This dairy free mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort food. It’s super rich and creamy but without any actual cheese and definitely no cashews! The secret? The one ingredient that every dairy free cook should keep in their pantries – nutritional yeast.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think there is ever a time that mac and cheese doesn’t sound like a great idea. It’s easy, it’s comforting and it’s delicious. It’s a winner all round.
But there is something about those weird days between Christmas and New Year when you need something to feed the family but don’t really want to eat more leftovers when I think this recipe really shines.
This baked pasta is made with a super creamy, ‘cheesy’ sauce and a crunchy breadcrumb topping that will still give you the holiday vibes of a family meal but with a little break from the usual fare.
Now I know there are approximately a million different vegan mac and cheese recipes on the internet, but one thing I love about this recipe in particular is that it doesn’t use cashews (because I can never remember to soak them beforehand), and also doesn’t use pumpkin or sweet potato for the sauce like most seem to.
I mean don’t get me wrong, I love a ‘cheesy sauce’ made with sweet potato. I have that recipe for vegan mac and cheese and I love it. But sometimes getting the blender out feels a little urgh so I prefer this version.
Also this version is definitely more creamy and indulgent than one with a base of vegetables as you can probably imagine.
I’ve probably made every single variant of this dairy free mac and cheese at some point in my life. Sometimes I don’t worry about the breadcrumbs and the baking part – and it’s still so delicious I eat spoonful’s of it straight from the pot.
Sometimes I don’t even put all the flavourings in if I don’t have dijon mustard or onion powder on hand for example. It’s less flavourful but it does the job when I want a comforting dinner.
This version however is written as it’s intended to be made and consumed. It’s everything you need to make the most delicious dairy free mac and cheese and it’s so very good.
Don’t be intimidated by the length of the ingredient list for this recipe as it uses regular everyday ingredients that I’d recommend you keep on hand as part of a well stocked pantry. I can’t tell you how many times I think I don’t have anything for dinner only to realise I have exactly everything on hand I need to make this dish.
- Pasta – for this dish I like to use small pasta shapes, in particular shells because they hold the sauce so well, but you can use elbows or simply just your favourite pasta shape.
- Dairy free butter + plain flour – this makes your roux which is the base of the sauce and will ensure it’s nice and thick. Use a good quality vegan butter substitute for best results along with regular plain flour (all purpose in the US).
- Oat milk – the quality of milk substitute used will affect the flavour and texture of the sauce. I recommend oat as it doesn’t have a strong taste but a good quality soy milk would also work. Just be sure to buy one that doesn’t have any additional sweeteners added.
- Nutritional yeast – an absolute pantry staple for anyone who doesn’t eat dairy. This ingredient can be used to add a cheesy flavour to your food without actually using cheese. And while I used to have to buy it at specialty health stores, it is now really easy to pick up at the local supermarket.
- Flavourings – you can adjust these as needed to your tastes but I find the combination of dijon mustard, smoked paprika and both onion and garlic powder to provide the ultimate rich and cheesy flavoured sauce. Also do not forget the salt. The salt will bring out all the flavours and your dish will taste bland without it.
- Panko breadcrumbs – to finish, we add a light topping of crunchy panko breadcrumbs flavoured with more nutritional yeast and herbs. This is optional but it adds not only extra flavour but a bit of extra crunch to the dish that’s super delicious.
To start, you are going to want to grab two pots, one to cook the pasta and one for the sauce. You’ll also need a 20 cm x 30 cm baking dish and a rubber spatula or whisk.
Cook the pasta according to the package instructions and once done, drain and set aside.
While the pasta is cooking, start making the sauce by adding the dairy free butter and plain flour to a large, heavy based saucepan and heat, mixing frequently, until the butter has melted and a thick paste forms and is starting to bubble.
Add in a small amount of the milk and mix to combine. Continue to add the milk gradually, mixing between each addition to ensure no lumps remain. You can do this with a rubber spatula or a whisk is often easier.
Continue adding the milk until all combined and let the sauce come to a simmer to thicken. Once the sauce is nice and thick, you can add the nutritional yeast, dijon mustard, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder and salt and mix until fully incorporated and the sauce is really smooth.
If the sauce gets too thick, simply add a little more milk. Give the sauce a taste and adjust the salt if necessary.
Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and mix together before pouring it into a baking dish.
In a small bowl, mix together the panko breadcrumbs, extra nutritional yeast, salt and parsley and sprinkle over the top of the pasta.
Place into a preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes or until the top is golden brown.
This dairy free mac and cheese is best served immediately but will reheat just fine. To ensure the sauce stays nice and creamy you can add a splash of extra oat milk before microwaving which helps prevent the sauce from drying out.
This pasta bake is a great option when you don’t know what to have for dinner but want something delicious and comforting made with simple ingredients. It’s also completely dairy free and vegan making it a great option for those with food intolerances or allergies.
More vegan pasta recipes:
One Pot Vegan Mushroom Stroganoff
Creamy Pumpkin Rigatoni
Kale and Walnut Pesto Pasta
20 Minute Bow Tie Pasta
Dairy Free Mac and Cheese
- 500 grams shell pasta
For the vegan cheese sauce:
- 4 tablespoons dairy free butter
- 3 tablespoons plain flour
- 3 cups oat milk
- ½ cup nutritional yeast
- 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
For the breadcrumb topping:
- ½ cup panko breadcrumbs
- ½ tablespoon nutritional yeast
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ tablespoon parsley chopped
- Cook the pasta according to the package instructions, drain and set aside. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
- While the pasta is cooking, start making the sauce by adding the dairy free butter and plain flour to a large, heavy based saucepan and heat until the butter has melted and a thick paste forms. Add in a small amount of the milk and mix to combine. Continue to add the milk gradually, mixing between each addition to ensure no lumps remain. You can either do this with a rubber spatula or a whisk. Once all of the milk has been added, let the sauce come to a simmer and cook until thickened. If the sauce gets too thick you can always add a touch more milk.
- Add the nutritional yeast, dijon mustard, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder and salt and mix until fully incorporated and the sauce is really smooth.
- Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and mix through until all the pasta is coated. Pour into a 20cm x 30cm baking dish.
- In a small bowl, mix together the panko breadcrumbs, nutritional yeast, salt and parsley and sprinkle over the top of the pasta. Place into the oven and bake for 20 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Serve immediately.
Nutritional information is provided as a guide only and is calculated using automated online tools, therefore we cannot guarantee the accuracy. We encourage you to make your own calculations based on the actual ingredients used in your recipe.
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