Dairy Free Cheese Sauce. So Good You Might Believe It’s Velveeta – WIW

Wingin' It Wednesdays

A Dairy-Free Cheese Sauce

So good you actually might believe it’s Velveeta!

 

Yeah… you read that right… Dairy FREE cheese sauce… NO. DAIRY. AT. ALL. PERIOD. This is “Nacho” Typical Shells-N-Cheese!

 

Are you honestly gonna sit there and say this doesn’t look exactly like nacho cheese?

nacho chip ina squash cheese

If you ate some right now and didn’t know any better, you wouldn’t know it wasn’t actually cheese.  I did a taste test this morning with a few of my co-workers, and without telling them that it wasn’t cheese first.  I just said, “I tried a new shell’s and cheese recipe try it and see what you think.”  They all said it was different and really good, and wanted to know what I did differently to the recipe.  When I told them there was absolutely no cheese or dairy in it at all they all responded, “really, your kidding? How did you do that?!”

Because I am ME…

(gawd that sounded cocky didn’t it?)

One of my co-workers said she liked it better than normal macaroni and cheese.  She thinks normal mac-n-cheese is sometimes too cheesy… I told her that statement was just blasphemy lol.  No such thing as too much cheese… or faux cheese if it tastes good enough, right?

No cheese at all, does it really taste like cheese?

Well, this sauce doesn’t taste exactly like cheese, because it’s not cheese, obviously.  Nothing can truly replace cheese in my opinion, but, just hear me out on this one.  I honestly don’t know that I would go back to cheese if I had this healthy option readily available to me.  Plus, I can premake a large amount and keep it on hand in the fridge.  it solidifies in the cold, but it has a similar consistency to that of Velveta. So, when you go to mix it into the warm pasta it melts up super creamy and nice.  Adding a little water to it also helps to get it nice and creamy when reheating it.  Water won’t affect the flavor either.

What DOES it taste like then?

This dairy-free cheese sauce actually, sort of, has a “cheap” nacho cheese cup from the convenience store flavor.  The little plastic cup of nacho cheese you get at a way overpriced concession counter for your $6 once frozen pretzel…you know what I mean.  The kind of cheese sauce you don’t really ever want to eat ’cause it has 800 unpronounceable ingredients.  The cheese cup sauce that has that tinge of yellow almost going into orange, and the watery separation that occurs sometimes when you have to mix it up before using it. But, god forbid that’s just the nacho cheese that is available and you’d be darned if it doesn’t taste so freaking good.  Yeah… THAT cheese sauce.

This faux cheese sauce though… it’s a game changer!

There are a lot of dairy-free sauce recipes out there. There are a lot of imitation mac-n-cheese recipes, nacho cheese substitutes, tofu cheese, soy cheese… and honestly, I have never had or tried any of them before.  I never really felt the need to, nor the want to try fake cheese until I did my Whole30.  During whole30, I unfortunately learned that dairy is a real problem for me (among other things.)

I find it so hard to give up dairy, and cheese, in particular, I just live with the side effects most of the time.  Side effects from dairy include bloating, stomach aches, gas, joint aches, fatigue… you name it.  Let me tell you, that back pain, muscle pain, joint pain, foot pain. tiredness when you wake up… that’s all from the inflammatory junk we put into our mouths every day.  Hey, I am not able to judge anyone as I sit over here eating my pizza and drinking my sprite as I type this blog post up.  I had cookies for dessert today and a couple of Heath bars – I. GET. YOU.  The struggle is real, but man do I ache.  So, I am always on the lookout for healthy substitutes and alternatives for those foods I love.

Where did the idea for dairy-free cheese sauce come from?

A blogger friend of mine, Amy, of www.cooking1handed.com is a dairy-free wonder woman.  She mentioned not too long ago about dairy-free mac-n-cheese, and I felt challenged to create a sauce that fit the bill.  Like, you can’t even tell the difference, kind of “fit the bill”.

