I think everyone needs at least 500 vegan mac and cheese recipes. This is possibly a conservative estimate, but you have to start somewhere! If you’ve been visiting my site for awhile, you’ve probably noticed that I make a lot of spicy food and have a particular love for chipotle, and so it’s probably unsurprising to hear that we’ve been making vegan chipotle mac and cheese for years. The smokey flavor of chipotles fits perfectly into the creamy mac sauce, which is made from a homemade cashew milk and thickened with a traditional roux. The mac and cheese itself is quick to make, ready in just about 15 minutes. The spicy tempeh crumbles take a bit longer, but that’s mostly hands off time in the oven where they bake into chewy flavorful bites. The smokey, spicy chipotle flavor of this dish pairs perfectly with scallion greens for this perfect vegan meal.
Let’s start with the tempeh crumbles as they take longer to make. The homemade marinade is made from a pantry friendly 8-ingredients: onion, garlic, and the oil to sauté them in, canned tomatoes (fire roasted if you can), vegetable broth, chipotles and their adobo (do they even really count as 2 ingredients?), and salt. Fry up the onion and garlic, then add the rest of the ingredients and simmer until the tomatoes have broken down and are nice and juicy. Blend the marinade until a smooth sauce and then toss in crumbled tempeh.
If you’re someone who finds tempeh a bit bitter, there’s an easy fix. Before mixing the marinade into the tempeh, bring some water (like 1/2 cup) to a boil in a pot, add the crumbled tempeh, and just keep simmering with the lid on until the water is absorbed or the tempeh has been steaming 10 minutes. Drain out any excess water. Spread the tempeh + marinade in a single layer on a large parchment lined baking tray and bake for 30-40 minutes or until the tempeh has absorbed all the marinade and is drying out into chewy crumbles. Some blackened bits are perfect. You’ll make a lot of tempeh crumbles, so you can always half the recipe if you’d like, but if you did find yourself with extra you can make some tacos, burritos, or to top a salad!
Moving on to the mac, I make this recipe in the same way I made dairy mac and cheese back in the day. The base is a roux, or a flour and fat mixture. My preference is to use vegan butter for the extra rich flavor, but refined coconut oil is an excellent substitute–unrefined would have a slight coconutty taste, and olive oil always works too! The flour is toasted in the fat for added flavor and then works to thicken the chipotle cashew milk.
Most of the flavor for our mac and cheese comes from the spiced cashew milk. Nutritional yeast adds that rich nutty, cheesy flavor, miso adds some umami funk, and apple cider vinegar adds a cheesy tang. When combined with cashews you get a creamy and flavorful cheesy tasting sauce. To make it a chipotle cheesy sauce, I add lots of canned chipotles in adobo. Chipotles are smoke-dried jalapeños, and are commonly found rehydrated in adobo, which is a spiced tomato sauce. I remove the seeds from the chipotle so I can use lots and amp up that chipotle flavor without over powering the pasta with spiciness. Of course, if you’re very sensitive to heat, you’ll want to decrease the number of chipotles used even as you seed them. I also add some of the adobo in the can, which adds a spiced mild-tomatoey flavor.
If you want to take this sauce next-level I’ll give you a little tip: add some vegan cheddar cheese into the sauce. If it’s a really easily melting vegan cheese you can add it shredded into the pot after you’ve added the cashew milk. If it’s a bit more stubborn (like my favorite Parmela Creamery Aged Cashew Cheddar shreds) then blending into the cashew milk mixture makes melting it a breeze. Adding vegan cheddar increases the richness of the sauce and makes it taste a bit cheesier. It also thickens it a bit more so it’s less cream-sauce and more cheese-sauce. I like it both ways, but usually opt for the version without added cheese as it’s more pantry friendly (and just to be clear, the recipe pictured here does not have any added cheese). Another variation I enjoy at times is to substitute 1 cup of water in the sauce for beer. It adds a nice hoppy, slightly bitter flavor which pairs nicely with the chipotle.
I’ve been making chipotle mac for years, but the spicy tempeh crumbles are a new addition, and let me tell you, they make the recipe like SO perfect. I didn’t know I could like the chipotle mac more! So I really hope you take the extra time to make them. And don’t forget the scallion greens, the fresh oniony bites complement the smokey and spicy cheesy sauce perfectly. To finish the meal, add some veggies on the side (roasted veggies would be perfect as the oven is already on for the tempeh crumbles) and you’re ready to tuck into this perfect vegan mac and cheese dinner!
Let me know if you make these you can leave a comment and/or rate the recipe below. I love hearing what you think! As always, don’t forget to tag your recreations @thecuriouschickpea and #thecuriouschickpea on Instagram, or share with me on Facebook! Enjoy!
- Make gluten free by using gluten free pasta and substituting tapicoa starch, arrowroot, or gluten free oat flour for the all purpose flour.
- If you typically find tempeh bitter, steam it in some boiling water for 10 minutes before adding to marinade and baking.
- Replacing 1 cup of the water with beer in the mac and cheese makes for a pretty awesome sauce.
- Optional: add 4 to 8oz of your favorite vegan cheddar to the blender when making the cheesy sauce (blending helps it melt right into the sauce) for an extra decadent and more traditional mac and cheese sauce.
Spicy Tempeh Crumbles
Chipotle Mac and Cheese
To make the spicy tempeh crumbles
To make the chipotle mac and cheese