This easy vegan macaroni and cheese recipe is the ultimate comfort food. Using pureed silken tofu as a base makes it creamy and deceptively rich-tasting. Make it for dinner, then reheat leftovers to pack into the next day’s container lunch — vegan mac and cheese is a good bet to become a favorite of “children of all ages.”
These days, there are so many ways to make dairy-free mac and cheese, with some renditions even skipping the vegan cheese altogether. Instead, vegetables like potatoes and carrots are used, along with cashews other ingredients that add up to a surprisingly cheesy flavor. Case in point, Robin Robertson’s Cheesy Primavera Mac.
This basic recipe uses only 5 ingredients (other than salt), relying on — wait for it — vegan cheese for its cheesiness (I’ve always liked using Daiya cheddar shreds but am always open to other ideas). When vegetables aren’t actually part of mac and cheese, veggie companions are a must — a green vegetable (green beans, broccoli, or brussels sprouts) and a simple salad or slaw.
Here you see a classic carrot-raisin salad. It hardly warrants a formal recipe, but if you need a how-to: Combine about 8 ounces of grated carrots with 1/2 cup or so raisins. Add lemon juice and agave nectar or maple syrup to taste (start with about a tablespoon of each, and add more until the sweet-tart balance is to your liking) and a generous pinch of ground cinnamon.
There are a few suggestions for vegetable toppings for the mac and cheese following the recipe box that make it even more luscious. I highly recommend trying some of them!
Photos by Hannah Kaminsky; adapted from Plant Power by Nava Atlas
- 1 pound pasta, any short shape (like elbows, cavatappi, or rotini)
- 12.3-ounce package silken tofu
- 2 tablespoons vegan butter
- 1/2 cup plain unsweetened nondairy milk
- 1 1/2 cups cheddar-style nondairy cheese
- Salt to taste
- Cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente, then drain.
- While the pasta cooks, puree the tofu until perfectly smooth in a food processor or blender. Transfer to a medium saucepan and add the vegan butter, nondairy milk, and cheese. Slowly bring to a gentle simmer, stirring often, then cook over low heat until the cheese is thoroughly melted. If you have a high-speed blender, you can just throw all of these ingredients in and blend until smooth; no need to cook.
- Combine the cooked pasta and sauce in a serving container (or right back in the pot used for cooking the pasta), and stir together. Season with salt to taste and serve.
- See the various vegetable toppings following this recipe box.
- Macaroni and cheese with a hint of sweet potato or squash: Add 1/2 cup well-cooked, mashed sweet potato or butternut squash to the food processor or blender along with the silken tofu for added nutrition.
- Baked macaroni and cheese with crisp breadcrumbs: Transfer macaroni and cheese (plain or embellished as suggested above) to a 2-quart casserole dish. Top with 1/2 to 3/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs. Bake at 400º F until the top is golden and crusty, about 20 to 25 minutes.
VEGGIE TOPPINGS FOR VEGAN MACARONI AND CHEESE
Steamed wilted greens and dried tomatoes: Rinse a good-size bunch of chard or kale and chop finely (use stems or not, as you prefer). Or, use whole baby spinach. Simply combine in a medium skillet or saucepan and steam until bright green. Or you can do a sauté with olive oil or garlic for extra flavor. Spinach needs only a minute or two; chard and kale require 5 minutes or so. Serve over macaroni and cheese with sliced sun-dried tomatoes — preferably moist but not oil-packed.
Broccoli and red bell pepper: Broccoli is as good to for topping mac and cheese as it is served on the side. Finely chop a broccoli crown or two. Combine in a medium skillet along with a diced red bell pepper and just enough water to keep everything moist. Steam over medium heat, covered, until the veggies are tender-crisp.
Sautéed onions (with optional garlic): Chop a large onion (along with a few cloves garlic, if you’d like) and sauté in a small amount of olive oil over medium heat until golden brown. You can also add some bell pepper in addition to or instead of the garlic.
Mushroom and fresh herbs: Clean, stem and slice 8 to 12 ounces of cremini or baby bella mushrooms. Or use a combination of these brown mushrooms with a small amount of another variety like shiitake or porcini. Cook in a covered skillet with a water, over medium heat until tender. Stir in 1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, basil, or dill, or a combination. Drain well.