Creamy, cheesy comfort food made healthy with a plant-based twist. Vegan, gluten-free, oil-free, and ready in under an hour!
If you’re anything like me, you probably have an excess of canned pumpkin that you bought during the holidays when it was on sale. (Or if you’re really like me, you have excess cans from previous years still, in addition to cans you bought this past holiday season.) But it’s not the holidays anymore, pumpkin pie is out of season, what do you do with all the pumpkin?? Make this vegan pumpkin mac & trees, of course!
Let me preface this by saying that this does not taste exactly like dairy-based mac & cheese. And it’s not supposed to. (Hence the name mac and trees.) However, it is still creamy, comforting, and slightly “cheezy”, while being made completely from plant-based whole foods. Yes, it’s healthy. But yes, it’s also delicious! Oh, and did I mention it’s also gluten-free, oil-free, and ready in under an hour? A perfect easy weeknight meal! Let’s get started.
This vegan pumpkin mac & trees requires 13 ingredients:
- pumpkin: You can use fresh or canned. This helps make the sauce thick and creamy.
- cashews: The main “creamy” component of the sauce. If you don’t have cashews, you can try replacing with sunflower seeds, or use coconut milk instead of the cashews + water/veg broth.
- celery, onion, & garlic: These are the aromatics and deliver deep, rounded flavor to the dish.
- white miso paste: This adds umami and salt.
- nutritional yeast: Another umami-packed ingredient. It also delivers that “cheesy” flavor.
- paprika & turmeric: The turmeric is mainly for color (and extra health benefits), so can be omitted if necessary.
- lemon juice: This adds that tangy flavor common in cheese.
- vegetable broth: Thins out the broth and adds more flavor. You can substitute water but may need to add some salt.
- broccoli: These are the “trees”! I love adding broccoli to my cheezy pastas, but you can omit if desired.
- and of course you’ll need some pasta: You can use any kind you like — regular, whole wheat, gluten-free, bean-based — and any shape (my personal favorites are elbows, penne, rotini, and shells).
how to make pumpkin mac & trees
- First you need to cook the veggies for your sauce. I like to steam mine in a little water on the stove for a few minutes until soft.
- Meanwhile, cook your pasta. In the last 2-3 minutes of cooking, add in broccoli florets. Drain and set aside.
- Transfer the steamed veggies, leftover water from steaming, and remaining ingredients (except the pasta & broccoli) to a blender and blend until smooth. Taste and add salt as needed.
- Pour sauce into a large pan and heat on medium low, stirring frequently to prevent burning. You don’t need to boil it (it will splatter), just heat it to a warm enough temperature for eating. Add in the cooked pasta and broccoli and stir to coat.
how to serve pumpkin mac & trees
Unless you’re using a bean-based pasta (such as Banza), I highly recommend serving your mac & trees with some kind of protein. Here I’ve opted to pair it with my smoky tofu, but it would also be good with smoky tempeh, baked beans, or even some veggie burgers! Other than that, you could also add a generous drizzle of hot sauce if you like things spicy.
cooking tips & substitutions
Make sure you soak your cashews beforehand so they are soft enough to blend, otherwise your sauce may be a little “gritty” (though it will still taste good). You can either soak your cashews in a bowl of water overnight, or quick-soak in hot water for 30-60 minutes. Alternatively, you can use 1/2 cup cashew butter instead if you have that handy.
To make things easy, cook the broccoli in the same pot while the pasta is cooking. For softer broccoli, add it in the last 3 minutes of cooking. For crunchier broccoli, add it in the last 2 minutes of cooking. Drain and rinse the pasta & broccoli in cold water to prevent further cooking.
If you don’t have miso paste, you can sub with soy sauce or tamari for gluten-free. If neither of these options are available, just add salt to taste.
helpful kitchen tools
Check out these other healthy comfort foods!
- Loaded Vegan Nachos
- Eggplant & Mushroom Pasta
- Enchilada Lasagna
- Mushroom Walnut Chili
- Spicy Miso Ramen
- Quinoa Jambalaya
I hope you love this pumpkin mac & trees as much as I do! If you do try it out, please tag me in your photos on instagram @ellielikes.cooking and/or leave a comment down below and let me know how you liked it! It makes me so happy to see you recreate my recipes in your own kitchen 🙂 Happy cooking!
Vegan Pumpkin Mac & Trees
- Fill a pot with water 1/4" high and add celery, onion, and garlic. Steam over medium heat until veggies are soft.
- Meanwhile, cook the pasta. In the last 2-3 minutes* of cooking, add in broccoli florets. Drain and set aside.
- Transfer the steamed veggies, leftover water from steaming, and remaining ingredients (except pasta & broccoli) to a blender and blend until smooth. Taste and add salt as needed.
- Pour sauce into a pot and heat on medium low, stirring frequently to prevent burning. You don't need to boil it (it will splatter), just heat it to a warm enough temperature for eating. Add in the cooked pasta and broccoli and stir to coat. Turn off heat and keep covered until ready to eat.
- Serve with hot sauce, avocado, smoky tofu, or any other desired toppings.
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