Best-ever easy recipe for vegan mac & cheese

betty ming liu Food 19 Comments

Take heart, you sad gluten-free-dairy-free slobs. It’s now possible to enjoy mac & cheese. Start by throwing away the soy cheese and rice cheese, which are udderly pointless (haha!).  Instead, get Daiya, a vegan alternative that finally melts and stretches in a convincing way.

Daiya is made from tapioca and arrowroot flours. The addition of safflower, canola and coconut oils gives it a greasy finish that eliminates the need for milk and egg substitutes — always an issue in vegan recipes. Add a wheat-free pasta like organic brown rice elbow macroni, then you’re in business.

Busy cooks will also be happy to hear that my recipe is insanely fast and easy. There are just two main ingredients: Daiya and pasta. I have also found my version of the classic comfort food to be kinder to the system; it doesn’t make me bloated or pimply like wheat-and-milk versions. Hard-core holistic folks will also be pleased to hear that while this dish has very little redeeming nutritional value, it’s not as energetically junky as the real thing, according to my Chinese medicine master and friend Jeffrey Yuen.

To truly enjoy this recipe, you must accept the truth that NOTHING tastes as good as “real” mac & cheese, whether you like it out of a box or made from scratch with wheat pasta and genuine cheddar. The proof was when I forced my daughter and three of her friends to be taste-testers. While the teens said they would never eat it again, they agreed that if you had no other choice due to dietary restrictions, this dish would do. Hey, it works for me.  :)


 Vegan Mac & Cheese



2 cups brown rice pasta, uncooked

8 oz. Daiya Cheddar Style Shreds (1 bag)

A dash of salt

A sprinkle of olive oil



Baking pan

A piece of aluminum foil about the same size as the dimensions of your pan

Big or long-handled spoon for stirring

Pot for boiling pasta



— Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

— Boil a pot of water. Add a dash of salt and olive oil.

— Throw in the pasta and stir so that it doesn’t clump together.

— When the water starts boiling again, turn down the flame and simmer according to packaging directions (probably about 15 to 20 minutes) or until it tastes done to you.

— Drain and dump pasta in a bowl.

— Add the Daiya cheese shreds and gently mix (gluten-free pastas tend to fall apart with too much handling). Spoon it evenly into pan. Place the aluminum foil loosely on top (to keep surface pasta from drying out while baking).

— Bake for about 20 minutes or until the cheese looks melted.

— Remove from oven and let it set for about 15 minutes before serving. 

If you want to dress up your mac & cheese, do it before baking. One option is to buy a second package of Daiya and sprinkle about half of it evenly across the top of the pan for extra cheese-y fun. If you like this idea, forget the aluminum foil; you won’t need it. Another idea is to sprinkle it with paprika to give it some color and a mild kick.

As for where to get these ingredients…Whole Foods is the only store in my area that stocks Daiya (about $4.99 per 8-oz. bag). But the gluten-free pasta is available these days at even many regular supermarkets.

This is what Daiya looks like. Not quite real but not hideously fake either.


Can you tell which cheese is the real thing? Daiya’s on your left.


I really like the Tinkyada brand of brown rice pasta. Delish.


Ready for the oven. Daiya’s on your left. Does it look scary? Let’s be brave!


Daiya’s on the left. I forced the kids to taste test. After an awkward silence, they said “um…,” “blah,” while my daughter glared at me. Oh, who cares about them anyway! I’m very happy with this recipe.


For those of you who would like to see this fabulous snack up close, there are larger photos posted on my account for Betty Ming Liu.


An “A” student!

And for more info on Daiya, please check out: We’re digging Daiya! This story by Chris Wytenus includes his taste test and review of three vegan cheese brands. (Follow him on Twitter @chriswytenus).

Chris was in the “Food Writing” class that I taught during NYU’s Fall 2011 semester. He always made us laugh with his wicked impressions of me. Now he’s graduated and on his way to a brilliant law career. Thanks Chris, for teaching me about Daiya, veganism and life.  xo


Comments 19

  1. Post

    Phew — it’s been ages since I posted a recipe. They take extra time but it feels good to finally get a new one up. I’ve also decided that there’s a real market for gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, meat-free cooking. It’s something I’m passionate about too. From now on, I’m going to try focusing on this niche and see what happens. How does that sound?

  2. Yeah. Yes, do give us more gluten/dairy/sugar/meat free recipes. It’s the best health/anti-aging prescription on the planet.
    And try this alternative to pizza: Trader Joe’s Brown Rice tortillas for crust – spread with tomato or pesto sauce, sprinkle on Diaya and cook for about 10 mins at 400F. If you want to get fancy, top with grape tomatoes (cut in half) – or slices of summer squash (organic).

