A rich and creamy vegan cheese sauce that no-one will guess is dairy-free! Perfect for a lasagne, pasta bake, cauliflower cheese or just to pour over your roast dinner.
I was experimenting with veganism for quite a long time, (embarrassingly long, now I think of it), before realising that you could in fact just make a deliciously creamy cheese sauce out of dairy-free ingredients. Before then, my pasta bakes and vegetable dishes were limited to tomatoe-y sauces or just a slather of vegan margarine.
Back in those days, the range of vegan cheeses available in supermarkets was totally dismal - both in number and quality. Any that were readily available had an overwhelming smell and taste of coconut mingled with stinky socks, and I was loath to even put them in my fridge let alone in my cooking.
But this is 2020 and veganism is a proper THING that the masses are paying attention to and joining in with. Aside from being prosecco-poppingly brilliant in its own right, that also means it is worthwhile for all food producers and supermarkets to wake up and make dairy-free alternatives taste fantastic, and be readily available everywhere, which they now are.
This vegan cheese sauce is just perfect for:
- Lasagne layered with a rich lentil ragù and sheets of wholemeal pasta.
- Cauliflower Cheese Just pour over par-boiled cauliflower, sprinkle with breadcrumbs and bake.
- Pasta Bakes with broccoli, roasted tomatoes, chunks of vegan sausage, whatever you fancy! Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and bake.
- Layered Potato Bake Par-boil peeled and thickly sliced potatoes, layer up with the sauce and bake.
- Pouring sauce to serve with a roast dinner
📝 What you need
Onion, clove and bay leaf The first step of this recipe, infusing the milk with these fragrant and savoury flavours, is entirely optional, and probably depends on both how much time you have available and how you will be using your cheese sauce. I would do it for cauliflower cheese or a pouring sauce if I had the time, but probably wouldn't bother if I was using it in a punchy-flavoured lasagne or
Dairy-free milk Make sure you use an unsweetened milk, sweet cheese sauce is not a good thing. I always use oat milk, as it doesn't really have a flavour of its own which really accentuates the cheesiness! I can often taste soya milk in a sauce so tend to avoid it, but if it is your usual plant milk of choice you may find you like it. Avoid coconut, hazelnut or anything with a strong flavour of its own.
Dairy-free butter As I always recommend for cooking and baking, use a good quality block margarine rather than a tub of spread. It has a much lower water content so behaves more like 'real' butter.
Dairy-free cream There are so many more varieties of vegan cream in supermarkets these days, we're spoiled for choice. My go-to is Elmlea Plant Double Cream, but oatly's oat cream is also lovely. Avoid any coconut-based creams, they have too much of an aftertaste to use in a savoury sauce.
Vegan cheese Again, we're spoiled for choice these days, compared to even two or three years ago when all the options smelled (and tasted!) like stinky socks. My favourites here would be Applewood Smoked 'Cheddar' which is incredibly good at melting, or Violife Epic Mature which also melts beautifully into a sauce.
You can use this basic cheese sauce recipe to make all sorts of vegan sauces. How about:
- Mustard Sauce Just stir through 2-3 teaspoon of wholegrain mustard at the same time as the cheese, (or instead of the cheese if you prefer).
- Parsley Finely chop parsley (or any other fresh herbs - chives, sage, thyme, basil) and stir through just before serving.
- Creamy Tomato Sauce This is totally delicious for a pasta bake - just stir 1-2 tablespoon sun-dried tomato paste through the sauce before (or instead of) adding the cheese.
❄️ Can I freeze my cheese sauce?
Yes - I often freeze cheese sauce, in old plastic takeaway containers or margarine tubs, which are the perfect size for a good portion for a pasta bake or small lasagne.
Be warned - it often splits a little when thawed, but if you reheat in a small saucepan and whisk well it will come together again and be just as good as first time around. It is sometimes just a bit thick after freezing, so just add a splash more plant milk until it is the right consistency.
What other savoury sauces can I make vegan?
There is almost nothing you can't vegan-ise, and sauces are no exception. Take a look at my Creamy Vegan Béchamel Sauce which is so easy, Chloe's deliciously peanutty Satay Sauce or Janice's beautiful ruby-red Cranberry and Red Wine Sauce from FarmersGirl Kitchen. Yum!
Vegan Cheese Sauce
- 500 ml dairy-free milk unsweetened - oat milk is my preference
- ½ onion (optional)
- 1 clove (optional)
- 1 bay leaf (optional)
- 40 g dairy-free butter block margarine
- 25 g plain flour
- 50 ml dairy-free cream
- 50 g vegan cheese
- grated nutmeg (optional)
- Peel the onion and stick the clove into it (so you don't lose it later!). Place in a saucepan with the dairy-free milk and bay leaf.
- Heat the milk to a gentle simmer, then remove from the heat and set aside for 15 minutes to infuse.
To make the sauce:
- 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 cheese and cream, and season with salt and black pepper.
- Grate in a little nutmeg (optional), taste and adjust seasoning as required.
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