Macaroni & Cheese. It’s was one of the few dishes, along with pizza, that most vegans long for nostalgically from their cheese eating days. Thankfully for us and the animals we abstain from eating, vegan cheese has come a long way in recent times and there’s literally nothing left that we can’t have anymore, even pizza is back on the menu. Vegan food has truly arrived with wonderful substitutes that rival, or even in some circumstances surpass the originals they seek to imitate.
At the top of the vegan simulated foods chain sits Daiya Cheese, a marvel of taste and ingenuity. Daiya Cheese is the sort of stuff that’s going to start a revolution. The cheese flavor is dead on and even more remarkably, Daiya melts just like real cheese. No joke, this stuff is the real deal, a true cheese substitute that melts and stretches and actually makes you want to eat it. No one can complain anymore that it’s too hard to go vegan because they’d die without pizza… because vegan pizza is out there and is as good as the “real” stuff. And now I’m here to tell you, so is Macaroni & Cheese.
I scoured the internet reading over dozens of baked mac & cheese recipes, and borrowed shamelessly from many various sources (including Veggywood and Alton Brown’s recipes) to come up with my version that seemed both easy enough to pull off as well as incredibly delicious. Guess what? It was both!
Here’s what I did:
16oz package of elbow macaroni or pasta of choice (I used Conchiglie)
3 cups shredded Daiya Cheddar Cheese
3 tablespoons vegan butter (I used soy-free Earth Balance)
3 tablespoons flour (I used chickpea flour because that’s what I had, worked fine)
2 to 2 1/2 cups* unsweetened rice or soy milk (see recipe below for notes)
4 or 5 slices of vegan ham (I used Lightlife ‘Smart Deli’ Baked Ham). Chop into small pieces.
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Salt to taste (or omit, the Daiya is pretty salty)
1/4 teaspoon paprika
Enough panko bread crumbs to liberally cover (I used an “Italian” flavored variety)
Red chili flakes to taste (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cook pasta about 5 minutes until it’s just tender. Don’t cook all the way or it will fall apart when you bake it.
3. Drain pasta and transfer to greased baking dish. I packed it all into a smaller 8×10 dish so it would set up nice and thick.
4. Mix in about 2/3’s of the cheese into the pasta and set aside.
5. In a small pot melt the butter. Add the salt & pepper, then whisk in the flour until combined. Stir in the milk. Keep stirring until it starts to boil, then keep stirring for about another minute until it thickens up. *(Start with 2 cups of milk but if sauce gets too thick just add a little bit more, you don’t want it to be like a paste, just a thickened liquid).
6. Pour the milk mixture into the pasta and mix everything well. Top with the remaining cheese. Sprinkle the bits of ham on top, then cover everything with a generous layer of breadcrumbs. Give the whole thing a light dusting of paprika.
7. Pop in the oven for 30 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling and top is starting to brown. If you like it spicy sprinkle some of the chili flakes on top when serving.
Unbelievable. It’s not that this stuff is just like mac & cheese, it IS mac & cheese. I swear I could feed this to anyone out there and no one would know it’s vegan cheese unless I told them. Daiya is truly a miracle product and it baffles me how they managed to turn a cassava root into something that can pretend it’s cheddar cheese. Since Daiya is made of cassava (that’s just crazy!) it’s soy-free. It’s also cholesterol free, trans-fat free, free of just about anything that anyone is allergic to, and of course, dairy and animal free. Totally vegan, totally healthy, totally delicious. I even made the whole dish soy-free by using the soy-free Earth Balance butter and rice milk. I don’t have issues with soy but I was just being trendy for the heck of it. Those of you with soy intolerance must be even more stoked on Daiya than I am. You could even take it to the next level of “free of everything” by using gluten free pasta. [Update: As pointed out by ‘The Vegan’ in the comments, this actually wasn’t totally soy-free because the ham is made of soy. Duh! So yeah, leave that out or use a seitan based meat if you’re trying to avoid soy for real.]
Daiya is crossing boundaries and knocking down walls with it’s cheesy goodness. No more excuses, the time to stop straddling the dairy fence is now… you actually CAN live without cheese, and live well as a matter of fact. Visit the Daiya website to find out where to get Daiya Cheese, (if it’s nowhere near you mail order is available) and if you’re lucky enough to live in southern California, many of our local Whole Foods now sell it in their cheese section. Go to any length to get, pay any amount and stock up (you can freeze it!) then make this recipe… you won’t regret it. I don’t work for Daiya and they are not paying me… I just want everyone to make this and love it (and go vegan).