  3. If anyone has tested the different brands of rice pasta, please share your findings. Some are mushy, some have gritty undertone, and none of them are good past the second day.

  4. Post

    Jenni, I’m with you! And you’re so right — going on a restricted diet is a Fountain-of-Youth solution. The regimen has completely changed my complexion and my muffin top waistline is a thing of the past. :)

    I really adore the Tinkyada brand of brown rice pasta featured in the photo above. First of all, it’s just brown rice. Other so-called gluten-free pastas improve their texture by including corn (eg, the quinoa pasta does this) and corn is a no-no, according to Chinese medicine master Jeffrey Yuen. There’s just too much sugar in it with very little good fuel to offer the body.

    Thanks for the tip on the pizza crust. Will have to check that one out. Sometimes, when I’m craving a cheese-y snack, I’ll take some brown rice crackers, spread them on a plate, sprinkle them with Daiya and that’s my answer to nachos!

  5. ”Not quite real but not hideously fake either.” That’s a straight to the point description. I like that. I think it will make me try Daiya because I’ve had some of the hideously fake soy cheeses plenty of times. Some of them have so much sodium or other unwanteds, the only thing missing is the cholesterol. But I’m curious to try your recipe. Another friend is seriously gluten free and I’d like to pass on your recipe to her. She makes an awesome traditional Haitian mac and cheese and since she is great at converting recipes, I wonder what she could do with your recipe. I had a late lunch, so the idea is making me hungry…

    And yes, I agree…there is a market for this. I still suggest you consider writing a cookbook. ”Betty By the Book: Vegan Made Easy”

  6. Post

    Skye, what is Haitian mac & cheese? I love Haitian food. Discovered it when the Daily News sent me on assignment to Port-au-Prince. This recipe here is a no brainer. It’s just the idea of it that’s hard. And yes, this time we agree. I am seriously thinking that a vegan cookbook might be right for me. Let’s see what kind of response we get with a few more recipes. Stay tuned. :)

  7. “this dish has very little redeeming nutritional value” You said it Betty. I find any food substitute highly suspicious. Often they have been found to be far worse than what they are suppose to be replacing.
    “There is a sizable, but still decidedly minority population that can benefit in terms of feeling better by excluding gluten, entirely or mostly, from their diets. There is a population — an order of magnitude smaller — for which it is vital to do so, and potentially even a matter of life and death. For everyone else, going gluten free is at best a fashion statement.”
    Dr. David L. Katz, Director, Yale Prevention Research Center

  8. Cheese is often avoided by those who are lactose intolerant, but ripened cheeses like Cheddar contain only about 5% of the lactose found in whole milk, and aged cheeses contain almost none.[33] Nevertheless, people with severe lactose intolerance should avoid eating dairy cheese.
    I like making Macaroni and Cheese using imported Italian Pecorino Romano which is aged for over 6 years.

  9. Post

    Brian, we’re not speaking the same language in this post! First of all, gluten-free is NOT a fashion statement. This is a serious health issue. Secondly, many people who don’t eat meat or dairy miss the taste and textures of these food categories. Animal flesh and animal milk are constitutionally impossible to replicate via grains and vegetables. We should be applauded for trying. That’s why we’re exploring these substitutes!

    The holistic food world is an interesting place because there are many schools of thought. You’ve got the macrobiotics, the vegans, pescatarians, flexitarians, the folks who only eat raw veggies & grains…As for me, I’m coming at this from classic Chinese medicine.

    For the classic Chinese medicine folks, lactose intolerance is not the issue. Instead, the general belief is that animal milk products don’t do us much good. Or rather, there are much better sources for quality nutrition.

    Sure, babies need milk. But consider this: In the mammal world, babies drink milk when they’re babies. Humans are the only ones who insist on consuming milk beyond that time frame. So we are stressing out our systems by going against nature. It took years for this approach to sink into my lifestyle because I adore cheese, butter, whipped cream, pizza and yogurt. Letting go of them was hard but worth it because I look and feel really good. :)

    The New York Times just ran a fascinating piece about kids, constipation and the over-consumption of cheese products. The problems of dairy, diet and health are not going away.

