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Classic Vegan Mac and Cheese

This vegan mac & cheese is amazingly rich, creamy, and loaded with cheesy flavor. Easy to make and a guaranteed hit with kids and adults alike!

Pot of Vegan Mac & Cheese with wooden spoon and chives on top.

To say that I’ve made a lot of vegan mac and cheese over the years is an understatement. I’ve tried so many recipes! I’ve also tried to develop so many recipes! And while many were good, it took a while before I really felt like I nailed it.

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Why This Recipe Works

Coming up with a dairy-free mac & cheese recipe presents two big challenges: texture and flavor! Mac & cheese needs to be creamy and have that characteristic tangy, cheesy flavor that we all love so much. A lot of recipes fall flat for me in one or both of these departments. Not this one!

Texture. Raw cashews blend up super creamy and have a surprisingly neutral flavor, which makes them a great stand-in for dairy, and an awesome cheese base.

Cashews on their own can be overly heavy though, and I find a lot of cashew-based sauces to lack body. So we’re also using a potato. The potato will smooth out the sauce and actually give it a bit of stretch, just like cheese.

Flavor. This recipe uses a mix of ingredients to recreate the cheesy flavor we all love so much. Some of them you might have guessed: nutritional yeast, salt, and vinegar, which you’ll find in most vegan mac and cheese recipes. But we’ve got a few secret weapons here as well, including miso paste, which is fermented (like cheese is!) to give the sauce touch of umami, roasted red peppers for a touch of smokiness, and hot sauce which adds some zip.

Ingredient Notes

  • Dried elbow macaroni. You can absolutely substitute another type of dried pasta if you’d like. I recommend going for something on the small side. Shells or rotini would be great choices!
  • Raw cashews. It’s important that the cashews are raw. Roasting them brings out their nutty flavor, so if you use roasted cashews your mac will end up tasting like cashew butter, rather than cheesy deliciousness.
  • Non-dairy milk. Just about any variety that’s unflavored and unsweetened will work. Try soy milk, almond milk, or cashew milk.
  • A potato. A regular old russet potato works best for this recipe, but you can substitute a couple of red or gold potatoes if that’s what you have on hand.
  • Miso paste. Look for miso paste in the international foods section of your supermarket. It can be omitted if you absolutely don’t want to use it or can’t find it, but you’ll need to increase the amount of salt in the dish by quite a bit. White miso paste is preferable, but other varieties will work just fine.
  • Nutritional yeast. Not to be confused with baking yeast! Nutritional yeast is a completely different ingredient, and it adds savory, cheesy flavor to our vegan mac & cheese sauce. Look for it in the natural foods section of your supermarket.
  • Roasted red peppers.
  • Red wine vinegar. You can use another type of vinegar if needed, such as white vinegar or white wine vinegar.
  • Hot sauce. This ingredient is also optional, but highly recommended. Believe it or hot, hot sauce will make your cheese sauce taste more cheesy. You only need a small amount, and if if you choose a mild brand you won’t notice much in the way of heat. I’m a big fan of Cholula in this dish.
  • Garlic powder.
  • Onion powder.
  • Salt.
  • Vegan butter. Butter is optional in this recipe, but I recommend using it. Look for vegan butter near where the regular butter is sold at your supermarket. Miyoko’s and Earth Balance are a couple of popular brands.

How It’s Made

The following is a detailed photo tutorial on how to make this dish. Scroll all the way down if you’d like to skip right to the recipe!

  • Prep by peeling, dicing and boiling your potato until it’s soft.
  • Make your sauce. Place the cashews into a food processor bowl with some non-dairy milk. Blend them to a smooth paste. Be patient! This can take a few minutes depending on how powerful your blending device is.
  • Add the potato, along with some more milk, nutritional yeast, miso, roasted red peppers, vinegar, hot sauce, onion and garlic powders, and salt.
  • Blend everything again until the sauce is smooth. Give it a taste and adjust the seasonings to your liking.
Collage showing 4 steps for blending vegan cheese sauce in a food processor.

Tip for high-powered blending devices: Take this shortcut if you have a high-powered blender such as a Vitamix or Blendtec. Instead of soaking your cashews for hours, just boil them with your potato, then blend everything for the sauce at once.

  • Boil your pasta, and when it’s done, drain and return it to the pot, then toss it with a bit of vegan butter.
  • Pour in the sauce and stir up your mac until it’s smooth and creamy. You can thin the sauce with some extra milk if you’d like.
Side by side images showing vegan cheese sauce being poured over noodles, and then stirred into the noodles.

