This vegan Japanese Macaroni Gratin is irresistibly creamy, hearty and pure comfort food! Made with macaroni, mushrooms and onions, baked in a creamy dairy free white sauce and topped with crispy panko. (Gluten free)
Creamy, crispy flavourful macaroni gratin, another one of my favourite Japanese-western-style (yoshoku) dishes growing up! You’ll spot this dish at many cafes and restaurants in Japan.
What is Gratin: Japanese Style
Gratin is a French cooking technique where a dish is topped with bread crumbs and/or cheese and browned under a broiler. If you search for gratins online, you’ll notice most of the recipes are very heavy in cheese and looks quite similar to a baked mac and cheese.
Japanese Macaroni Gratin does not taste and is not the same as mac and cheese. Mac and cheese uses cheese to coat the pasta whereas in gratin, the pasta is coated in a white sauce (Béchamel sauce) and the cheese is only added on top.
Also, instead of bread crumbs, panko is used and yields a much lighter crispy crust. My favourite part!
How to Make Japanese Macaroni Gratin (Vegan Version)
Gratins are super easy to make, and this vegan version is even easier because you don’t have to worry about the roux burning. I’d also like to note, this is a take on my moms gratin recipe with the flavours I remember. Every household has their own version of gratin using similar ingredients with 1-2 additions or a different cooking methods.
- Macaroni/Pasta: Despite being called macaroni gratin, any pasta shape can and is used! My mom actually always used Penne since macaroni noodles weren’t as readily available in Japan when I was young. Here, I’m using cavatappi which is a type of macaroni.
- Onions + Mushrooms: Instead of using chicken or shrimp, we’re using mushrooms! I love meatier mushrooms like oyster mushrooms and shiimeji mushrooms because they release a lot of flavour and give a heartiness to the dish. I do highly recommend using 2 varieties of mushrooms for more texture but you could just stick with one.
- White Sauce: Typically a bechamel sauce– which is a French sauce made from flour, milk and butter. However, for this recipe we’re making a sauce that tastes similar to bechamel but with comepltly different ingredients such as: cashew butter, nutritional yeast, miso paste, vegetable broth, silken tofu, corn starch, soy milk and white pepper.
- Cheese: In Japan, they use a cheese specifically for cooking called melting cheese (Torokeru Cheese). Its gooey and melty, made from several different cheeses. It kind of has the same texture as artificial cheese in North America but without the strong ‘processed’ taste. For dairy free, I used a blend of dairy free mozzerela and cheddar.
- Panko: The panko is a must! It adds a delicious crispiness to the crust.
When my mom made gratin, she would often incorporate some spinach and broccoli as well for extra veggies.
- Pasta: First, cook the pasta until al dente following the instructions on the package.
- Sauce: While the pasta is cooking, add all the sauce ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth.
- Mushrooms and Onions: Pan fry the onions and mushrooms until caramelized for best flavour. It takes about 8 minutes over medium high heat.
- Assembly: Reduce the heat to medium and add the sauce to the pan and stir until slightly thickened. Reducing the heat will prevent the sauce from burning at the bottom. Then add in the pasta and stir continuously until thickened. Transfer the pasta to individual casserole dishes.
- Broil: Top with panko and non dairy cheese and broil for 5-7 minutes until the sauce starts to caramelize around the edges. With the vegan cheese I used, it doesn’t ‘caramelize’ but melts. You could also use one large casserole dish and bake it that way at 450 F for 15 minutes.
- Serve: Garish with a generous topping of scallions of chives and black pepper.
Creamy. Crispy. Cheesy. All the things comfort should be.
My (very picky) sister said that this version tastes better than my moms (sorry mom 😂), so I can promise you this dish is worth making.
More Vegan Japanese Recipes to Try!
- Japanese Curry Fried Rice
- Vegan Onigiri
- Chilled Tanuki Udon (Cold Udon Noodle Soup)
- Vegan Takikomi Gohan (Japanese Mixed Rice)
- Vegan Osaka Okonomiyaki (Japanese Savory Pancakes)
- Vegan Gyoza (Japanese Dumplings)
If you recreate this Japanese Macaroni Gratin recipe let me know how you liked it by leaving a comment and rating below or by tagging me on Instagram @Okonomikitchen, I love seeing all of your tasty recreations!
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