Cheese. The one food that, for years, I claimed I could not live without. The very same food that most people mention when finding out that I’m vegan and when trying to imagine themselves living the lifestyle.
It should come as no surprise, then, to read that cheese does actually possess addictive qualities:
The primary protein in milk is casein. When the human body digests casein, it produces casomorphins, which have an opiate-like effect on humans. Because cheese is denser than, for example, milk, the casein is more heavily concentrated, meaning that eating cheese produces a larger amount of casomorphins in the body compared to eating other dairy products. – Alex Pearlman
As I mentioned before, there was a time when I thought I could never give up the salty, fatty deliciousness that is cheese. Now, almost 8 months into my vegan journey, I am here to say that it’s possible to give it up, and it’s surprisingly not that hard! Check out my post about replacing animal products in a vegan diet and identifying what you’re actually craving.
Thanks in part to a wealth of cheesey vegan recipes online, great vegan dairy products and also to an episode of my favorite vegan podcast entitled “Life After Cheese,” removing cheese from my diet was practically painless – even when I went to Italy for my wedding and honeymoon!
I’ve tried a few recipes for vegan macaroni and cheese and have been impressed by how creamy and delicious this dish can be with absolutely NO dairy. Many recipes rely on nuts like cashews or almonds to provide the creaminess, which works really well because it provides the texture and the fat flavor that we are looking for when we are craving cheese.
This is not always an option for everyone, however. For instance, a good friend of mine has been trying to prepare mostly vegan meals at home but has one limitation – her husband is allergic to nuts! This got me thinking about possible ways to make macaroni and cheese without them. She had mentioned that she tried a recipe that used carrots and nutritional yeast, but in her opinion, way too much of it!
I’ve had good luck using nutritional yeast, so I did include it in my recipe, but relatively small amount just to add a touch of flavor. I’ve seen recipes use cauliflower and even potatoes to achieve a thicker, creamy texture. I liked the idea of using the carrot to provide a sweetness and even amore cheddar-like color. What I ended up using was sweet potato!
After blending all of the ingredients together I laughed a little to myself how closely the color resembled the macaroni and cheese prepared out of a box which I used to eat as a kid. For those of us who may miss the familiarity of the non-vegan foods we used to eat, this should help!
In lieu of cashews, I decided to make a roux out of flour and vegan butter to thicken the cheese sauce. For one final touch, I added some fresh bread crumbs to the top for texture and baked to a toasty brown.
- 4 cups cooked macaroni
- 1 cup sweet potato
- 1/3 cup chopped onion
- 3/4 cup water
- 1/2 cup plant-based milk such as coconut or soy
- 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 pinch paprika
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 2 tablespoons vegan butter (like Earth Balance)
- Cook the macaroni according to the package instructions and set aside.
- Peel and chop the sweet potato and onion and boil them in water until softened.
- Strain the potato and onion, saving about a cup of the water.
- Blend the potato, onion, water, plant-based milk, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, salt and paprika into a blender(I used my Vitamix)
- In a saucepan, make a roux by melting the vegan butter and then stirring in the flour to form a paste.
- Cook the roux for about a minute and then whisk in the sweet potato cheese mixture.
- Simmer the cheese on low for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Taste and add salt and pepper, as needed.
- Pour the macaroni into a baking dish. Pour the cheese mixture on top and combine.
- Top with bread crumbs and sprinkling of salt and pepper. I thew some fresh crusty Italian bread into my food processor to make the bread crumbs pictured.
- Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the bread crumbs are browned.