*Edit* Amy is actually allergic to dairy and doesn’t have the option to just eat it with the side effects like I would.  This recipe actually, the way I have written it, uses Ghee. which, is something she still cannot have.  Even though Ghee is clarified butter, which has had 99.9% of the dairy proteins removed and is thus “dairy-free”; those who are allergic may still have a reaction to it.  I this is the case, another butter flavored substitute will do just fine.

With having my own dairy issues, I really wanted to find a way to be able to eat one of my favorite foods, mac-n-cheese, without the guilt and the issues that dairy causes me.  But, I still wanted to psychologically believe that I was eating macaroni smothered in cheese.

How did I go about creating something like Dairy Free cheese?

The inspiration for this recipe started with the fact that I have been creating and eating a butternut squash soup for the last several months (since my first experience doing Whole30).

I have actually thought while eating the butternut squash soup, that it gives me a cheese soup sort of feel and taste.  This observation got me thinking about if I could use that general soup idea to make a cheese style sauce for pasta and whatnot…  This is where I started when creating the recipe.

 

“Is dairy-free cheese vegan-friendly?  Is it whole30 friendly?” you ask?

While this recipe for cheese sauce is NOT Whole30 compliant in the overall spirit of the program, it technically IS made with all compliant ingredients.  (Melissa Hartwig might would slap me for saying that lol).

The healthy, whole food, all real, simple, pronounceable food ingredients make this sauce suitable for all my paleo, gluten free, grain free, dairy free, sugar-free friends out there.

While the version I made today isn’t vegan, it can easily be made vegan by switching from chicken broth to veggie broth or water and switching your Ghee to another type of vegan butter flavored substitute.  I believe there is one called Earth Balance.

squash cheese sauce in a container, cooked butternut squash in a pot

 

How did you do it?

Ok, I know the answer can’t just be “because I’m me”… ’cause other people aren’t me… and other people want dairy-free cheese sauce too.  So, I will share the love.

You can follow the recipe below, but:

Heat the Squash

Start this faux cheese sauce by cutting a butternut squash in half, peeling it (easier to do once cut in half), scooping out the seeds, and then chopping it up into small cubes (you can kinda see that in the back of the picture above).

After you cut it all up, put all the squash into a pot with some broth or water.  You don’t have to cover it, just enough so that the squash doesn’t burn in the pan as you boil it with the lid on.  You could technically steam it too if you prefer – we just want soft squash.

Blend the Squash

Once the squash is soft and hot you’re going to need a high powered blender.  I have a blendtec blender, but a vitamix or ninja would be good as well.

You could probably use a regular, lower power blender too.  Since we are going to have cashews in this sauce, a typical blender may not get them creamed up super smooth which is what we really want.  Blending this way may take longer, and you will have to do it in smaller amounts most likely, but I am confident it will come out with a little persistence.

Season the Squash

After the squash is softened, we’re going to spoon a couple ladles of squash into the blender with some of the broth.  Not a lot of liquid, just a little is needed so that the blender can properly blend.  Season the sauce with some nutritional yeast, salt, pepper, onion powder, mustard powder, garlic powder, ghee and pour in the coconut milk.  Also, go ahead and throw in those cashews at the beginning, or wait until you have blended up the squash and then put them in.  It won’t matter if your blender is high enough power.  If you use the lower power type blenders, start with the cashews with the squash because they will need as much time blending as possible.  You may need to do this in batches to keep the amount of food in the jar easier to blend.

 

Does this recipe have Non-convenient, uncommon ingredients?

There’s nothing that I am more easily frustrated by than a recipe that requires a bunch of stuff I never have, have never heard of, or couldn’t tell you where to get it.  This is one recipe where you absolutely cannot skip the nutritional yeast or the ghee (butter flavored substitute such as Earth Balance) though.  Sorry guys, I know these ingredients are kinda pricey and not the easiest to find in regular grocery stores.  I like to buy my ghee in bulk from my local Indian grocery store because Indian ghee tastes best in my opinion, and it is so much cheaper that way.   You can get all of these items on Amazon, Thrive, from your local health food, farmer’s market store, or other delivery company like Peapod I think.