  10. Hi Betty,
    Haitian mac and cheese is a baked mac and cheese dish that doesn’t use the elbow macaroni, but a broader noodle, like penne or ziti. I think it blends two cheeses, and one is usually gouda, from what I remember. I will see if I can google an authentic recipe for you or ask my friend. Hers is one of my favorites.
    I appreciate that this post not only an alternative for people with dairy allergies, but some looking for something a little better for their overall health. As healthy as comfort food can be, anyway:)

    And we will have to really really really try to have some Haitian food this summer!

    1. Post
  11. The two page article is about the over use of laxative on children that has never been approved. There is no research here and there is only a single statement that the cause may be too much dairy and not enough fruit and vegetables. If you are going to quote an article as being authoritative on a subject that article needs to be about that not subject not just have a SINGLE SENTENCE about your point. Also the New York Times not a source of HARD SCIENCE.
    Your discussing on the issue has peaked my interests in grains and as a result I have been doing extensive study on the issues which include genetics etc. I examined the data from studies on the issue some of these studies were performed in the Netherlands over decades with over 57 thousand participants.That is good hard science. My degrees are in research methods and have taken many Masters and Phd courses in these areas.
    To go back to my statement, which is not my words but a quote from an expert in that area. There are people who have allergy,etc There are also Veganism, which started Britain in 1944, is philosophy, and is not based on science. There are two main “branches”, namely ethical and environmental Vegans. Ethical vegans obtain from animal products because the think it is unethical to exploit other species. the Environmental Vegans want to abstain form animal products because the believe that it is unsustainable. Personally a believe both arguments are severely flawed. They are modern notions that go against nature. It is also a a area that was warned against in Christian scripture hundreds of years ago.
    I don’t mean to offend you, especially since, as I am discovering Asians have troubles with Dairy and wheat products. This is an inherited trait I have discovered, much to my surprise. Cheese is new to Asia and Asians. In other parts of the world these things and their use has gone on for THOUSANDS OF YEARS
    If you have troubles with certain foods you can just not eat them or as you say substitute something else. This new “cheese substitute” is so new it hasn’t even studied for it’s nutritional; value or even safety. The Canadian company that make this has only been in business in 4 years.
    “Daiya contains the following ingredients:
    Filtered water, tapioca and /or arrowroot flours, non-GMO expeller pressed canola and /or non-GMO expeller pressed safflower oil, coconut oil, pea protein, salt, inactive yeast, vegan natural flavors, vegetable glycerin, xanthan gum, citric acid (for flavor), annatto, titanium dioxide (a naturally occurring mineral).”
    The fact that that they don’t come out and say exactly what you may be eating is a bit concerning. It is some sort of odd flour and vegetable oils is all they will pin themselves down to. how do they determine what goes into what they sell? Is it just what they have on the time? The company is a Vegan company. their interest is not on health. You are eating a bunch of vegetable oil. Is that plain enough language?
    As for the cheese used in mac and cheese is many ways it is not real cheese either. Accelerated modern cheese making processes do provide the benefit that real cheese does, one which is the consumption of lactate. Some other alternatives, for an Asian such as your self do not have Lactase (Lactose intolerance in Asians has been found to be present in 80% of that population which is high compaired to Dutch which is the lowest at about 1%) persistence do exist.
    One is alternative is to eat cheeses that have been properly aged. Traditionally made hard cheese, such as Emmental (Swiss Cheese), and soft ripened cheeses may create less reaction than the equivalent amount of milk because of the processes involved. Fermentation and higher fat content contribute to lesser amounts of lactose. Traditionally made Emmental or Cheddar might contain 10% of the lactose found in whole milk. In addition, the traditional aging methods of cheese (over two years) reduces their lactose content to practically nothing. Commercial cheese brands, however, are generally manufactured by modern processes that do not have the same lactose reducing properties, and as no regulations mandate what qualifies as an “aged” cheese, this description does not provide any indication of whether the process used significantly reduced lactose.
    The bubbles (or eyes as they are called) are cause by carbon dioxide which is produced as the bacterium used consumes the lactose. One alternative is to switch to a cheese that has been aged.
    My point here is that cheeses and the processes used to make them has been something that has been perfected over thousands of years in the middle east and the west. It is real food not a food substitute.
    Butter, Yogart and Sour Cream, IF THEY ARE MADE USING TRADITIONAL WAYS, are low in lactose as the traditional processes consume the lactose
    The butter-making process separates the majority of milk’s water components from the fat components. Lactose, being a water soluble molecule, will largely be removed, but will still be present in small quantities in the butter unless it is also fermented to produce cultured butter. Clarified butter, however, contains very little lactose and is safe for most LI patients.
    People can be more tolerant of traditionally made yogurt than milk, because it contains lactase produced by the bacterial cultures used to make the yogurt. Frozen yogurt, if cultured similarly to its unfrozen counterpart, will contain similarly reduced lactose levels. However, many commercial brands contain milk solids, increasing the lactose content..
    Sour cream, If made in the traditional way, this may be tolerable, but most modern brands add milk solids.
    Reduced Fat Milk contains MORE lactose. You are better off with whole milk.
    My younger brother had trouble with Lactose intolerance when he was younger so my mother switched to goat milk. She also got a yogurt maker to make yogurt in the traditional way.
    Milk products and their use and consumption has been a traditional food in western culture for thousands of years. This has resulted in two realities. One is genetic alterations which resulted in inherited Lactase persistence. The second is processes that have allowed milk products to be transformed into forms that can be more easily tolerated.
    The other alternative that I have discovered in my research is that there is a pill you can take if you have trouble with lactose intolerance which contains what you body no longer produces to break down lactose. (see This is available over the counter. This may help if you are going to a party and wish to sample the h’orderves.
    I applaud your coming up with a recipe. It is a good thing for many people especially Jews (up to 85%), (Chinese (95%) South East Asians/Thai’s (98%) and Native American (100% lactose intolerant)

