This is one of those recipes that isn’t very aesthetically pleasing, but then you take a bite and basically melt in a puddle of happiness. PALEO AND VEGAN MAC ‘N CHEESE. It’s almost too delicious to be real. I have to be honest – this only lasted one full day in my fridge, and even that required a lot of self-control. This is basically my ideal comfort meal, and the second I took a bite I knew I had to share the recipe immediately.
I’ve been dying to make a paleo version of mac ‘n cheese for a looooong time. The problem is… you know how picky I am when it comes to recipes! I didn’t want to do just another cashew cheese sauce. Too basic.
Because I follow a high-fat diet, macadamia nuts are often my go-to nut because they’re extremely high in fat. Other nuts have a higher carbohydrate content compared to macs, so macadamia nuts are a great option if you’re looking for the perfect fatty snack. Macadamia nuts also have a very rich, almost buttery flavor. Because of that, I figured they would be the perfect base to create a creamy, cheesy sauce for a paleo mac ‘n cheese. Plus, I love the word play on “mac ‘n cheese.” Goodbye macaroni, hello macadamia nuts!
When it comes to mac and cheese, I’ve always been very picky about sauces. Growing up, the microwavable Kraft cups never cut it. The cheese “sauce” wasn’t even a sauce – it was basically just orange liquid. Not my jam. I was a diehard Annie’s fan, and Annie’s mac and cheese with the shelled pasta was one of my favorite weekend indulgences. That powder mixed with a lot of butter and whole milk created the richest, creamiest mac I could ever want. My dad used to use Annie’s mac and cheese to bribe me to do things. It was effective. Nowadays, though, I shudder at the thought of what was in that powder.
Since becoming paleo, I’ve tried a few versions of paleo mac and cheese here and there, but most of them tasted either way too heavy or too artificial to me. Gluten-free, dairy-free mac and cheese always sounds like a good idea at a restaurant, but then it ends up being disappointing. Is that just me?! Anyways, I turned to the internet to search for a good recipe to make at home, but still nothing really tickled my fancy. There was something I always wanted to change with every recipe I came across. I ended up writing my own recipe, but I never got the chance to test it out.
Then, I heard about a recipe contest that Mauna Loa is putting on this month, and the grand prize is a 24-piece Le Creuset Caribbean Cast Iron Cookware Set. Let’s be real – I really want a 24-Piece Le Creuset Cookware Set… It was perfect timing! I needed some mac nuts for the recipe I so desperately wanted to try, so I got my hands on the dry roasted chopped macadamia nuts from Mauna Loa. Finally, this delicious creation was born. It was meant to be.
I’ve made the sauce for this mac ‘n cheese bake a few different ways and love them all. Whenever you’re looking for a dairy-free cheesy flavor, nutritional yeast is usually the way to go. However, I’ve made this both with and without the nutritional yeast and personally love it both ways. If you want the bake to taste really cheesy, then you’ll probably want some nutritional yeast. Otherwise, you might find that you really enjoy it without it, like me! The macadamia nuts provide such a deep, rich flavor that you don’t need it. Plus, I know that not everyone has nutritional yeast in their cupboards!
I used cauliflower as the base for this bake because it pairs perfectly with the mac sauce and can be mashed up easily to create the ideal mac and cheese texture! Is there anything that cauliflower can’t do? Even though I used cauliflower, you can definitely use another vegetable as the base for this if you’d like. I don’t personally do well with too much starch in my diet, but if you do, butternut squash is another great option.
This mac and cheese bake is incredibly easy to make, and it’s the perfect thing to pull together as part of your meal prep for the week ahead! Cozy, comforting, and incredibly delicious! Feel free to use the cheese sauce as a separate sauce on its own, too. I like to bake the cheese sauce on top of the florets so they crisp up, and then I mash it all together. You can do that, or you can leave it totally baked at the top without mashing it! Either way, it tastes heavenly. This mac and cheese is paleo, vegan, keto, vegetarian, low-carb, gluten-free, and dairy-free! Watch out – everyone will want a bite.
Paleo / Vegan Cauliflower Mac ‘N Cheese Bake
Total Time: 35 minutes
- 1 head cauliflower
- 1 1/4 cup macadamia nuts
- 1 cup full-fat coconut milk
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp paprika
- dash of pepper
- 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp nutritional yeast (can add more if you want it to be extra cheesy, and can also leave this out!)
- Heat your oven to 415*F. Grease an 8×8 baking dish with coconut oil or avocado oil.
- Steam your cauliflower. To steam, cut the cauliflower into florets and put about 1/4 inch water into a frying pan. Heat the water until it’s boiling, add in the cauliflower florets, and cover and steam the florets until they’re as tender as you want. This usually takes about five minutes. When done steaming, turn off the heat and drain the water.
- While the cauliflower is steaming, prepare the sauce. Add the rest of the ingredients (all ingredients except the cauliflower) into a food processor and process until you get a pretty smooth, creamy sauce. If you’d prefer a thinner sauce, you can add in some filtered water. I like this sauce both with and without the nutritional yeast. If you want it to taste extra “cheesy,” add in the nutritional yeast, and you can add more if you’d like! It’s also delicious without the nutritional yeast, though.
- Place the cauliflower florets in an even layer in the baking dish. Pour the cheese sauce evenly over the florets. You can either toss the florets in the sauce so they are completely covered, or you can leave the cheese sauce only covering the top.
- Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the top has browned. If desired, pop in the boiler for 1-2 minutes to crisp the top.
- Optional: Use a fork to mix up and mash the florets so the crisped topping gets spread throughout.
- Also optional: top with a few more chopped macadamia nuts for an added crunch!
If you try this recipe, I would love to hear what you think! Tag me on Instagram (@addicted_to_lovely) so I can see your photo!