Dairy-free mac ‘n cheese

IMG_3792-2.jpg

ingredients

Sauce

  • 2 cups white potato, peeled and cubed

  • 1 cup butternut squash, peeled and cubed

  • ¼ cup raw cashews, soaked in hot water for 4 hours

  • ½ cup water

  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

  • ½ cup nutritional yeast

  • ¼ tsp onion powder

  • ¼ tsp garlic powder

  • 1 tbsp dijon

  • 1 ½ - 2 tsp salt

  • ½ tsp black pepper

  • Optional: pinch of cayenne or chili flakes

    Macaroni:

  • 2 cups gluten-free macaroni (or use any macaroni you prefer)

  • 1 cup chopped broccoli
     

 

IMG_3797-2.jpg

make it

  1. Add the potatoes and squash to a large pot of boiling salted water. Boil until soft. Drain and add to your blender or food processor.

  2. Drain and rinse the cashews before adding them to your blender. Add all other ingredients to the blender with the veggies and puree on high until completely smooth. At this point you can taste the sauce and see if you want to add any more spices or seasoning. Set aside.

  3. Bring another large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water and add in the pasta, cook for 8-10 minutes or until soft. In the last couple of minutes of cooking, add the broccoli to the same pot and cook just until it turns bright green. Drain the pasta and broccoli and add back into the pot.

  4. Pour the cheese sauce over the pasta and stir well to coat. You can add as much or as little sauce as you like!

  5. Store the sauce in an air-tight container for up to 7 days. The sauce will thicken as it cools in the fridge; to reheat, add to a small saucepan and heat over medium until desired temperature is reached. You can always add a bit of water to help thin it out when re-heating as well. Enjoy over steamed veggies, baked sweet potatoes, or burrito bowls. For a real treat, enjoy it as a dip with chips and salsa!

Mac and cheese just so happens to be one of my all-time favourite foods.

I actually loved Kraft Dinner when I was a kid, but as I got older my palette got more refined and I really came to love the ‘fancy’ mac and cheese. I love my mac and cheese with multiple cheeses and buttery breadcrumbs on top; my ultimate comfort food! Don’t even get me started on much I love truffle mac and cheese!

So while I do love the decadence of mac and cheese, what I don’t love is how it makes me feel afterwards. All that dairy and gluten feels so heavy and my energy plummets as my body tries to work through and digest it. Overall my body does better when I limit my dairy and gluten consumption. So while I love the taste of traditional mac and cheese, sometimes it’s just not the best to have when I don’t want those digestive side effects, or when I can’t take a nap after eating it.

When I first heard about dairy-free mac and cheese a few years ago, I was so excited! Something that tastes like my favourite dish but won’t have the negative side effects? I was sold!

So how can something taste like cheese sauce without containing any cheese? Nutritional yeast! Or ‘nooch’ as it’s referred to by some trendier folk. If you’ve never heard of nutritional yeast before, it definitely sounds (and looks) a little funky. Nutritional yeast is actually an inactive yeast product that is grown specifically for food use. It does not have the same active properties as baker’s or brewer’s yeast. When you see it in the store, you’ll know; it’s a flaky powder and has a yellow/golden colour, you can’t miss it once you know what you’re looking for.

Upon first hearing about this mysterious powder, you may be wondering what the heck you would do with it. It’s actually a staple in my pantry because there are so many uses for it! It has a wonderful cheesy, salty, nutty flavour and I love it sprinkled on eggs, steamed broccoli, roasted kale and pasta. My most favourite use for it though, is to have it sprinkled on homemade popcorn. SO good.

Not only does nutritional yeast taste good, but it’s high in nutrients as well! It is a great source of amino acids, B vitamins and trace minerals like zinc and selenium. It’s a great way to pump up the nutrient profile for your meals!

You can find nutritional yeast at any health food store. Here in Winnipeg, I get mine at Vita Health in the refrigerated section next to the other dairy-free products. I’ve also recently found it on the shelf at Superstore in their ‘natural foods aisle.’ It usually comes in a large ‘yogurt-style’ container or in a bag, depending on which brand you buy. One container will last you a while if you store it properly! I always transfer mine to a large mason jar so it can be sealed tight.

I know foods like this can be intimidating if you’re not familiar with them or you feel like you don’t know what to do with them, but I would encourage you to branch out and try it! There’s no wrong way to use nutritional yeast, just start sprinkling it on your food! It has such a unique flavour and it’s so great on so many foods.

As a disclaimer I do need to say: if you have never tried vegan cheese or nutritional yeast before, the cheese resemblance may be very minimal at first. When I first tried it, I liked it and thought it tasted good, but it only had a ‘whisper’ of cheese flavour to it. Because nothing tastes like cheese, except cheese! Your palette will likely need to adjust to the taste profile. But once you get away from trying to compare it to the real thing, and accept it for what it is, you’ll start to realize how delicious it is! It doesn’t taste exactly like cheese, but it tastes really good.

So of course my dairy free cheese sauce recipe contains plenty of nooch! The potatoes and butternut squash give the sauce structure and the cashews provide that creaminess and luscious texture we want in a good cheese sauce. It doesn’t taste exactly like a cheese sauce, but it’s really damn good, and that’s all that matters.

This recipe gives you all the comforting feelings that a creamy mac and cheese will. I believe we’re all just looking for creamy, saucy pasta dishes that taste good, and that’s exactly what this is. So use this recipe on a regular basis to help satisfy your cravings and save the real mac and cheese for the days when you can wear stretchy pants and take a nap afterwards.