    1. Post

      Brian, thank you for taking the time to provide this comment. But what you call “hard science” is NOT why I’m here. As a reader of my blog, you know that my focus is on our personal experiences. So I am not even going to debate the issues you present or the merits of the New York Times article. Instead, I’d like to get you back on track with my approach to this blog as a living room conversation…

      While I appreciate your efforts in digging up scientific studies and facts on other topics, I’m uncomfortable with posting them because they are not researched from my end. So I have no idea how valid they are. I let this last comment go up so that we can talk about proceeding in the future. The litmus test for posting is two-fold: are you sharing a personal experience? And two, could your comment actually be something you’d say in a living room chat with my friends? Or would the material be more suitable for a formal presentation or lecture (which is not this setting)?

      In the future, if you want to direct us to researched material, please just share the link and note in one phrase that this is where readers can go for further info. That would be plenty. I value your interesting personal reflections & look forward to more that that end. Thanks!

  12. Betty, thanks for getting the conversation back on track. I am not sure if I read the post correctly or not, but I had a few question marks going on in my head. I think the whole point of the recipe is just to try something different, whether you are a vegan or not a vegan. Instead of trying to change the world, I believed it was more to open our minds a little and introduce something different to our tastebuds. We may like it, we may not. But at least we know it is out there. The only thing that stuck in my head was reading if the recipe or veganism was warned about in scripture. I am a devoted Christian and wasn’t sure what that meant. I also didn’t want readers to think scriptures were against environmental or ethical veganism. I assume that scripture would only speak against forcing veganism or even meat-eating on others. I believe Christianity would endorse healthy eating, but whatever we eat is our own choice, and choices are great. We have free will and can have a free diet. Now, I would like to know if anyone other than Betty has dared to try this recipe yet? I haven’t made any mac and cheese in a while, so I will remember to post if I try this. I am interested in finding out more vegan or vegetarian recipes on the blog or any restaurants, specifically in NY. Thanks.

    1. Post

      Well, Skye, thing I’m realizing is that we are all very emotional about our food. And for some of us have faith in our eating regimens that runs very deep. We also have favorite foods that we enjoy with the enthusiasm of religious experiences. Quite frankly, I think it’s all okay, very human.

      You raise a good question….I also wonder if anyone will try this recipe. It’s so simple that it’s barely a recipe. Just to experiment, I’ll try to make my next vegan treat something prettier. :)

  13. My signature Ultimate Mac & Cheese FURTHER revisited: Daiya Vegan Cheese wedges beautifully take this comfort favorite to a new dairy-free level. I used cheddar style & jack style in place of swiss, also substituted a vegan cream cheese instead of crème fraîche/mascarpone & dairy-free milk & butter substitutions as well. ‘Served with a side of sauteed fresh farmer’s market collards & garlic scapes & accented w/ a sprinkle of preservative, nitrates, antibiotic free bacon bits = A NEW COMFORT FOOD FAVORITE (‘Thinking about lobster mac & cheese next w/ Daiya Vegan Cheese jalapeno garlic havarti style wedge!) Here’s the original recipe:

    1. Post

      T. Ellis, thank you for sharing! Your Mac & Cheese looks delectably “real.” And congrats on going gluten-free. It was one of those decisions that truly changed my life in only good ways. As for Daiya wedges, I’ve never heard of them. But will start looking now. Always nice to learn ideas from you. :)

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