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Creamy Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese You Won't Believe Is Vegan

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Photos: Kim-Julie Hansen

Mac and cheese is the comfort food of all comfort foods. It's satisfying whether it's from a $2 box cooked at 3 a.m. or from a ~fancy~ restaurant that uses six different cheese you can't pronounce. 

If you're vegan or dairy-free, however, the cheese half of this dish is a no-go. That's why Kim-Julie Hansen, author of the book Vegan Reset and founder of the Best of Vegan platform, created a genius recipe for turning other orange vegetables into a pseudo cheese sauce that'll still hit the spot. 

This particular recipe uses butternut squash (because, hi fall!), but you can also swap in 1 or 2 medium sweet potatoes (diced) or 2 medium sweet potatoes plus a carrot (both diced). (P.S. you can also make mac 'n' cheese with pumpkin and tofu.) Extra credit: Add 2 tablespoons of liquid smoke with the rest of the sauce ingredients to add more coziness to the flavor. 

How does it taste cheesy, you ask? "My favorite ingredient in this recipe is the nutritional yeast," says Hansen. "It’s what gives this a cheesy flavor without having to include any actual dairy. It’s also full of protein and B vitamins, making it extra nutritious." (Nutritional what?! Here's everything you need to know about nutritional yeast.)

If you're feeling defensive of traditional mac (or scared of a non-cheese imposter), listen up: "

It’s my favorite recipe to make when inviting over non-vegans as it’s always a winner even with the pickiest of eaters," she says. "Plus, the sauce also tastes great as a nacho cheese dip with some tortilla chips." And who can say no to nachos?! 

Creamy Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese

Makes: 4 servings

Ingredients:
1⁄2 butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed, and diced
1 cup cashews, soaked in water 1 cup water
1⁄3 cup nutritional yeast
1⁄3 red bell pepper, chopped
1⁄2 celery stalk, chopped
1 green onion, trimmed
1⁄4 cup cornstarch
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
1 tablespoon dried minced onion 1 garlic clove, peeled
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1⁄2 teaspoon paprika
1⁄2 teaspoon sea salt
Pinch of ground black pepper 

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Bake the squash for 45 minutes.

  2. Once the squash is done, blend it and all of the remaining ingredients in a high-speed blender until the sauce reaches a very smooth consistency. (Note: This is when you should start prepping your pasta in a separate pot.)
  3. Transfer sauce to a pot and cook over high heat for 3 minutes, then reduce the heat to low and let the sauce simmer for 3 more minutes.
  4. Add a little liquid if necessary (cashew milk, for instance), but not too much; you want the consistency to remain very creamy.
  5. Serve with your favorite pasta and top with fresh herbs or other toppings such as shiitake bacon, or let cool and refrigerate or freeze for later. You can keep leftover sauce in the fridge for about 5 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

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