If you’ve ever gone to a fancy vegan restaurant and tasted their version of vegan cheese — whether it was an artisan plant-based cheese board or a warm and gooey bowl of vegan mac and cheese — then you know that dairy-free cheese can be dynamic and come with a serious depth and complexity of flavor that outstrips the traditional stuff by miles.

After indulging in the gourmet stuff, sometimes trying to recreate those magical recipes at home can leave your tastebuds cold. We can’t count how many times we’ve gone to whip up a cozy bowl of plant-based mac and cheese and just felt like something was missing. It’s not that many recipes that call for homemade vegan cheese sauces and the like are bad, necessarily — it’s just that some recipes seem to zing and others seem to just lack the richness or intensity that we love from our plant-based comfort food. So what’s a home cook to do? For starters, check out these tips on how to bring your plant-based mac and cheese recipes to a heightened level!

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Add Miso Paste to Cheesy Recipes for a Savory Kick

Miso paste is a gem of an ingredient. Once you begin incorporating it into your cooking, you’ll never look back. A Japanese product made by fermenting soybeans, rice or barley with salt and a fungus called koji, miso is considered a superfood because it is packed with healthy probiotics and vitamin B12. Not only is miso paste savory, rich, and brimming with umami flavor but if you add just the right amount to your mac, it won’t overpower your sauce — it’ll only serve to amplify all the cheesy notes.

When you go searching for miso paste, remember that there are several varieties out there. The darker the color of your miso, the more salty and intense the flavor will be. For a mac and cheese sauce, we suggest using a white miso for starters, like in this recipe for Sweet Potato Mac and Cheese With Spinach pictured above.

You can also check out how miso elevates this Creamy Cauliflower and Parsnip Miso Soup With Roasted Shiitake and this grain-free Lean Green Fettuccine Alfredo.

Add the Brine from Fermented Foods to Creamy Sauces

Miso isn’t the only fermented food to make use of. Not only do fermented foods aid in healing your digestive tract (we love having a healthy gut!) and promote overall oral and dental health, but they are huge aids in adding flavor to your cooking. Fermented foods are rich in umami, they’re pungent (in a good way!), often salty, and indispensable tools to have on hand in your quest for building complex and satisfying meals. Check out these tips on how to use fermented foods in your plant-based mac and cheese recipes to bring them to a heightened level!

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Most of us have grown up eating pickles and sauerkraut, and much like miso, sauerkraut brine can add that depth of flavor to your cheese sauce you’ve been craving. Try this Leek and Smoked Carrot Mac and Cheese recipe for an example of how to use sauerkraut in your mac.

If you don’t have sauerkraut or miso on hand, a splash of apple cider vinegar (learn How to Make Your Own Apple Cider Vinegar and then use it in salads, slaws, sauces and almost all your recipes) or even kimchi juice (learn How to Make Kimchi at Home) could achieve the same goal. Make sure to experiment widely with all the different kinds of brines and juices to figure out which flavor combination works best for you — even vegetable paste, with its extremely salty profile, could work in a pinch.

This recipe for Cauliflower Mac and Cheese uses apple cider vinegar and white miso to really elevate its flavor profile, while this recipe for Broccoli and Cauliflower Cheesy Mac uses vegetable paste.

Get creative with add-ins

You can add an assortment of different ingredients to achieve different kinds of flavors in your mac.

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If you like smoky mac and cheese, consider using chipotle or adobe peppers, paprika, or even barbecue sauce, like in this recipe for Meal Prep Smoky Mac and Cheese to get that savory, smoky kick. This recipe for Seitan Sausage With Mac and Smoky Cheddar Cheese uses chipotle in adobo sauce to achieve the right heat.

If you like earthy flavors, try using different vegetables and root veggies to flavor and bulk up your dish. This recipe for gluten-free Beet Mac and Cheese uses beets to achieve a sweet, earthy flavor. This Mac and Cheese With Mushrooms, Peppers, and Spinach uses a melange of veggies to boost the flavor and create texture.

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For those who favor bright and sweet flavors, roasted red peppers and tomatoes are the way to go. Try this Taco Mac and Cheese for a unique fusion recipe, or transform this Roasted Red Pepper Pasta Bowl into a mac recipe.

Make sure to read up on how to avoid common pasta mistakes so your mac and cheese comes out perfect every time, and then read up on How to Make the Most Decadent Mac and Cheese for more inspiration.

We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 8,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to ten new recipes per day. Check it out!

Lead image source: Creamy Butternut Squash Pasta With Broccoli and Kale 

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