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The secret to a great vegan mac and cheese – it’s clever sauce

Joe Yonan

THE WASHINGTON POST – The best traditional mac and cheese recipes rely on more than just the cheese. They use a bechamel to create a cheese sauce that enrobes the pasta and keeps the dish wonderfully creamy.

It follows, then, that the best vegan mac and cheese recipes rely on more than vegan cheese, too. In fact, plenty of them don’t use any vegan cheese at all, instead enlisting cashews to create the sauce and other powerful ingredients (such as nutritional yeast, miso and mustard) to bring nutty, deep and sharp flavours to the party. Some recipes add tapioca or potato starch to approximate the stretchiness of cheese, vegan or not.

This recipe, which I adapted from the new book by the folks at Goodful (part of BuzzFeed’s Tasty family), brings other nice touches to the standard vegan technique and might just raise the bar.

Here, you cook potato, carrot, garlic and onion in a skillet with water and the requisite cashews, then the whole thing gets pureed with the aforementioned flavour boosters to become the sauce. The potato brings that starchiness, the carrot a hint of colour.

I added a couple of my own touches to the blender. When I first tested this recipe, the only nutritional yeast left in my pantry was one flavoured with “nacho” spices, including cayenne pepper and smoked paprika, and I loved the result. So the next time, I tried adding plain “nooch”, plus the separate spices, and again loved the hint of heat and smokiness.

One warning about this recipe: It makes a lot, filling a deep 12-inch cast-iron skillet. If your household is small, feel free to eat whatever portion you’d like, refrigerate some for the following few lunches and/or freeze some for even longer.

Vegan Broccoli Mac and Cheese. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

VEGAN BROCCOLI MAC AND CHEESE
Eight to 12 servings

INGREDIENTS
Two tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
One medium white or yellow onion, chopped
One teaspoon fine salt, divided, plus more to taste
Two garlic cloves, grated or pressed
One medium russet potato, scrubbed and cut into half-inch cubes
One medium carrot, scrubbed and cut into quarter-inch coins
One cup raw cashews
Two cups water, plus more as needed
Five tablespoons nutritional yeast
One tablespoon white miso
One tablespoon Dijon mustard
Half teaspoon smoked paprika
Quarter teaspoon cayenne
One large head broccoli
One pound elbow macaroni
3/4 cup panko or unseasoned breadcrumbs
Quarter teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS
Position a rack in the centre of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees.

In a 12-inch cast-iron or other ovenproof skillet over medium heat, heat the oil until it shimmers. Add the onion and half teaspoon of the salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, four to five minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add the potato, carrot, cashews and water, increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, until the potatoes and carrots are very soft, 10 to 15 minutes.

Remove from the heat and let cool for a few minutes.

Carefully pour the vegetables and liquid into a blender. Add the nutritional yeast, miso, mustard, smoked paprika, cayenne and quarter teaspoon of the salt.

Blend on high until the sauce is very smooth, one to two minutes.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. While the water is heating, cut the broccoli stem from the head and use a vegetable peeler to peel the stem’s tough outer layer. Cut the stem in half lengthwise and then into quarter-inch half moons. Cut the head into bite-size florets.

Once the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook until two minutes shy of al dente according to the package directions, three to five minutes.

Add the broccoli and cook for the remaining two minutes, or until the broccoli is bright green and the pasta is al dente.

Drain the pasta and broccoli and return to the pot. Pour in the sauce and stir to fully coat.

Return the mixture to the cast-iron skillet and smooth into an even layer.

In a small bowl, toss the panko with the remaining quarter teaspoon of the salt and the pepper. Sprinkle over the mac and cheese. Bake for 10 to 20 minutes, or until the panko is lightly browned and the sauce starts to bubble. Serve hot.

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