Back when I still ate dairy, a bowl of mac and cheese was a pretty fundamental part of the food pyramid. Therefore, naturally, I was pretty bummed about its absence from my diet after going vegan in 2016. That's when my husband and I started experimenting with dairy-free versions of mac and cheese. After a few good-but-not-great trial batches, we finally came up with a foolproof recipe that I legitimately would prefer over any of its regular, dairy-based cousins. 'Twas the day when the Johnston household's ultimate vegan butternut squash mac and cheese recipe was born.
The Secret Ingredient for Making the Best Vegan Mac and Cheese
If you are wondering how in the world a dairy-free mac and cheese can rival a real-deal gourmet bowl similar to what you'd be served at the Publick House, or a box of Kraft for that matter— the answer is simple. The secret is in the sauce... a butternut squash miso sauce, to be exact.
I've always loved miso soup, and sometimes used it in dressings, but never in a million years would it occur to me to use it in mac and cheese. And let me tell you, it makes all the difference. Why? Because thanks to its long fermentation process, miso brings that "funky" element that many versions of vegan mac and cheese lack. White and red miso will both work, although the red will land an even stronger umami flavor.
How to Make Vegan Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese
This dish will require either a blender or a food processor. We use a Vitamix and it takes only a minute to blend everything.
- Bake the butternut squash (or butternut pumpkin, they are the same thing).
- Soak your cashews while the butternut squash is in the oven. If you forget this step or are short of time, you can alternatively boil the cashews for five minutes.
- Cook the pasta according to package instructions. We often use lentil or chickpea pasta to optimize health benefits even further.
- Mix everything except the pasta and the topping ingredients in a blender.
- Mix the sauce with pasta in a tray and add the toppings, then bake until crispy as desired.
- Serve with chives and/or veggie-bacon on top.
This recipe is...
- & Delicious
This recipe is great on its own, but for more greens, serve it with kale or arugula salad.
How to Make Mac and Cheese Healthier
If you want to make this dish more whole-food-plant-based-friendly, skip the oil and the crispy topping, and use a different type of macaroni. Following are a few suggestions:
- Increase the amount of cashews from ½ cup to ⅔ cup (from the original 1x amount)
- Crisp up the top by broiling on high for a minute at the end of the bake instead of using breadcrumbs & oil.
- Instead of using regular semolina pasta, opt for a whole-wheat variety or a legume-based one such as lentil or chickpea. I like the latter option a lot, especially for the added protein and fiber.
- If you are gluten-intolerant, either make sure that the miso paste you are using is gluten-free, or omit and use an extra ¼ cup of nutritional yeast and 1 teaspoon of salt.
Overall this recipe gets a pretty solid score on the nutrition radar even without making the changes above.
Let me know what you think if you try this recipe! It is truly perfect for cozy Fall nights in. If it isn't Fall when you are reading this, don't forget to pin it for later, and tag it with #aegeandelight on Instagram so that I can see your wonderful photos.