Vegan Mac & Cheese

Back when I was a simple lacto-vegetarian, I would usually make one or two dishes of mac & cheese throughout the winter...the perfect creamy comfort dish. After becoming vegan, quite a few years back, I had seen versions of mac & "cheese" and decided my hand at it. I poured over numerous recipes over the internet, headed out to Whole Foods and filled my basket with the necessary ingredients. I got home, made the dish but couldn't bear to take a bite. It looked a bit funny and the "cheese" smelled weird. Of course my dear husband was supportive and ate it all (by masking the taste with hot sauce). End of story, it was an awful experience and in all these years I have not even come close to trying another mac & cheese recipe...Until now.

{for the pasta}
2 t. sea salt
1 lb. pipette rigate or you can use the traditional elbow macaroni
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 t chopped garlic
2 T fresh thyme leaves
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

{for the sauce}
3 c unsweetened soy milk
4-6 sprigs fresh thyme
4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
3 T Earth Balance (vegan butter)
3 T all purpose flour
1 c savory soy cream (see recipe below)
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2.5 c shredded Daiya vegan mozzarella cheese
2.5 c shredded Daiya vegan cheddar cheese
2 t crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 c panko (Japanese bread crumbs)

{for the savory soy cream}
1 c cold unsweetened soy milk
2 c canola oil
1 to 1.5 T apple cider vinegar
minced garlic, for seasoning

Savory Soy Cream
Put the milk in a powerful blender. With the machine running, drizzle the oil very slowly until it is thoroughly blended with the milk. Continue blending for another minute or so, until the mixture has the consistency of heavy cream.

Pour mixture into a medium bowl and whisk in the vinegar and garlic to taste.

For any savory soy cream that is unused: Store the cream in a tightly sealed jar in the fridge for up to a week. It will firm up to about the consistency of mayo. Re-whip it with a whisk to return it to its original texture, adding a bit more milk if needed.

Now onto the good stuff — mac & cheese — vegan style!

To make the pasta, bring a large pot of water and salt to boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook according to the package instructions, until al dente. Drain and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a medium sauté pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and thyme leaves and cook for about 5 minutes or until the onion is soft. Season with salt and pepper. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

To make the sauce, in a small saucepan over medium heat, health the milk with the thyme and garlic until hot but not boiling, about 7 minutes. Strain out the solids using a fine-mesh sieve and set the milk aside.

Melt the Earth Balance in a dutch oven over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Make sure this roux doesn't darken. Turn down the heat if it's in danger of browning.

Whisk the milk into the roux. Continue to whisk over medium-low heat until the roux is smooth, about 1 minute more. Stir in the soy cream (recipe above) until it is thoroughly incorporated, about 1 minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and remove pan from the heat.

Add the cooked pasta, 4 cups of the cheese and the red pepper flakes, and fold together until the pasta is coated. {If you made this in a pan, transfer into a large baking dish, if not, go ahead and bake in your dutch oven} Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup of cheese and onion mixture over the top, then dust with the panko and a shake or two of red pepper flakes. Bake until the mac is bubbly, crispy on top and heated through, about 30 minutes.

{see my new Le Creuset?!?}

Recipe is a variation from Makini Howell's new cookbook Plum: Gratifying Vegan Dishes from Seattle's Plum Bistro.

Back to the beginning of this I made some bad vegan mac & cheese before. When I saw this recipe in my new cookbook I decided to take the risk because I haven't had mac & cheese in years and the photo looked SO good. I'm so glad I decided to re-venture out into the vegan mac & cheese world because this dish rocks! So creamy, comforting and satisfying. I think one of the biggest secrets is buying a good brand of vegan cheese.

Have you ever made anything that was just awful but decided to try it again and the dish was a success? Share your experiences, I'd love to hear!

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