The Best Mac + Cheese Ever (That Just Happens to be Vegan)
How many times have you see that title on a vegan mac and cheese recipe? Probably a lot. However, some of those recipes don’t really live up to the hype. We’ve all seen the standard recipes that boast some nutritional yeast, some spices, maybe a few Daiya shreds here and there, topped with parsley and e’rryone goes cray…at the pictures. And then you taste it and you’re like “Hm. Okay, this still tastes like NUTRITIONAL YEAST AND WATER.”
It’s as if we vegans have forgotten what makes mac and cheese so grand – that savory, salty taste, that gooey cheese filling every noodle crevice -because we make it too thick, too lumpy, too runny, or just plain sad and then offer it up like the real thing. No. And when we do this, our non-vegan friends taste it and go right back to thinking that we’re so deprived.
I have it on good authority, after many taste tests, that this recipe, also called “Manly Mac,” is delicious enough to contend with some of the richest non-vegan mac and cheese recipes out there. You know the ones dripping with cream, roux, butter, and eight different kinds of sharp, imported, cruelty-laden cheeses? Yeah, those. And, while this recipe was designed for deliciousness and not low-calories, it’s still way better for you than that CRAZY Paula Deen recipe, y’all.
Best of all, I’m breaking it down for you TWO WAYS. I am a mac and cheese purist – a former Velveeta lover – so I love my mac unbaked and gooey. Other residents of this household feel that everything is better when topped with breadcrumbs and baked crispy. Whichever end of the spectrum you occupy, I GOT YOU.
Okay! Now, take my oven-mitted hand and come with me on a fantastic voyage.
The Little Foxes “Manly Mac”
- Yields: Technically 6 servings, but let’s be real here – this makes about 4 servings in my home
- Prep Time: 10 minutes (though I prefer to make the sauce the night before to give it a chance to mingle flavors)
- Cook Time: 30 minutes
- 1 package of pasta shells (you can opt for gluten-free to make the recipe so)
For the ‘Beef’:
- 1 package of vegan ground beef (I used the Trader Joe’s Beefless Ground Beef, because I think it tastes the best)
- 1/4 cup beer
- 1 onion, thinly diced
- 1 tsp olive oil, for sautéing
For the Baked Topping:
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs (or gluten-free breadcrumbs to continue with the gluten-free theme)
- A few sprays of olive oil, for the baked topping
- Green onion, sliced thinly on bias, for garnish
For the Sauce:
- 1/2 cup cashews, soaked and drained
- 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
- 1/2 package of Daiya Havarti Wedge
- 1 clove of garlic, peeled and mashed
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 vegan bouillon cube (I like Rapunzel’s with herbs and garlic)
- 1 tbsp soy sauce (or Bragg’s Aminos)
- Four drops of Liquid Smoke
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp dried basil
- 1 tbsp fresh basil, finely chopped
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp Sriracha, or more to taste
- 2/3 cup water (feel free to use the cashew soaking water – that’s what I do)
- Dash of curry powder, to taste
- Pinch of nutmeg, to taste
- Dash, Chipotle Tabasco
- 2 tbsp Trader Joe’s (also known as Annie’s) Goddess Dressing
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- A few generous grinds of Trader Joe’s South African Smoke Seasoning
- In a blender or Magic Bullet, add the soaked cashews, nutritional yeast, garlic, fresh basil, olive oil, bouillon cube, liquid smoke, Goddess Dressing, lemon juice, water, and spices. DO NOT ADD THE DAIYA YET.
- Blend mixture until completely creamy and smooth. Add a little more water if necessary to get your blender going. The mixture should be thick and creamy, almost like a loose pudding.
- Ideally, I make this sauce the night before and store in the fridge so the flavors can get jiggy with one another. Do this. It makes a difference.
- The next day, I add in the half Daiya Havarti Wedge and blend smooth. The sauce will have thickened overnight and the Daiya will make it even more voluptuous (yes, I used that word to describe a sauce and I like it).
- In a skillet, add your olive oil and finely diced onion. Sauté for a few minutes on high heat to glaze the onions.
- Add in your ground beef crumbles and continue to sauté with the onions for a few minutes.
- Add the beer and mix beef, onions, and beer together for another two minutes until beer is absorbed and your ground beef mixture is on the drier side. Remove from heat and set aside.
- In a stock pot, bring your water to boil and cook your shells until al dente. Drain shells and return to stock pot.
- Add in your ground beef and onion mixture and drizzle your cheese sauce over the still-hot shells. (This step looks amazing, BTW)
- Mix together and, if you’re like me, plate up and top with some thinly sliced green onion.
- BUT if you want to BAKE some crispiness on there, transfer the mixture to a deep casserole dish (more depth allows the shells and sauce to stay creamy while the top gets crispy) or individual ramekins.
- Sprinkle and lightly press panko breadcrumbs overtop of the casserole / ramekins. Spray breadcrumbed tops with olive oil and crown with some Trader Joe’s Smoke Seasoning. Broil for 5 to 10 minutes, depending on your oven and desired crispiness.
- Serve topped with thinly sliced green onion and smiles.