Mac. And. Cheese. The weather sure is calling for it! Hands up if you had a serious addiction to mac and cheese as a child? Yes, even if it was the packet bought fake-yellow-coloured maggi stuff. It’s ok – I feel you.
Mac and cheese was one of my very first entrees into the foodie world. I remember as a sweet 12 year old, coming home from school, and after a spot of homework, cranking into the kitchen to make a big tray of din for my three younger siblings and mum. My mum was a full time working mama my whole life (maybe that’s where I get my drive from…?), so I knew she could use all the help she could get. And plus, as the oldest, I actually loved it!
On my school-child menu? Rice pudding (baked in the oven so it forms that thick brown skin, with the creamy goodness hiding below), apricot chicken on rice (maggi dry packet for the sauce, plus a can of apricots and some onions), mac and cheese (with allll the dairy), and scones glorious scones (fruity, plain, cheese – you can find my more recent reincarnations of these here and here).
So of course, all of these childhood favs were due for a revamp now I’m on the plant-based path, dragging you along with me too (I hope willingly, at times!).
But seriously, with how good this particular mac and cheese tastes, you are going to WANT to turn plant-based after this. As will your partner, brother, sister, even your stalwart dad. Plus, it’s got a whole cauli snuck in there for the kids, and you’d never even now!
Yep this Best Ever Vegan + Gluten Free Mac and Cheese is…
- Vegan and gluten free (obviously);
- Made deliciously creamy, without the need for dairy;
- Uses a secret ingredient in the sauce (ok, it’s cauliflower, I’m exposed);
- Is a brilliant all-in bake option, so you can make double or triple and have dinner and lunches set for daaaaaaays; and
- Is so darn good, we had to make another fun VIDEO of it for you!
So here she is, my best adult attempt at Mac and Cheese. Hopefully so good it’ll convince you to ditch the dairy (or for one night, at least). Give it a try and let me know what you think! Would love to hear from you.
Right, let’s get to it…
So, what makes me think this mac ‘n’ cheese might be the best ever? I know it’s an audacious claim, so to back it up I’ve got a few reasons why…
First up – it’s vegan. That means no animal products, no milk, no cheese, no butter, and certainly no sneaky bacon bits floating around. But don’t fret, we are going to replace all that flavour with so much more, and all made from 100% plant-based whole food ingredients. Are you excited yet? I am. Let’s dig in!
Second claim to fame is it’s gluten free. I know gluten free is all the rage right now, and whilst I don’t recommend a gluten free diet as a stand alone concept (the vast majority of purportedly ‘gluten free’ products out there are pretty horrific from a nutritional perspective), I am all for you reducing your refined white flour intake and replacing it with a selection of more whole food whole grain alternatives. By whole grain I mean all three layers of the grain – endosperm, germ and bran. In simple terms, just look out for whole grain, whole wheat, or brown when you’re choosing your pastas. In this recipe I’ve used these delightful red rice macaroni elbows here. The red rice has just the right amount of density to feel grounded, whilst still retaining the light fluffiness of a traditional white wheat pasta. Divine.
Thirdly, and continuing on our gluten free theme – the topping. Oh my – sunflower seeds encased in a cheesy sprinkle of nutritional yeast, sea salt and a drizzle of olive oil, which bakes up to be gloriously golden and crunchy on top. You might just want to make double of the topping it’s so good. So no need for gluten free breadcrumbs or otherwise here.
Finally, and most excitingly – it’s jam packed with vegetables and light on the calorie scale. Whilst you might have tried a dairy free/vegan macaroni cheese before, it no doubt will have been made with white wheat pasta drenched in a rich cashew sauce. Delicious no doubt, but fairly limited in terms of antioxidant, phytonutrient, flavonoid and polyphenol vegetable content. And also pretty heavy on the waistline. This version is a vegetable-loving-revelation in terms of the cheesey sauce ingredient list. Hint – there’s a secret vege ingredient in there – read on my friend do!
Before today’s find, I had previously made a number of vegan mac n cheeses, all using a cashew based sauce. I had also made a number of cauliflower cheese bakes using a similar method – both being recreations of two childhood favourites of mine. It was only recently that I thought, hang on, what if instead of the traditional highly cashew-rich sauce, I combine the two recipes, but blend up the cauliflower to create the sauce itself. Oh my, was that a good idea!
The result is a creamy cheesy sauce that is oh so flavoursome but super light and fluffy at the same time. There will certainly be no feelings of heaviness after this meal. In fact with two large onions, half a large cauliflower, and 2 packed cups of parsley, the finished dish is almost 50% vegetables. Now that’s a positive for both the kids and adults alike. Mila wouldn’t give me her bowl back then proceeded to steal half the portion off my plate too – that means we’re onto a winner!
