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Trust me, I know what you’re thinking. Why is this chick trying to make a vegan mac and cheese recipe? How does it work? Is it actually good?
I know you’re intrigued. So let me explain…
Why you’ll LOVE this vegan mac and cheese recipe
For being a plant based mac and cheese recipe, this recipe:
- Has nearly 17g of protein
- Is easily gluten free
- Is filled with healthy fats from cashews
- And is easy to customize with your fav mix-ins!
This vegan mac and cheese is filling, nutritious and a great way to impress your vegan or dairy free friends, or serve to kids who can’t have dairy. Promise they’ll gobble it right up! My 1 year old even LOVES this recipe.
What does vegan mac and cheese taste like?
This vegan mac and cheese IS DELICIOUS. It’s creamy, cheesy tasting, a little spicy (if you want!), dairy free, plant based, addicting and sooo damn good that my husband, a real cheese-obsessed man, LOVED this vegan mac and cheese SO MUCH that he went back for seconds.
Typically, he pours ketchup over most of his food (even real mac and cheese) and didn’t want to do it with this recipe because he enjoyed it THAT much. So now you know, that not only did this vegan mac and cheese pass a real cheese lover’s taste test but that it’s also meat-loving man approved.
Everything you’ll need to make vegan mac and cheese
My best vegan mac and cheese recipe is made by making my simple vegan cashew cheese sauce then stirring it into freshly boiled noodles of choice. The cheese sauce is made up of nutritious ingredients that will leave you wondering how in the hell it tastes so dang creamy and similar to real cheese. Here’s what you need to make the recipe:
- Raw cashews: yes, raw cashews are the base of this recipe, and when soaked and blended with a little water or milk, cashews form into a beautiful, super creamy nutritious sauce full of fiber, protein and healthy fats. Just remember you’ll have to soak the cashews for at least 45 minutes, so keep that in mind. Simply put them in a bowl and walk away for a few hours; I’ve also added a way to speed up the process to only 30 minutes in the instructions of this recipe, too!
- Nutritional yeast: have you ever had nutritional yeast before? My mom originally got me hooked during college. She’s put it on her buttered toast with a little garlic powder and salt and it tasted just like cheesy garlic bread. So, what is nutritional yeast? It’s a deactivated yeast made from sugarcane and beet molasses. It’s cheesy tasting, nutty and contains an incredible amount of B vitamins. You can buy nutritional yeast at most grocery stores including Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.
- Almond milk: make sure to use an unsweetened almond milk in this recipe. Water would likely also work, but I love how it gets super creamy with the addition of almond milk. You coul pretty much use whatever dairy free milk you’d like though!
- Garlic: because what is life without a few cloves of garlic?
- Spices: another thing I use to flavor this mac and cheese is plenty of spices including ground turmeric, paprika and onion powder.
- Dijon mustard: adding a little mustard gives the mac and cheese a little zesty and adds a slight tang. Just TRUST ME!
- Jalapeño: you’ll put the entire pepper in (seeds and all) and it’s never been too spicy for me or anyone I know. It adds lovely flavor. If you’re nervous about the spices or making this for kids, take out the seeds or leave out the jalapeno completely.
- Salt and pepper: a decent amount of s+p to add flavor.
- Pasta: you can use any kind of pasta you like, including gluten free pasta! I love using pasta shells because the sauce gets into each of the pockets for cheesy flavor in every bite.
Can I leave out the nutritional yeast?
The nutritional yeast is what gives the vegan cheese sauce that true “cheesy” flavor, so I would not recommend leaving it out.
How to make vegan mac and cheese
This vegan mac and cheese recipe is SO easy to make that it’ll become a staple in your house. Here’s how to do it:
- Prep your cashews. First, you’ll need to soak your cashews for at least 2 hours. However, I’ve found that you can easily speed up the process by adding the raw cashews to a pot with water and placing it over high heat. Bring to a boil, then immediately turn off the heat. Let the cashews sit for 30-45 minutes in the warm water, then drain.
- Make the sauce. Add all of the vegan cashew cheese sauce ingredients to a blender and blend until completely smooth. Taste and adjust the seasonings as necessary.
- Combine with your noodles. Boil your pasta until al dente, then drain and add back to the pot. Stir in the vegan cheese sauce for the creamiest mac and cheese ever. Scoop into bowls and enjoy!
