Macaroni and cheese is a classic, and with good reason. I don’t know that there’s anything more comforting than a big bowl of pasta topped with a creamy sauce. That’s why there are probably thousands of (both vegan and classic) variations on this same theme. This vegan mac and cheese is creamy, crunchy, and totally satisfying.
Why should I add one more to the mix? Because this one is worth it. I promise. When I first made this dish, I have to admit I probably made it 5 times in the first month. The sauce is so good I can literally eat it with a spoon.
There may be even more vegan versions of macaroni and cheese out there than the classic ones filled with dairy. This is one of the things I love about plant-forward cooking – it truly allows your creativity to shine through. Once you start incorporating new ingredients into your pantry (and your repertoire!) you can start experimenting. You may find new tastes and flavors that you didn’t know you were missing!
Many vegan macaroni and cheese sauces involve boiling nuts and vegetables like cashews, potatoes, and carrots, and then blending them into a sauce. While these are delicious, sometimes I’m just looking for a quick and easy dinner. This dish is easy enough to whip up on a weeknight, but feels like it took a lot longer.
The age old question
Inevitably, someone will always ask – but does it taste like “real” macaroni and cheese? My answer is: yes and no.
No, this pasta dish will not taste exactly like the traditional one you grew up with. In many ways, this is a good thing! This mac and cheese is kind to our planet, and doesn’t contain any of the classic ingredients like cheese, milk, or sour cream. It also doesn’t feel as heavy as the dishes you probably grew up with. For me, this is a huge bonus, because I don’t have to worry about getting a stomach ache from the heaviness of dairy.
While it may not taste the exact same, it still satisfies that same craving for a creamy, satisfying pasta topped with crunchy breadcrumbs. The right textures are all there, the flavors are delicious, and it’s easy to fall in love with it.
The secret to creamy vegan mac and cheese
This dish owes its creaminess to one ingredient you may not have seen in other vegan macaroni and cheese recipes before: tahini. Tahini is a paste made from sesame seeds that is most often found in hummus. But don’t be fooled – this magical little ingredient can do much more than create a delicious bowl of dip. Tahini comes in handy in a number of ways. You can use it to add creaminess to salad dressings, cookies, sauces, soups, and yes, even pasta.
I find myself adding a jar or two to my cart every time I’m at the store. I love the Trader Joe’s brand, because it’s budget-friendly. I keep mine in the pantry, and store in the fridge once I’ve opened the jar. They never last too long around here.
Pro tip: Tahini, like peanut butter, can firm up significantly once it’s in the fridge. To prepare it for cooking, I place the jar in a bowl of hot water for 10-15 minutes while I prep other ingredients. By the time I’m ready to use it, the texture is perfect!
Tahini is full of healthy fats and contains anti-inflammatory compounds. I love the distinct, sharp taste. When prepared this way, I swear it even kind of reminds me of a sharp cheddar cheese sauce. The tanginess adds a depth of flavor that you usually don’t find in dairy-free cheese sauces.
How to assemble your pasta
This Creamy Vegan Mac and “Cheese” with Crispy Breadcrumbs is:
- super easy
The three main steps to this recipe are:
- Boil your pasta
- Blend up your sauce ingredients
- Toast breadcrumbs
And voila! You have a delicious bowl of creamy vegan macaroni and “cheese.” I like to top mine with my favorite veggies to add to pasta – olives, onions, and broccoli. Truthfully, any vegetable you have in the fridge would be great here. Have fun and experiment!
Creamy Vegan Mac and "Cheese" with Crispy Breadcrumbs
- 6 oz. pasta of choice
- 1/2 cup tahini
- 1/2 cup plant milk oat, almond, or hemp milk work well
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
- 1 lemon, juiced
- salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste
- 1/3 cup reserved pasta water as needed to thin sauce
Crispy Bread Crumbs
- 1 tbs extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tsp garlic, minced
- 1/3 cup panko bread crumbs
- 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
- salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste
- Roasted broccoli
- Black olives, sliced
- Sauteed onions
- Boil water and cook pasta according to package directions. Reserve 1/3 cup pasta water, and drain.
- Warm a small saute pan over medium-high heat.
- Add 1 tbs olive oil, and 1/3 cup panko bread crumbs to pan
- Season with paprika, salt, and pepper.
- Saute over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Remove from heat once bread crumbs have turned golden brown. Watch them carefully - these can go from perfect to burnt quickly!
- Remove crispy breadcrumbs from heat and allow to slightly cool.
- Add all sauce ingredients to a blender or food processor, and blend to combine.
- If sauce seems too thick, slowly stream in pasta water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the desired consistency is reached.
- Taste and adjust seasonings. Add more lemon juice or nutritional yeast as needed.
- Toss pasta with optional veggies and sauce. Top with crispy breadcrumbs.
- The sauce will quickly absorb into the pasta, so I like to prepare each serving individually, just as I'm about to serve it.
- Store any leftovers in the fridge, and assemble once you're ready to eat.