Cauliflower Takes the Cream
Some quick nutritional notes on cauliflower while we’re at it. Not only is it a super versatile ingredient in your plant-based pantry, being able to go from raw salads (like my Pomegranate Cauliflower Couscous here), to a creamy hearty mash (in my Italian Meatballs here), to today’s brilliant creamy pasta sauce, it also contains a whopping 52mg of vitamin C. That’s over 115% of your recommended daily intake (both ladies and gents). Imagine that – a single cup of cauli and all your vitamin C requirements done! No oranges needed. Research also shows that the vitamin C content in cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, is almost all retained when lightly steamed as I’ve done in this recipe. That’s in contrast to boiling or microwaving, where up to 30-40% of the vit C can be lost.
Back onto that sauce – the white pepper gives it just the right amount of kick, without taking away from the core flavours of a traditional macaroni cheese, while the mustard, white miso, nutritional yeast and sea salt round everything out to give you a classic cheesy yet refined and elegant flavour. Mila even loved it in this original peppery form, so if you’ve got little ones, no need to modify the recipe there.
That’s it. Go do it. You know you want to. All your mac n cheese cravings to be met in a single hearty pan. Oh did I mention? Only 12 ingredients and it takes a mere 25 minutes to make. Under my self-imposed 30 minute maximum for a mid week dinner, which I know you’ll appreciate after your busy days too.
I would absolutely love you to give this glorious Macaroni Cheese a go, and would love to hear how you go. Leave me a comment below or post a pic on Instagram and tag me @begoodorganics and #begoodorganics. I could eat this dish for days on end, so can’t wait to hear what you think too!
That’s it, signing off for this week. To the weekend, and our good friends Mac and Cheese.
PS If you like this recipe, I’d love you to pin it on Pinterest, share it on Facebook, post your recreation on Instagram (tag me @begoodorganics and #begoodorganics), or share it with your family and friends. Also, if you’re not already subscribed to my weekly recipe emails, be sure to do that here, and don’t miss my next recipe video by signing up to my YouTube here.
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Please note – if you are wanting to meet any of the specific dietary requirements below, please read my recipe notes.
Macaroni and Cauliflower Cheese
- 340 g pasta*
- 1/2 large cauliflower including stalk (approx. 420g) + 2c pasta/cauli cooking water
- 2 large onions diced
- 6 cloves garlic sliced
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 1/2 c cashews
- 1/4 c nutritional yeast
- 1 tbsp white miso
- 1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
- 1 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp white pepper
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 2 c fresh parsley packed
Boil the jug with water and preheat the oven on fan bake at 200°C (390°F), then chop your cauliflower into bite-sized pieces.
Put the pasta in a pot and cover with boiling water, then place the cauli on top in a steamer attachment (if you have one). Cook both for 5-7 minutes. If you don't have a steamer you can cook the cauli in a separate pot with 1/2 cup of extra boiling water.
While these steam, heat the oil in a large flat pan (oven-proof if possible), and saute the onion and garlic for five minutes until light brown and caramelised.
Blend all the topping ingredients in a blender until they form a crumb but still with some texture - set aside.
Drain the pasta and cauliflower reserving 2 cups of cooking water. Pour the pasta into the pan with the onions while still on a low heat.
Meanwhile, put the cauli in your blender with the 2 cups of cooking water and all remaining sauce ingredients (cashews, nutritional yeast, mustard, pepper and salt) except parsley. Blend until super creamy then pour into your pasta pan, adding the parsley, and stir while still on low for 2 minutes until everything heats through and the sauce begins to thicken.
Pour over the sunflower seed topping, then bake in the oven for 10 minutes until golden and crunchy on top.
Serve with a simple garden salad and get in quick if you want any chance of seconds!
- To make this soy free, simply omit the white miso and double the amount of nutritional yeast you use.
- To make this nut free, simply use watermelon seeds in place of the cashews.
- Use an oven proof pan, that way you can transfer straight from the hob to the oven to bake it off at the end.
- Make sure you use all your cauli water if cooking separately - it's packed full of nutrients and we don't want to lose those.
- Check your pasta cooking time - mine were 5-7 minutes, but if they need longer add your cauli halfway through as needed.
- A cup of frozen peas would also work perfectly in this if you're a fan of the greenies. Yes peas and mac and cheese is amazing!
- This dish is so delicious the next day. I simply let it cool and placed it in the fridge with the pan lid on until the next day, then reheated in the same pan.
- A note of caution - you are going to want to make this recipe every night for dinner, so buy extra ingredients!