This gooey baked vegan cauliflower cheese is the ultimate vegan comfort food, with a crispy breadcrumb topping.
When I first embarked on Veganuary five years ago, I just assumed that my beloved cauliflower cheese, vegetable gratins and creamy pasta bakes would be totally off the menu.
And it took me quite a while to realise that they definitely weren’t! It is really simple to make a creamy vegan béchamel (basic white sauce) from dairy-free milk and margarine, and the ever-improving range of vegan cheeses in supermarkets these days means a cheesy sauce and crispy topping are easy to achieve too.
Cauliflower cheese is total comfort food. Take a humble winter vegetable, nothing showy. Smother it in cheesy sauce and bake….. and what comes out the oven is somehow so much greater than the sum of its parts.
Whilst this vegan cauliflower cheese is generally considered a side dish, we sometimes have it as the main event, served with crusty bread and a crisp green salad in summer, or Tenderstem broccoli and green beans in the cold winter months.
What you need to make your Vegan Cauliflower Cheese
Cauliflower obviously! Use a nice fresh one, a medium-sized cauli will make a good side dish for 4 people. At a push, you could use frozen cauliflower florets if you’re really in a hurry, but the texture isn’t as good as fresh. I love frozen cauliflower for making soup but fresh is better here.
Dairy-free margarine Use a good vegan block butter rather than a tub of spread – I like Flora Plant Butter or Naturli Block.
Dairy-free milk Make sure you use an unsweetened milk – I always use oat for sauces, I think it gives a much more savoury flavour, but if you use soya or a nut milk as your usual plant milk they will work fine too.
Dairy-free cream There are now lots of vegan creams to choose from in supermarkets – I like Elmlea Plant Double which is impossible to tell the difference from real cream (it even whips brilliantly too!), but any unsweetened soya or oat cream is fine.
Dairy-free cheese Even if you’re not a fan of vegan cheese eaten on its own, do give it a try here. Any decent vegan cheddar substitute will do, but my favourites are Violife Epic Mature, Applewood Smoked or KoKo Cheddar.
Breadcrumbs I keep a tub of breadcrumbs in the freezer and toast and whizz up all the little crusts and ends of loaves of bread to top it up every week or so. If you’re buying shop-bought breadcrumbs, you can skip step 9 – they will be crispy enough already.
You don’t need any fancy equipment to make cauliflower cheese – just a saucepan, colander or sieve, frying pan and an ovenproof dish.
Variations on your Vegan Cauliflower Cheese
You can use this basic recipe to make all sorts of variations, such as:
- Stir some halved cherry tomatoes through the cauliflower and cheese sauce, just before adding the breadcrumb topping.
- Use a mix of half and half cauliflower and broccoli for a different flavour and texture.
- Use vegan garlic bread to make the breadcrumbs for a real treat – or you can tear it into bigger chunks rather than making fine breadcrumbs. Just be careful not to let it burn under the grill.
- Add some macaroni or pasta shells to turn this into a delicious cheesy pasta bake – a meal in itself/
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Vegan Cauliflower Cheese
For the cheese sauce:
- 50 g dairy-free butter (a block margarine, rather than a tub)
- 50 g plain flour
- 1 litre unsweetened dairy-free milk I prefer to use oat milk
- 100 ml dairy-free cream
- 100 g dairy-free cheese
- nutmeg (optional)
For the cauliflower:
- 1 cauliflower
- 2 tbsp dairy-free butter
- 40 g breadcrumbs (or 1 slice bread, toasted and blitzed into crumbs)
- Melt the vegan butter in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add the flour and stir. Cook gently for 2 minutes.
- Add the milk little by little, stirring each time you add more, to get rid of any lumps.
- When all the milk has been added, cook over a gentle heat for 5 minutes until thick and glossy. Remove from the heat and stir through the cream and two thirds of the cheese, then season generously with salt and black pepper.
- Grate in a little nutmeg (optional), taste and adjust seasoning as required. Set the cheese sauce aside.
- Preheat your grill on a medium setting.
- Meanwhile, cut the cauliflower into small-ish florets, and bring a large saucepan of water to the boil.
- Cook the cauliflower for just 4 minutes until just turning tender. Drain well.
- Melt the 2 tbsp vegan butter in a large frying pan and add the cauliflower. Cook gently for 4-5 minutes until turning brown and caramelised. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and spoon into a large ovenproof dish.
- Tip the breadcrumbs into the frying pan and cook for a couple of minutes until crispy and just turning golden, (watch them carefully and stir frequently – they burn in the blink of an eye!).
- Pour the cheese sauce over the cauliflower florets, followed by the remaining vegan cheese, followed by the crispy breadcrumbs.
- Grill until the sauce is bubbling and golden.