Sunny Mac N Cheez
Creamy, cheesy, melty baked goodness sans allergens. Wish you could make an allergy-free macaroni and cheese recipe but don't know where to start? Right here!
We have a confession to make: we thought our recipe was pretty great until we came across the 2018 World Vegan Mac 'n' Cheese Championship in Baltimore. We're a little ashamed to say we didn't realize all the different ways a person could enjoy mac 'n' cheese. Well, we've been educated. There were so many fantastic variations on the classic mac 'n' cheese recipe that it was a true trial to vote on just our top three pics.
Now we know that our recipe is good but we need to up our game. That means we'll be steadily working on improving our recipe until it's out-of-this-world awesome. Until then however, we enjoy this version.
In case you're curious, there are plenty of ways to mimic the creaminess of milk and cheese when trying to make a (healthier) vegan mac 'n' cheese substitute - many recipes call for russet or yellow or sweet potatoes, squash, soy or nuts. We've tried several variations and we found that cauliflower does the best job (so far). We originally made this recipe using sunflower seeds to take the place of cashews found in many vegan recipes; however, we've realized nuts nor seeds are necessary to the overall creaminess of the recipe.
A Little History...
Wondering where macaroni and cheese came from? Well, macaroni is a type of Italian pasta however there's no definitive proof that Italy originated the common recipe. What we found at this point is that it originated somewhere in 'northern Europe' and some sources will go so far as to say France or England. What is more commonly accepted as to how macaroni and cheese gained fame in the U.S. and spread from there is when President Thomas Jefferson brought back a pasta machine from Italy to recreate a similar pasta and cheese recipe at the White House. The recipe didn't catch on to popularity in the States however until The Great Depression when Kraft began making cheap boxed dinners that could feed four and Kraft-style macaroni and cheese was born.
If you're used to boxed macaroni rather than home-baked macaroni than you are truly missing out - while we won't degrade a childhood classic, we will say that it can be improved upon and homemade mac 'n' cheese isn't any more complicated to make allergy-friendly than it's traditional counterpart.
We love serving our mac 'n' cheese with the classic pairing of Smack Yo Lips Collard Greens and Savory Drop Biscuits. You can also serve them with peas and carrots, steamed broccoli, roasted Brussels sprouts, barbecue baked beans or sauteed spinach.
Our favorite brand of pasta for this recipe is BioNaturae Organic Gluten Free Pasta Elbows but we also like Andean Dream Organic Gluten Free Quinoa Pasta Shells. Another pasta that's worked well with this recipe is Tinkyada Pasta Joy Organic Brown Rice Pasta.
To save water and add a little extra flavor, use a slotted spoon to remove the boiled vegetables once cooked and reuse the vegetable boil water to cook the noodles.
Some recipes call for mustard powder and garlic powder however we've found these don't bring quite the right flavor to the finished cheese sauce. It's better to use yellow or Dijon mustard and garlic cloves.
Sauteing and half-caramelizing the onions and garlic before blending brings just the right amount of depth of flavor and sweetness needed for the recipe, to counteract the savory aspects of other ingredients. If you skip the sauteing step and use either boiled or raw onions and garlic the taste compound will be different with a sharper bite, at least before baking.
Caramelizing the carrots with the onions and garlic brings a touch more sweetness to the recipe but it won't damage the recipe to boil the carrots with the cauliflower instead. The cooking time is about the same either way.
It's important to use unsweetened milk in this recipe because otherwise the sweetness of the milk can overpower or undermine the savoriness of the overall dish. If using coconut milk do not use the canned variety as that tends to be too thick and creamy and usually has a strong coconut taste; instead use the more watered down version packaged in 32oz cartons like veggie broth.
This recipe is technically ready to eat as soon as the sauce is assembled but we think it tastes the best after being baked, to add that crispy top and creamy middle combo that makes homemade baked macaroni and cheese it's classic brilliance. Also the cheese will thicken when baked taking on an almost Velveeta-like consistency - yum!
You can add a teaspoon of paprika to the recipe for a bit of spice, color and flare. We suggest sweet paprika, not smoked paprika, as the smoked version sort of confuses the flavors.
You can make your mac 'n' cheese 'pizza' flavored by adding a 1/2 teaspoon each of thyme, oregano and ground fennel seeds.
You can sprinkle cayenne or parsley on the finished product for a bit of flare and final seasoning.
You can make this recipe without the carrot and it should turn out fine and the cheesy sauce will only be slightly paler.
If you skip the cauliflower in this recipe the sauce will be very runny before baking and may not crisp all the way after baking.
We used frozen cauliflower to speed along the prep process but fresh cauliflower works just as well. Frozen will usually cook faster as it's blanched before it's frozen so if using fresh cauliflower you will probably be using about 1/3 to 1/2 of a head of cauliflower and boiling it for at least 20 minutes.
If you don't have or dislike Dijon mustard or spicy mustard you can use a yellow mustard and add 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice. Don't use vinegar in place of lemon juice in this instance, leave it out altogether if you don't have it; vinegar is too sharp a taste to replace lemon in this recipe.
Sprinkle 1/2 cup of gluten-free bread crumbs (such as Ian's Gluten-Free Italian Panko Bread Crumbs) over top of mac 'n' cheese before baking for that additional texture and crispness without crisping the noodles.
Recipe: Sunny Mac N Cheez
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: Comfort Food
Skill Level: Beginner/Easy
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Serves: 8 generously
1 yellow onion
5 cloves garlic (about 1 Tbsp diced)
1 large carrot
1 1/2 cups frozen cauliflower
2 cups unsweetened rice or coconut milk
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
1 Tbsp Dijon (or yellow) mustard
1/3 cup avocado oil (plus a separate 1 Tbsp)
2 tsp salt
1/2 cup boil water
16oz elbow pasta
Heat 1 tsp avocado oil over medium high heat in pan until an added piece of onion sizzles.
Add onions and saute for about 7 minutes.
While onion is sauteing peel and chop carrot.
In large pot, boil 8 cups of water with 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon avocado oil.
Once onion has been sauteing for 7 minutes, add carrot and sprinkle teaspoon of salt over onion and carrot. Saute for another 5 minutes.
Add garlic to carrot and onion mixture for 3 minutes, until all are caramelizing. Remove pan from heat and set aside to cool while preparing other ingredients.
Once pot of water boils, add cauliflower and cook for 10-15 minutes, until soft and beginning to break apart.
Turn off heat and use slotted spoon to remove cauliflower from boil water.
Preheat oven to 375.
Combine onion-carrot-garlic mixture with cauliflower in blender or food processor and blend until broken down into mush.
Add plant-based milk, mustard, nutritional yeast and 1/3 cup avocado oil to blender or food processor and blend until well combined.
Bring pot of water to boil again and cook gluten-free pasta for 1-2 minutes less than the packaged instructions.
Remove 1/2 cup of cauliflower-pasta boil water before draining pasta and add to cheesy sauce, blending until well combined.
Drain pasta and add to 9x13 casserole dish.
Pour cheesy sauce over gluten-free pasta and mix until all noodles are covered. Sauce will be more runny than thick, not unlike melted cheese or cream.
Place casserole dish on parchment or aluminum foil lined cookie sheet to prevent bubbling from spilling in your oven.
Bake uncovered for 35-45 minutes, until top is golden and crisping.
Remove from oven and let casserole sit for 5 minutes before serving so it's not super piping hot.
This dish can be frozen and thawed by baking in oven for approximately 25 minutes at 375. It keeps in the refrigerator for about seven days and in the freezer for several months.
Try our recipe and tell us how you liked it in the comments below!