Delicious vegan mac & cheese might sound like an oxymoron, but trust us, this cheese sauce is good enough to satiate the strongest dairy craving. Don’t skip the panko topping—the added crunch takes it over the top.
- 1 small-medium butternut squash (about 2 1/4 pounds or 1 kg)
- Olive oil or avocado oil, for roasting and tossing pasta
- 1/2 cup (~70g) raw cashews, soaked in cool water overnight or in boiling water for 1 hour and then drained*
- 3/4 cup (60g) nutritional yeast (makes for an extra cheesy flavor, but you can use 1/2 cup or 40g and it will still be good)
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard powder (optional but adds a nice sharp tangy flavor)
- 1 tablespoon mellow white or yellow miso paste
- 1 (13.5 ounce/ 400 mL) can “lite” coconut milk
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon tapioca flour (see the “frequently asked questions” section for substitutes)
- 12 ounces (340g) elbow macaroni (see the “frequently asked questions” section for notes on how to make this recipe gluten-free)
- 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt + more to taste
- Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
- 3/4 cup + 2 tbsp (60-65g) panko bread crumbs
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
- Scant 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 2 1/2 tablespoons vegan butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 425°F (218°C). Use a very sharp knife to slice the butternut squash in half, then scoop out the seeds using a spoon.
Bake the squash. Place each squash half, cut side up, on a baking sheet and rub each with a bit of the olive oil or avocado oil and season well with salt and pepper. Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until the flesh is completely fork tender and lightly browned.
Meanwhile, make the crispy breadcrumb topping. In a small bowl, combine the panko bread crumbs, nutritional yeast, salt, paprika, and melted vegan butter until well combined.
Meanwhile, cook the elbow macaroni. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil and salt generously. Cook the pasta according to the box directions until al dente and drain in a colander. Toss with a little bit of olive oil to prevent sticking.
Once the squash is done roasting and cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh and discard the skin. Measure out 1 1/2 cups (310-330g) of the flesh. Reserve the rest for another use, such as a curry, soup, or side dish.
Reduce the oven temperature to 400°F (205°C). Lightly grease a 3-quart/3-liter baking dish with oil or melted vegan butter.
Make the cheese sauce. In a high-powered blender, add the 1 1/2 cups (310-330g) of the squash flesh. Add in the soaked and drained cashews, nutritional yeast, mustard powder, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, miso paste, tapioca flour or cornstarch, lemon juice, lite coconut milk, 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, and black pepper to taste. Blend until the sauce is completely smooth and creamy, about 1-2 minutes, scraping down the sides as you go. Taste for seasonings and adjust accordingly, adding more salt as needed, more miso paste for more umami, more nutritional yeast for more cheesiness, or more lemon juice for more acidity.
Return the cooked and drained pasta back to its saucepan and pour in the cheese sauce. Toss until well combined. Transfer the mac and cheese to the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the crispy breadcrumb topping evenly over the top.
Transfer to the oven and bake for 18-20 minutes, until the topping is crispy and brown. Allow to cool for 10-20 minutes to help set up, then slice into it and serve.