There are so many disappointing vegan macaroni and cheese recipes in this world. As a mac lover, this was truly devastating when I went plant-based. But after years of experimenting, I’ve finally found the perfect combination of cheesy, creamy, melty, stretchy mac and cheesy goodness. Behold: The ultimate creamy vegan mac and trees.
Cheese sauce: A big reason why so many plant-based macs are underwhelming is because they’re too vegetable-forward. At the end of the day, blended carrots just aren’t going to stack up to the best dairy-based mac.
That said, certain vegetables can act as a substantial and healthy base for a cheese sauce. For this recipe, butternut squash acts as a canvas. Make sure to use a high speed blender for the best texture. Your squash will blend into a beautifully silky sauce, but if you stop there, you’re essentially left with a thick butternut squash soup.
To add layers of umami and cheesiness, I then add nutritional yeast, smoked paprika, and two bags (yes!) of vegan cheese. The result is a deeply rich and stretchy cheese sauce that’s indulgent and special.
Pasta: You can certainly use any short pasta here. Bowties, rotini, shells, or penne would all be delicious. However, for me, nothing beats the classic elbow macaroni shape for maximum nostalgia. You can also use gluten free pasta — I love chickpea pasta for an extra protein kick.
Since the rest of the ingredients aren’t inherently protein-rich, I absolutely love using a chickpea-based pasta for this recipe. Banza’s short pastas are all great as long as you’re careful not to overcook them. I tend to stay away from their long pastas like spaghetti as they’re usually gummy and fall apart easily.
Veggies: I add broccoli for extra texture and nutrients — and to feel better about myself after eating the entire recipe. These veggies are also great additions:
- Brussels sprouts
Serve up a steaming bowl of this vegan mac ‘n’ trees to your kids, your grandpa, and everyone in between. I don’t know a single soul would refuse.
More satisfying bowls:
- Rustic Italian Sausage, Kale and White Bean Soup
- Nourishing Buddha Bowls with Chile Peanut Sauce
- Jackfruit Tortilla Soup
- Vegan Penne Alla Vodka
The Ultimate Creamy Vegan Mac ‘n’ Trees
- 3 cups butternut squash peeled and diced
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- sea salt and black pepper to taste
- 1 lb elbow macaroni (regular or gluten free)
- ½ cup raw unsalted cashews
- 2 cups plant milk
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 tsp dijon mustard
- ½ cup nutritional yeast
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp onion powder
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp smoked paprika
- ¼ tsp freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 bag shredded vegan cheddar
- 1 bag shredded vegan mozzarella
- 8–12 oz frozen broccoli (can sub 1 head fresh broccoli)
- First, roast the butternut squash. Preheat the oven to 425 F. Arrange the squash on a rimmed baking pan lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast until tender and caramelized, about 25 minutes. Remove and set aside.
- Meanwhile, cook the macaroni in a pot of heavily salted boiling water until al dente. Drain and return to the pot.
- While the pasta is boiling, make the cheese sauce. In a high speed blender, combine the cashews, plant milk, roasted squash, lemon juice, mustard, nutritional yeast, salt, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, and pepper and blend on high until very smooth.
- Add the sauce to the pot with the macaroni and stir to combine. Add the broccoli and heat over low for a few minutes to warm through. Add both bags of shredded vegan cheese and stir until melted. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.