Tip: If you find the macaroni has cooled down too much, just place the pot on the stove and heat it back up, stirring all the while and adding more non-dairy milk as needed.

Variation: Baked Vegan Mac & Cheese

Hand using a spoon to scoop baked Vegan Mac & Cheese from a dish.

Okay, this isn’t technically baked. I generally don’t recommend baking recipes with cashew-based sauces, because they tend to dry out too much.

Instead, broil it. Preheat your broiler. Make sure your mac & cheese is hot before getting started. If not, heat it up on the stove, adding non-dairy milk as the sauce dries. You want it to be very hot and very creamy before broiling.

Once it’s hot, place your macaroni into a baking dish or oven-safe skillet. Sprinkle the top with some breadcrumbs — most panko breadcrumbs are vegan. You can season them with some spices and salt if you like. Pop it into the oven and broil until the top is browned and crispy. Keep a close eye on it, as things burn quickly under the broiler!

Leftovers & Storage

Leftover vegan mac & cheese will keep in a sealed container in the fridge for 3 to 4 days. The sauce will thicken up during storage, so you may want to add some non-dairy milk or water when you reheat it.

I don’t recommend freezing this dish.

Bowl of Vegan Mac & Cheese with chives on top.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can this recipe be made gluten-free?

Yup! Just use your favorite gluten-free pasta!

How can I get my cashew cheese sauce to blend up smoothly?

I’ve found that the only way to get it perfectly smooth is by using a high-powered blender. I use a Vitamix these days, and the sauce gets super smooth! Otherwise, just be patient and give the sauce plenty of time to blend (5 minutes or so). I’ve made this recipe using Cuisinart food processor, and while the sauce could have looked smoother, I didn’t notice a difference in mouthfeel.

More Vegan Comfort Food Recipes

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Pot of Vegan Mac & Cheese with wooden spoon.

Rich & Creamy Vegan Mac & Cheese

This vegan mac & cheese is amazingly rich, creamy, and loaded with cheesy flavor. Easy to make and a guaranteed hit with kids and adults alike!

Ingredients

  • 1
    medium (12 ounce/340 gram) russet potato,
    peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 16
    ounces
    dried macaroni pasta
  • 2
    tablespoons
    vegan butter
  • 1
    cup
    raw cashews,
    soaked in water 4-8 hours, drained and rinsed
  • 1
    cup
    unflavored and unsweetened non-dairy milk,
    plus more as needed, divided
  • ¼
    cup
    white miso paste
  • ¼
    cup
    nutritional yeast flakes
  • ¼
    cup
    jarred roasted red peppers,
    drained
  • 2
    tablespoons
    red wine vinegar
  • 1
    tablespoon
    vinegar-based hot sauce (such as Cholula),
    optional, plus more to taste
  • 1
    teaspoon
    onion powder
  • ½
    teaspoon
    garlic powder
  • ½
    teaspoon
    salt,
    plus more to taste

Instructions

  1. Place the potato into a medium pot and cover it with water. Place the pot over high heat and bring the water to a boil.

  2. Lower the heat and allow the water to boil until the potato is very tender, about 20 minutes. Remove the pot from heat and drain the potato into a colander. Return it to the pot.

  3. While the potato cooks, boil the pasta. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook it according to the package directions.

  4. Drain the pasta into a colander, return it to the pot, and add the butter. Stir to melt the butter.

  5. Place the cashews into a food processor bowl with ¼ cup of milk and blend to a smooth paste. You can add more milk if needed to help this along.

  6. Add another ¾ cup of milk, along with the potato, miso paste, nutritional yeast, peppers, vinegar, hot sauce, onion powder, garlic powder and salt. Blend the mixture until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. This can take a few minutes. 

  7. Thin the sauce with additional milk if needed, then taste test and season with additional salt if you like. Adjust any other seasonings to your liking.

  8. Pour the sauce over the pasta and stir until evenly coated. If the macaroni needs reheated, place the pot on the stove over medium heat. Heat the pasta, stirring frequently and adding more milk as needed, until hot.

  9. Divide onto plates and serve.

Nutrition Facts

Rich & Creamy Vegan Mac & Cheese

Amount Per Serving

Calories 501
Calories from Fat 166

% Daily Value*

Fat 18.4g28%

Saturated Fat 3.7g19%

Sodium 1212mg51%

Potassium 631mg18%

Carbohydrates 66.3g22%

Fiber 3.1g12%

Sugar 3.3g4%

Protein 19.7g39%

Calcium 40mg4%

Iron 5.9mg33%

* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.



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