 

Not So Shameless Plug to follow:

The awesome thing is, if you sign up for Thrive market through my link you can get 25% off and free shipping.  There is a one month trial period, and also Thrive is ALWAYS giving away awesome freebies with orders.  Like the for real deal freebies such as a full jar of almond butter, a full-size Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Epic bars, kind bars. Totally worth your time if you haven’t checked it out yet.

 

 

Get Creative!

When you are working with creating a food that resembles or imitates something else… you gotta get creative.  There really isn’t much out there that tastes like cheese without actually being cheese. Nutritional Yeast is pretty much the only way that I have found to imitate the flavor of cheese so, alas, get that nutritional yeast.  Also, cashews.  But, if you invest in it now,  you will have some, and it works great in so many recipes as a regular seasoning.

 

squash cheese sauce in blendtec blender

(excuse my bandaid… I sliced a nice chunk from my finger on my new mandolin the other day ::sigh::)

 

Cheese is kind of tangy, it has a very specific flavor… how do you get that flavor?

Well, I am glad you asked because I had the SAME question.  As I was preparing this sauce, I had pretty much all the stuff in there… but,  I was having the darnedest time thinking, “WHAT would be able to give this that tangy cheese flavor?!” I spooned a bit out into a small dish, mixed in a little balsamic vinegar just to see, and it was night.and.day. people.  Like magic!  Damn, I am good…

 

Let’s get down to the specifics, shall we?  That Macaroni is calling our names!

(well, as specifics as I can get at least)

 

 

