The minute I discovered you can make queso without cashews, I was convinced cashew-less mac ‘n’ cheese had to happen. Eggplant cheese sauce seriously knows no bounds.
Origins of Mac ‘n’ Cheese
Mac ‘n’ cheese is the ultimate comfort food! But where did this glorious dish come from?
It’s believed that the earliest written recipe for a dish resembling mac ‘n’ cheese comes from a 13th century cookbook from southern Italy. The dish (named de lasanis) was made with squares of fermented lasagne dough layered with spices and cheese.
But maybe that’s not what you picture when you hear mac ‘n’ cheese? The dish has been modified in many ways over time!
It’s thought that mac ‘n’ cheese was first introduced in the US when Thomas Jefferson brought back a pasta machine from his travels in Italy. Or perhaps that it originated from a popular New England church dish called macaroni pudding. Then in 1937, Kraft released their boxed mac ‘n’ cheese and it quickly gained popularity because of its affordability.
Our plant-based version has all the comfort but without the dairy!
Vegan Mac ‘n’ Cheese
I’ve made vegan mac ‘n’ cheese before using a cashew-based sauce and it really was amazing! But the issue with cashews is that they make recipes so heavy with their high fat and calorie content. Not that I’m a calorie counter, but I’m all for lightening up recipes when I can.
Eggplant sauce to the rescue.
This eggplant sauce is so simple to make – just a 10-minute roast before peeling the skin and adding it to the blender. It’s infused with nutritional yeast, garlic powder and sea salt for that ultimate cheesy, savory flavor. I could’ve eaten that sauce all by itself, but the noodles were calling…
The thing that sends this mac ‘n’ cheese over the top is the caramelized onions and the crispy breadcrumbs!
While the sauce and noodles meld perfectly together, the addition of caramel-y, browned onions and crispy bread crumbs on top sends the flavor profile through the roof! I could’ve eaten this whole pan by myself – no lie.
You’re going to love this dish. It’s
Slightly crisp on top
& Totally share-worthy
Make this for vegan and non-vegan friends alike and watch their jaws drop after the first bite. It’s just that good!
If you make this recipe, take a picture and tag it #minimalistbaker on Instagram! I love seeing what you lovelies cook up. Cheers!
Vegan Caramelized Onion Mac ‘n’ Cheese
FOR THE PASTA
- 1 small-medium eggplant (1 eggplant yields ~16 1/3-inch slices)
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 ½ medium yellow onions (sliced in 1/4 inch rings or wedges // 1 ½ onions yield ~4 cups sliced)
- 10 ounces macaroni noodles (GF for gluten-free eaters)
- 3-4 Tbsp nutritional yeast
- 1 ¾ cups unsweetened plain almond milk
- 1-2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 Tbsp cornstarch
- Sea Salt
FOR THE TOPPING
- 1/4 cup panko or regular bread crumbs (GF for gluten-free eaters make sure your brand is vegan)
- 1 Tbsp olive oil (or sub vegan butter)
- Slice eggplant in slightly less than 1/2-inch rounds (but not quite 1/4 inch – ruler for reference) and sprinkle both sides with sea salt. Place in a colander in the sink for 20 minutes to drain moisture and draw out any bitter taste.
- In the meantime, heat a large skillet over medium heat and add olive oil and the onions. Cook 10-12 minutes – stirring every few minutes. Turn down the heat if browning too quickly. Once caramelized, place in a bowl for later.
- Preheat oven to high broil and place an oven rack on the very top rack.
- Start pasta water by bringing a large saucepan 3/4 full of water with 1 Tbsp salt to a boil.
- Rinse eggplant and dry thoroughly. Arrange on a baking sheet in a single layer and drizzle both sides with olive oil. Broil on high for 3-4 minutes on EACH side until the eggplant is browned (be careful not to burn, just seriously roasted).
- Remove eggplant from oven and wrap in foil to steam for 5 minutes. Then peel off skin and add to a blender with almond milk, nutritional yeast, cornstarch and garlic powder. Start with a pinch of salt and add more as you need (we added ~1/8-1/4 tsp).
- Blend until creamy and smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed, adding more salt, nutritional yeast or garlic powder if desired.
- Once pasta water is boiling, add noodles. Cook according to package instructions, then drain and cover with a towel to keep warm.
- Pour the eggplant sauce into the same saucepan you used to brown the onions and bring to medium heat. Cook to thicken for about 5 minutes. Once bubbling, lower heat to low/simmer and stir occasionally until noodles are ready.
- If topping dish with breadcrumbs, heat a small saucepan over medium-high heat and add olive oil or vegan butter. Than add breadcrumbs and stir. Cook for about 5 minutes until light brown and toasted. Set aside.
- Add drained noodles to the eggplant sauce in the large saucepan, along with half of the caramelized onions and stir to coat. NOTE: If your saucepan is NOT oven safe, transfer the mixture to an oven-safe dish at this time.) Smooth the top with your spatula or spoon and top with remaining caramelized onions and the toasted panko bread crumbs.
- OPTIONAL: Preheat oven to high broil once more and move an oven rack to the 2nd level from the top. Once hot, place macaroni under the broiler to toast for 1-2 minutes or until golden brown on top. BE CAREFUL not to burn as it can go fast. Don’t walk away.
- Remove from oven using an oven mitt and serve immediately. Leftovers don’t tend to reheat well with this dish as the noodles absorb the sauce. Best when fresh.
*Nutrition information is a rough estimate.