While I think there’s a greater understanding than there used to be about the fact that a vegan diet isn’t just composed of an endless string of undressed salads, one of the things that many folks still worry about when transitioning towards eating less meat and dairy is that they won’t be able to enjoy their favorite comfort foods anymore.
In my case, I knew that I’d have to find a way to crack the code for making a delicious dairy-free macaroni and cheese.
When done right, mac and cheese is the epitome of comfort food. It’s creamy, cheesy and carb-heavy — a trifecta of deliciousness.
Without the traditional additions of actual cheese and cream, however, it may feel hard to hit the right notes. As such, I’ve spent the last several weeks testing different combinations, from straight vegan shreds melted down in dairy-free milk to more involved sauces built on coconut milk, nutritional yeast and a prayer.
This iteration combines all the best elements of the test versions — good vegan cheddar, dairy-free cream cheese, oat milk and nutritional yeast — for a velvety, smooth sauce. When mixed with basic elbow macaroni and a toasted Panko topping, the result is peak comfort food that fits your dietary needs.
Recipe: The Best Vegan Macaroni and Cheese
- 1 pound elbow macaroni (or any short, tube-y pasta); reserve pasta water
- 4 tablespoons vegan butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 2 teaspoons powdered mustard
- 2 teaspoons turmeric powder
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
- 2 cups oat milk (See Chef’s Note)
- 1/2 cup vegan cream cheese
- 12 ounces vegan cheddar, divided
- 1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
Cook the macaroni according to the directions on the package, reserving at least 1 cup of pasta water.
Meanwhile, melt the vegan butter in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the flour, powdered mustard, turmeric powder and paprika. Whisk the mixture over medium heat until the resulting paste — called a roux — looks slightly toasted. At this point, the flour won’t taste like just “raw” flour.
Add the oat milk to the pot and whisk pretty aggressively until no clumps or lumps of flour remain. Allow the mixture to come to a light simmer, whisking consistently, until the sauce thickens.
To the sauce, add 1/2 cup of vegan cream cheese, the nutritional yeast and 6 ounces of vegan cheddar. Whisk, whisk, whisk! (Vegan cheddar sometimes gets a bad rap for not melting as effortlessly as its dairy counterpart, but there are a lot of good brands out there these days. I like Field Roast Chao’s shreds.) Salt and pepper to taste.
It’s time to add the macaroni to the sauce. If it’s a little too thick, use the reserved pasta water to adjust the consistency. Once it’s fully incorporated and creamy, set the pot aside and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
If you made the vegan macaroni and cheese in an oven-safe pot or Dutch oven, leave it be. If not, transfer it to a baking dish. Top with the remaining 6 ounces of shredded cheddar and the breadcrumbs.
Bake for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven and serve.
You can swap out the oat milk with NotMilk, which is probably the closest analog I’ve found to whole dairy milk. Read more about how the dairy-free alternative stacks up against the crowd here.
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