Smokey Butternut Squash Mac n’ Cheese (Vegan)

Eating in season has never been so delicious! An ode to the classic comfort food, this butternut squash-based mac n’ cheese is equal parts nostalgic, satisfying, and healthy. Butternut squash gives this dish that traditional cheesy colour, and is so creamy when blended along with homemade cashew cream! This mac n’ cheese is levelled-up with liquid smoke, which gives it that smokey BBQ flavour that isn’t so common when it comes to vegan food. Next time it’s a gloomy, cool fall day, and you’re craving some comfort food, this will be the perfect dish.

This “cheese sauce” is perfect for both adults with a craving for something savoury but healthy, and kids, as it has so many nutrients, disguised by that cheesy flavour! I’m not going to say it tastes like Kraft Dinner or Cheese Whiz or any other nostalgic cheesy macaroni, but it most definitely satisfies those mac n’ cheese cravings, while being jam-packed with nutrients.

Also, if you’re like me and you like to eat leftovers cold, this mac n’ cheese is delicious the next day straight out of the fridge (or warmed up, if that’s your thing).

The Key Ingredients

Butternut Squash

This seasonal squash is so delicious, and has flavours resembling pumpkin and sweet potato. It has a mild nutty flavour, and when roasted, it can take on a subtle caramel flavour. I typically recommend roasting your squash for the most flavour, but if you are short on time, boiling it or cooking it in the microwave will give you an equally delicious sauce, as there are enough other spices and flavours in this dish that give it dimension.

Raw Cashews

As a vegan, I ALWAYS have a jar full of raw cashews on hand. They are truly perfect in so many dishes, and they are my favourite substitute for cream in everything from pasta dishes to desserts. When soaked, they become soft and easy to blend to a smooth, creamy consistency.

Nutritional Yeast

A true staple in every vegan’s pantry. Nutritional yeast gives a savoury, cheesy, nutty flavour to any dish. And on top of that, it’s super high in B vitamins, particularly B12, which is one vitamin that is very difficult to get on a vegan diet. It’s an important ingredient in this dish and I do not recommend leaving it out, as it is what gives the sauce its cheesy flavour!

Liquid Smoke

Until earlier this year, I had no idea that liquid smoke was even a thing. But since it has come into my life, I have been much happier. Basically it gives any dish a smoky flavour that is typically given to meats when smoked. I have used it in tofu marinades, I have made rice paper “bacon” using it, and now, I have used it to make a smokey, cheesy pasta sauce. I know that this isn’t a super common household item for many, so if you don’t have it on hand and don’t feel like going to buy it, you can simply leave it out. You will still have a delicious cheesy sauce, but I do recommend picking some up! In the words of my sister, the liquid smoke makes this butternut squash cheese sauce taste like it has bacon in it! In case you’re wondering, I found it in my grocery store beside the BBQ sauces, Worcestershire sauce, etc.

Recipe Notes:

  • If a thinner consistency is desired for this sauce, add another ¼ cup of water or non dairy milk. I found the consistency to be perfect for immediate serving, but when eating leftovers after being refrigerated and re-heated, I needed to add a splash of soy milk to thin it out.
  • Be careful not to over cook the pasta before adding it to the sauce, as it will continue to cook slightly after adding it all together.
  • To make this recipe gluten free, use your favourite gluten free pasta!
  • To make this recipe nut free, swap the homemade cashew milk for soy milk, or any other neutral-tasting dairy free milk.

Smokey Butternut Squash Mac n’ Cheese (Vegan)

vegan • dairy free • soy free • oil free • gluten free option • nut free option

Serves: 4

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Ingredients:
  • 2 cups dry pasta of choice
  • ½ cup raw cashews
  • 1½ cups water
  • 1 cup butternut squash, cubed in ½ to 1-inch cubes
  • 3 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 2-3 garlic cloves
  • 4 tsp lemon juice
  • 1½ tsp dijon mustard
  • ¼ tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • pinch cayenne pepper (add to taste)
  • ½ – 1 tsp liquid smoke
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Optional: veggies of choice

Instructions:
  1. Begin by soaking cashews – ideally overnight, but 30 minutes in hot water will do the trick.
  2. Cook butternut squash. Toss in olive oil and roast at 400° for about 35-40 minutes, or simply boil cubes for about 15 minutes.
  3. In a high speed blender, blend soaked cashews and water until smooth. Add in cooked butternut squash, nutritional yeast, garlic, lemon juice, dijon, paprika, onion powder, cayenne, liquid smoke, and salt and pepper. Continue to blend until smooth and creamy. Taste and adjust seasoning to your preference.
  4. Pour butternut squash “cheese sauce” into a large pot and bring to a gentle boil, then turn heat down to medium-low.
  5. Optional: Cook veggies to add into pasta. (e.g. brussels sprouts, broccoli, mushrooms, peppers, etc.)
  6. Cook pasta until al dente. Strain and add into pot of “cheese sauce”. Add in veggies if desired, and and stir until everything is coated in sauce.
  7. Serve and garnish with chives, additional paprika, vegan parmesan, or even vegan “bacon”!
  8. Leftovers will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Enjoy!

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