When I think of mac and cheese, I’m not thinking of those 99 cent boxes of wacky mac sitting on the shelves of Walmart or Pricechopper. I dream of a mac and cheese that is a decadent and elegant dish with a variation to excite every palate. Living a dairy free of gluten free lifestyle doesn’t mean living without, and using this dairy free mac and cheese recipe as a base, you can recreate your favorite version of this traditional casserole.
My all-time favorite variety is a chipotle mac and cheese topped with garlic bread crumbs. The creaminess of Gruyère and Cheddar make this dish, and it’s become my benchmark for measuring the success of any dairy free mac and cheese dish. When I reviewed Kathy Hester’s The Vegan Slow Cooker last year I fell in love with the idea of making mac and cheese with a home made cashew based cheese, but never did as it seemed complicated. Let me share a little secret. It is not complicated at all.
Most of my “cheese” dishes use daiya cheese, and as much as I love this ingredient, the cashew based cheese I share with you today is simple to make at home and reminds me of the self-indulgent, rich cheesy flavor that my daiya cheese sauce has often lacked.
Cashew cheese really delivers makes the dairy free mac and cheese experience as authentic as possible. This recipe does need you to plan ahead a little, soaking cashews for the best part of a day before you make the cheese, but if you are the plan-ahead type of cook, or can soak the cashews before leaving for work and complete the prep when you return home, this dish is worth the effort. My wife is the one that took the plunge and made this cashew cheese – and as we begin a shift that will cut our meat consumption I expect this dish will become one we share often. You can serve it as a main dish, or smaller portions in mini ramekins will make excellent side dishes.
Dairy Free Mac and Cheese
- 1 1/2 cups cashews
- 1 diced bell pepper
- Juice of 1-2 limes (to taste)
- 3 cloves garlic
- Teaspoon salt
- Dash of red chili flakes
- Dash of chipotle hot sauce
- Teaspoon olive oil
- 1 package of pasta – elbow, or spirals work best.
Begin by soaking 1 1/2 cups of cashews in water for seven to nine hours. Once they have soaked, discard the water and rinse. Put the cashews in to a blender, vitamix or food processor along with all of the other ingredients except for one lime and olive oil. Blend the ingredients until smooth, pulse if you prefer. Taste, and add the juice of the second lime if you’d like to add a deeper citrus tone. It’s a subtle addition, but I think it makes the dish. Add a teaspoon of olive oil if your cheese is too thick.
Allow your cashew cheese to sit while you boil your pasta in salted water. Drain and rinse your pasta, then put it back in the pot and return over a low light. Gently stir in the cashew cheese, folding to make all the pasta gets coated. Resist the urge to this straight from the bowl – this dish doesn’t need any upgrade, but if you desire peas, tuna or tempeh bacon, I’d add it at this point. Mix again.
Spoon your mac and cheese into ramekins, or a large oven-safe dish and sprinkle with garlic breadcrumbs. Toast of a few minutes in the toaster oven, or under the broiler. It won’t take more than five minutes before there is a golden brown glow atop your vegan deliciousness.