Spicy Crispy Mac-n-Cheese
You know how sometimes you just want something comforting and familiar? Mac n cheese is totally that dish for me. Those yellow, creamy elbow noodles remind me of my mom, and feeling at home.
The best vegan mac n cheese I’ve ever tasted is the Mac n Yease at Plum Bistro in Seattle. Everyone talks about it, and the hype is well-earned. It was a new level of delicious (and, I suspect, totally unhealthy). While this isn’t anything like the Plum version, it does have a spicy, sweet, salty flavor that reminds me of an updated and more modern take on the traditional mac n cheese of my childhood.
Don’t be scared of the long ingredient list. It comes together very quickly and tastes delectable. Check out the notes for my suggestions on swapping out a few of the less common items. The orange bell pepper does bring sweetness to this dish, plus a beautiful orange hue. If you want something less sweet, you can cut back or omit it entirely, but I enjoy the complexity that the sweet pepper brings to each bite.
Avoiding gluten? Try the sauce with quinoa pasta or over caramelized cauliflower and top with crushed nuts instead of breadcrumbs. This dish serves 8 as a main, or 12-16 as a side. If you want to really impress, I recommend pairing the pasta with an arugula salad and a portobello mushroom steak.
PS – I threw in a little behind-the-scenes shot. This is what happens to my living room after I create a dish. It’s not a professional studio, and the cats feel like the empty coffee table is an invitation to try and photo bomb every shot, but it gets the job done.
- 1 pound (16 oz) elbow pasta (or pasta of choice)
- 1/4 cup Earth Balance buttery spread (or EVOO & a dash of salt)
- 1 cup white onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1/4 cup orange bell pepper, diced
- 1/2 cup raw cashews
- 1/2 cup filtered water
- 1/2 cup coconut milk
- 1 Tbsp nutritional yeast
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 tsp salt (smoked salt would be a delicious alternative)
- Pinch crushed black pepper
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
- 2 tsp hot sauce (opt for a thicker hot sauce, not Tabasco)
- 2 tsp hazelnut oil
- 1/2 cup reserved pasta water
- Breadcrumb topping
- 2/3 cup panko or plain breadcrumbs
- 1 tsp dried parsley
- Pinch of crushed black pepper
- 1/2 tsp smoked salt
- 1/2 tsp chipotle powder
- 1 Tbsp EVOO
- 1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
- 2. Set a large pot of water to boil and heavily salt. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions. Remember to reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water prior to draining.
- 3. Melt the butter in a pan. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Whisk in the flour. Add the garlic and bell pepper. Stir for 1-2 minutes.
- 4. Blend the cashews and water in a Vitamix until creamy. If you do not have a Vitamix, soak the cashews for an hour, drain, and then blend in a standard blender.
- 5. Add the onion mixture to the cashew cream. Add all of the remaining sauce ingredients, except the pasta water. Blend until creamy.
- 6. Mix all of the breadcrumb ingredients together in a small bowl.
- 7. Pour the drained pasta into a 9×13 baking dish. Add 2/3 of the prepared sauce. If you need to thin the sauce, drizzle a little of the pasta water at a time to achieve the desired thickness. The pasta will soak up a lot of the sauce, which may dry the dish out, so add just a tad more water and sauce than you normally would.
- 8. Top with the breadcrumb mixture and bake 10-12 minutes.
- 9. Enjoy! I added a drizzle of EVOO when I served it.
- – Hazelnut oil has an almost buttery flavor. Feel free to substitute walnut oil or extra virgin olive oil.
- – Smoked salt is a fantastic addition to this dish, but sea salt would work just as well.
- – If you don’t want to use coconut milk, just up the cashews & water to 3/4 cup each. You may need a little more reserved water at the end, too.