be welcome. This 13-year-old ate about a quarter of the pan within the first day – and polished it off the next.

Vegan broccoli mac and cheese

Serves: 8 to 12

Active time: 35 minutes | Total time: 1 hour

Make ahead: Assemble and refrigerate for up to 3 days before baking.

Storage notes: Refrigerate for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 3 months.


2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium white or yellow onion (225g), chopped

1 tsp fine salt, divided, plus more to taste

2 garlic cloves, grated or pressed

1 medium russet potato (250g), scrubbed and cut into 1.5cm cubes

1 medium carrot (115g), scrubbed and cut into ½cm coins

120g raw cashews

480ml water, plus more as needed

5 tbsp nutritional yeast

1 tbsp white miso

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

½ tsp smoked paprika

¼ tsp cayenne

1 large head broccoli (680g)

450g elbow macaroni

56g panko or unseasoned breadcrumbs

¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper


Position a rack in the centre of the oven and preheat to 230C.

In a 30cm cast-iron or other ovenproof pan over medium heat, heat the oil until it shimmers. Add the onion and ½ teaspoon of the salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add the potato, carrot, cashews and water, increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, until the potatoes and carrots are very soft, 10 to 15 minutes (add hot water as needed to keep the vegetables just barely covered). Remove from the heat and let cool for a few minutes.

Carefully pour the vegetables and liquid into a blender. Add the nutritional yeast, miso, mustard, smoked paprika, cayenne and ¼ teaspoon of the salt. Blend on high until the sauce is very smooth, 1 to 2 minutes.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. While the water is heating, cut the broccoli stem from the head and use a vegetable peeler to peel the stem’s tough outer layer. Cut the stem in half lengthwise and then into 0.5cm half moons. Cut the head into bite-size florets.

Once the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook until 2 minutes shy of al dente according to the package directions, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the broccoli and cook for the remaining 2 minutes, or until the broccoli is bright green and the pasta is al dente.

Drain the pasta and broccoli and return to the pot. Pour in the sauce and stir to fully coat. Return the mixture to the cast-iron skillet and smooth into an even layer.

In a small bowl, toss the panko with the remaining ¼ teaspoon of the salt and the pepper. Sprinkle over the mac and cheese. Bake for 10 to 20 minutes, or until the panko is lightly browned and the sauce starts to bubble. Serve hot.

Nutrition information per serving, based on 12 | calories: 291; total fat: 8g; saturated fat: 1g; cholesterol: 0mg; sodium: 234mg; carbohydrates: 46g; dietary fibre: 5g; sugar: 3g; protein: 11g.

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.

Adapted from ‘Plant and Planet’ by Goodful (Rodale Books, 2021).

© The Washington Post

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