Make this vegan mac and cheese recipe your own
Another great thing about this delicious vegan mac and cheese recipe is that you can mix in your favorite veggies. I suggest either broccoli or peas (my fav) for a little nutritional boost.
- Add in veggies: you can stir in ¾ cup frozen peas to the pasta once you add in the cheese sauce. Give them a few minutes and they should defrost right in the pot with the mac and cheese! Another option is to add 3-4 cups of steamed broccoli florets. Yum!
- Make a vegan taco mac and cheese: stir in homemade taco seasoning or a packet of store bought taco seasoning, plus a can of drained black beans, 1/4 cup salsa or 1/2 cup chopped tomato. Serve with avocado, cilantro and green onion.
- Make a vegan chili mac and cheese: stir in a packet of chili seasoning, kidney beans or black beans, corn, and 1 can of drained diced tomatoes.
Make it ahead of time
This recipe can absolutely be made a day or two ahead of time, however I do suggest adding 1 cup more milk to the vegan cheese sauce to account for the liquid that will get absorbed as it sits in the fridge. Simply make everything and then add mac and cheese to a 9×13 inch pan and cover with foil. Store in the fridge. Once ready, you can bake the mac and cheese covered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until reheated.
Storing & reheating tips
- To store: Place any leftover vegan mac and cheese in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4-5 days.
- To reheat: simply reheat portions of the mac and cheese in the microwave until heated through.
More pasta recipes to try
- Brussels Sprouts Mac and Cheese
- Vegan Pasta Primavera with Creamy Garlic Cashew Sauce
- Kickin’ Vegan Taco Pasta with Sweet Corn
- Brown Butter Pistachio Pesto Pasta with Chickpeas
- Incredible Caramelized Onion Spinach Chicken Pasta Bake
Get all of our delicious pasta recipes here!
I hope you love this vegan mac and cheese recipe! If you make it, please take a moment to leave a comment below and rate the recipe. We appreciate you! xo.
The Best Vegan Mac and Cheese You'll Ever Eat
The BEST vegan mac and cheese recipe with a deliciously creamy vegan cashew cheese sauce! This easy vegan mac and cheese can be made in a few simple steps, has a hint of spice and will be your new favorite plant based comfort food.
- 1 1/2 cups raw cashews*
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
- 1 1/4 cups unsweetened almond milk (or neutral dairy free milk of choice)
- 1 jalapeño, chopped (you can deseed if you are sensitive to spice)
- 3/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 3/4 teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound shell (Conchiglie) pasta* (or sub any kind of gluten free pasta you’d like!)
- To garnish:
- Freshly ground black pepper
*To make the cashew cheese sauce: soak the cashews in 4 cups of water for at least 2 hours; otherwise I've found that you can easily speed up the process by adding the raw cashews to a pot with water and placing over high heat. Bring water to a boil, then immediately turn off the heat; let the cashews sit for 30-45 minutes in the warm water, then drain.
Once the cashews have finished soaking you'll be ready to make the sauce: add drained cashews, garlic, nutritional yeast, almond milk, jalapeno, turmeric, paprika, onion powder, dijon mustard, salt and black pepper to a high powered blender. Blend until a thick sauce comes together. If you want a thinner sauce, add a bit more almond milk. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.
Cook the noodles according to the directions on the package, until they are al dente. Drain noodles, then add back to pot and stir in your cashew cheese sauce. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. You may need more salt! Garnish with freshly ground black pepper. Enjoy!
To make gluten free: feel free to use a gluten free pasta if you’d like.
See the blog post on how to make fun versions of this mac and cheese, such as chili mac, taco mac and even by adding veggies!
To make ahead of time: this vegan mac and cheese can absolutely be made a day or two ahead of time, however I do suggest adding 1 cup more milk to the vegan cheese sauce to account for the liquid that will get absorbed as it sits in the fridge. Simply make everything and then add mac and cheese to a 9x13 inch pan and cover with foil. Store in the fridge. Once ready, you can bake the mac and cheese covered at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes or until reheated.
Recipe by: Monique Volz // Ambitious Kitchen | Photography by: Eat Love Eats
This post was originally published on March 21, 2018 and republished with updated photos on January 13, 2020. It has since been updated with more details and tips on March 21st, 2021.