Macaroni is dressed in creamy dairy-free cheese sauce and topped with a coating of crispy panko breadcrumbs, smoky coconut bacon, and fiery jalapeño slices to make this spicy vegan jalapeño popper mac & cheese.
A few months after going vegetarian my husband accidentally ate some meat. A well-meaning coworker offered him a jalapeño popper. It had bacon in it. Oops.
I'd never heard of bacon being an ingredient in jalapeño poppers, but I guess when you've spent the majority of your life as a non-bacon eater, you miss a few things. My husband requested I come up with some kind of vegan jalapeño popper-themed recipe featuring bacon so that his little accident wasn't all in vain. I'd already done a recipe for regular old vegan poppers, so I had to come up with something new. Popper mac it was.
Some good did come out of the bacon popper incident, because vegan jalapeño popper mac is the best thing ever. Pasta, spicy cheese, crispy breadcrumbs, coconut bacon, and of course, jalapeño slices all add up to magic.
The recipe is a little involved for mac and cheese. To a certain extent that's unavoidable when you're making vegan mac & cheese, because you've got to make the cheese out of something. For this particular recipe I went with a cheesy vegan sauce made from cashews, cauliflower and carrots. In the past I've used just cashews, but I actually like it better with the veggies. They add some body to the sauce and just a bit of savory flavor. Miso gives the sauce even more savory flavor, and hot sauce and nooch add up to lots of cheezy goodness.
But this recipe has a bunch more elements and steps, so I'll say this: if you really don't feel like dealing with making coconut bacon, roasting jalapeño peppers, and broiling the panko topping, then don't! Even if you skip all that, just the pasta and sauce alone would make an awesome spicy vegan mac and cheese.
Vegan Jalapeño Popper Mac & Cheese
- 4 jalapeño peppers, sliced (or use as many or as few as you like)
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 10 ounces dried elbow macaroni pasta
For the Cheese Sauce
- 2 cups cauliflower florets
- 1 medium carrot, chopped
- 1 cup raw cashews, soaked in water 4-8 hours and drained
- 1 cup unflavored and unsweetened soy or almond milk
- ¼ cup nutritional yeast flakes
- 2 tablespoons white miso paste
- 2 tablespoons vinegar-based hot sauce, Cholula works great. If you prefer something non-vinegar based like sriracha, just add a bit of vinegar to balance out the flavor.
- Salt to taste
- ½ cup coconut bacon
- ¼ cup panko breadcrubs
- Chopped scallions
- More hot sauce
Preheat the oven to 325°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the jalapeño slices into a medium bowl and toss with 1 teaspoon of olive oil to coat. Arrange the slices on the baking sheet in an even layer. Place the baking sheet into the oven and bake for 15 minutes, until the peppers are softened and browned in spots.
While the peppers bake, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions, then drain the pasta into a colander. Return the pasta to the pot and toss it with a bit of olive oil to avoid sticking.
While the pasta boils, make the cheese sauce. Place the cauliflower and carrots into a medium pot and cover with water. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Allow to cook until very tender, about 10 minutes. Drain the veggies and place them into a food processor bowl with the rest of the cheese sauce ingredients. Blend until smooth, taste test, and adjust seasonings to taste. Add in a few of the baked jalepeño slices if you'd like some more heat (I used 4).
Pour the sauce over the pasta and stir to coat.
Optional: Transfer the macaroni to a baking dish or oven safe skillet and sprinkle the top with coconut bacon and panko breadcrumbs. Arrange the jalapeño peppers on top, then place everything under the broiler for a few minutes to toast the panko.
Otherwise, just divide onto plates or into bowls and top each with panko, coconut bacon, and jalapeño slices.
Sprinkle with scallions and drizzle with some extra hot sauce if you'd like. Serve.
If you're making the coconut bacon at the same time as the mac and cheese, you can stick it in the oven right with the jalapeño slices—it cooks at the same oven temp!