Print Recipe
Cheese Sauce - Dairy Free - Shells-N-"Cheese"
This is a recipe for a dairy free, Butternut Squash based faux cheese sauce. Very similar to nacho cheese or Velveeta style cheese, but no dairy. Gluten free, grain free, sugar-free, paleo and W30 food freedom friendly. This recipe DOES contain nuts
a spoon of shells and squash cheese in a black bowl
Cuisine comfort food
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes including cooking the squash and blending
Servings
several... depends on how much sauce you like and how much squash you use
Ingredients
  • 1 whole Butternut Squash peeled, cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 carton chicken broth/stock just enough, maybe half a carton so the squash doesn't burn
  • 1/2 Cup Nutritional Yeast might be more... this is mostly where your cheese "flavor" is coming from... but it can get overpowering and dry so start here and go up to taste
  • 1/2 Cup coconut milk full fat, more or less to get the taste and consistancy you want in your sauce. Start with this amount.
  • 3/4 - 1 Cup Ghee A lot... like probably a whole cup. You gotta get that buttery flavor in there, cause what is cheese sauce without the buttery flavor?
  • 1/2 Cup ... I think - I just poured some in there Cashews These are going ot help with the creaminess of the sauce, and a bit with the nutty cheesy taste we are looking for
  • some garlic powder sprinkle some in - maybe a TBS, start low as it can get overpowering
  • some onion powder sprinkle some in - maybe a TBS, start low as it can get overpowering
  • 2 Tsp balsamic vinegar / vinegar This adds that cheesy "tang" Go sparingly, just a couple of tsp should do it. Start with one if you are unsure.
  • some salt lot's of salt, 'cause squash is a bit sweet and we are trying to cut that as much as we can
  • some more salt yep
  • some pepper I like white pepper because it blends in to the sauce seamlessly, you can use black though it doesn't matter
  • 2 TBS... start with 1 and go from there to taste hot sauce I used Frank's wing sauce because that's what I keep in the house. This is going to help cut the sweetness, the vinegar is going to add a bit of tang
  • 1 TBS... to start mustard powder not even really sure why... but any time I have ever made cheese sauce in the past it has mustard powder in it... just sayin'
  • ::shrugs:: lemon and/or mayo I put in such a minimal amount of these ingredients that I am not even sure they are necessary. Save this for in case you need a little more help creaming up the sauce or getting some more tangy flavor
Cuisine comfort food
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes including cooking the squash and blending
Servings
several... depends on how much sauce you like and how much squash you use
Ingredients
  • 1 whole Butternut Squash peeled, cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 carton chicken broth/stock just enough, maybe half a carton so the squash doesn't burn
  • 1/2 Cup Nutritional Yeast might be more... this is mostly where your cheese "flavor" is coming from... but it can get overpowering and dry so start here and go up to taste
  • 1/2 Cup coconut milk full fat, more or less to get the taste and consistancy you want in your sauce. Start with this amount.
  • 3/4 - 1 Cup Ghee A lot... like probably a whole cup. You gotta get that buttery flavor in there, cause what is cheese sauce without the buttery flavor?
  • 1/2 Cup ... I think - I just poured some in there Cashews These are going ot help with the creaminess of the sauce, and a bit with the nutty cheesy taste we are looking for
  • some garlic powder sprinkle some in - maybe a TBS, start low as it can get overpowering
  • some onion powder sprinkle some in - maybe a TBS, start low as it can get overpowering
  • 2 Tsp balsamic vinegar / vinegar This adds that cheesy "tang" Go sparingly, just a couple of tsp should do it. Start with one if you are unsure.
  • some salt lot's of salt, 'cause squash is a bit sweet and we are trying to cut that as much as we can
  • some more salt yep
  • some pepper I like white pepper because it blends in to the sauce seamlessly, you can use black though it doesn't matter
  • 2 TBS... start with 1 and go from there to taste hot sauce I used Frank's wing sauce because that's what I keep in the house. This is going to help cut the sweetness, the vinegar is going to add a bit of tang
  • 1 TBS... to start mustard powder not even really sure why... but any time I have ever made cheese sauce in the past it has mustard powder in it... just sayin'
  • ::shrugs:: lemon and/or mayo I put in such a minimal amount of these ingredients that I am not even sure they are necessary. Save this for in case you need a little more help creaming up the sauce or getting some more tangy flavor
a spoon of shells and squash cheese in a black bowl
Instructions
  1. Cut the Squash in half, peel (easier to do after it has been cut in half), scoop out those seeds and loose fibers, cut into cubes and put into a pot with the chicken broth. Boil with the lid on until the squash becomes soft and mushy
  2. Use a ladle to get some squash into your blender with a little bit of the broth. Not a large amount of broth though, just enough to help emulsify the ingredients.
  3. add in the seasonings, cashews, coconut milk, everything else.... Start small on the measurements because we can always add more but can't always remove a flavor easily.
  4. blend this in the high powered blender until smooth, adjust the seasonings to taste and until you reach a taste that resembles a cheese sauce of your liking.
  5. remember, this isn't cheese and it isn't going to taste exactly like cheese. Nothing....Nothing can replace the creamy goodness of cheese.... Nothing. Hopefully, you and your friends or family or whomever you cook for will not know the difference, and be pleasantly surprised by how good this is. 🙂
  6. Boil whatever amount and type of pasta you want, and once it is cooked, drain and add the amount of cheese sauce you would like. I like to drown my pasta in sauce, others not so much... Your choice.
Recipe Notes

Please also note that, as you may already have noticed, I don't really "measure" or pay attention to how much of the ingredients I am using.  I just sorta put the ingredients in there and then gauge by site and taste. The amounts I write are guesses based on what I remember doing. They are probably not exact, but that is the beauty and fun of making up recipes like this.  Play around with your own tastes, it's really not too difficult.  I personally like to add some more hot sauce to it at the time of use (ie when making the shells and cheese).

 

Notes on what I may do differently next time:

I felt like the sauce was a bit too garlic or onion flavored.  I would maybe try cutting it back a little but it wasn't bad if you like it.  I would definitely add even more salt than I did.  You could always add table salt in the end product too while eating to keep it more friendly to a blander (I don't mean that in a judgey way) palate.

May I tempt you with some tasty pictures?  Like you weren’t already craving mac-n-cheese already after this post. 😛

a spoon of shells and squash cheese in a black bowl

 

 


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