Vegan Smokey Butternut Mac & Cheese Recipe

By on July 17, 2014
Smokey Butternut Mac and Cheese

I am unsure of what your food background is, but I lived in Wisconsin for the first eighteen and a half years of my life. I grew up as an unashamed cheese head, proclaiming that cheese (melted cheese in particular) was my favorite food. It didn’t matter what we were having; I always make sure that I had cheese available to me during dinner. And if extra cheese was an option, it would be ordered. Pizza: extra cheese. Tacos: extra cheese. Burger: extra cheese. Vegetables: add melted cheese. Nachos and soft pretzels: extra cheese. I’m sure you get the point: I loved cheese.

And nothing was closer to the epitome of my cheesy obsession than macaroni and cheese. I’m not even talking about decadent, home cooked recipes with real melted cheese mixed with milk and butter- I was satiated for years with boxed varieties that came with dried noodles and some questionable orange powder. But at the time, in my mind, this product was genius. It was easy to make (it was the first food item that I ever cooked for myself) and it tasted great. Looking back, the great taste probably came from the high fat content of the butter and milk that is recommended on the boxes. In addition to high fat recipe recommendations, sometimes the boxes contain warning labels for things such as the use of dyes like yellow 5 and 6, which have been linked to hyperactivity in children.

That being said, the hardest choice for me when deciding to eat a vegan diet was to give up cheese. While excellent cheese substitutes exist in brands such as Daiya and the product called nutritional yeast, it took me about eight months before finding macaroni and cheese that outperformed any that I had ever tasted. The recipe listed here is courtesy of Allyson Kramer’s blog.

What makes this recipe unique is the use of butternut squash as part of the base. I have tried many kinds of vegan mac and cheese recipes, ranging from sauce that is thick (basically all cashews) to thin (almond milk and nutritional yeast)- I even attempted Daiya cheese on cooked noodles- but none have garnished the reactions that this recipe has.

Smokey Butternut Mac and Cheese

  • 16 ounces pasta- any kind really
  • 2 cups butternut squash puree
  • 2 cups cashews, soaked in water at least 3 hours and drained
  • 1  1/2 to 2 cups almond milk, to thin
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2 cups cooked butternut squash
  • 1/3 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon salt

Cook the pasta according to package directions, undercooking just slightly by a minute or so. Drain well and rinse completely with cold water to remove any starch.

Transfer the pasta back to the pot and set aside. I like to stir in a drizzle of olive oil at this point to keep the pasta slick, but it’s not necessary.

Place the soaked and drained cashews, 1 cup almond milk, lemon juice, lemon zest, cooked butternut squash, nutritional yeast, garlic, and salt into a food processor. Blend very well until completely smooth and silky, scraping down the sides as necessary. Add about 1/2 cup more almond milk until thinned, pulsing between each addition. Add the sauce to the pasta in the pot, and then stir in the remaining almond milk to thin. Warm up gently over medium-low heat, stirring often until desired temperature is reached. Sprinkle on the smoked paprika and fold just to combine.

When making this, I add some kind of greens to add a little extra to it. The first time I quickly sautéed some kale and mixed it in at the end. Recently I’ve been adding broccoli. The choice is yours! This recipe acts as a base for your creative culinary endeavors. Let me know how your non-vegan friends react to this recipe, mine all have been amazed!

About Brianna Krejci

Brianna is a rising sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania studying sociology and philosophy. She is the current Co-President and Dining Liaison of the Penn Vegan Society. Her hometown is Port Washington, Wisconsin, where she lived up until moving to Philadelphia in August of 2013. Brianna has been a vegetarian for six years and a vegan for 15 months. In addition to her work with the Penn Vegan Society, Brianna is on the board of the Penn Consortium of Undergraduate Women and Penn Running Club, a co-founder and president of Penn Poised, a body image positivity group on Penn's campus, and involved in Amnesty International. She is interning for the Historic Germantown Society as well as Amrita Health Foods this summer. She has a strong passion for good coffee and finding new, interesting, vegan foods, products, and restaurant locations.