This creamy vegan mac and cheese is here to prove that comfort food can be plant-based and still delicious! A rich cashew-based sauce has all the cheesy flavour you need, while a panko topping adds some crispy contrast with the creamy sauce and tender noodles.
Everyone has their own idea of comfort food, but I think for many of us, mac and cheese tops the list. I mean, what’s not to love? It’s creamy, cheesy, carb-y, and just plain comforting. But if you’re vegan, can you really make a mac and cheese that measures up to the original?
Fear not, my plant-based friends! This recipe is here to show you that vegan mac and cheese can be just as satisfying as its dairy-filled counterpart.
There are a lot of different ways to veganise mac and cheese, but this recipe goes back to basics with a cashew sauce. Coconut milk makes it extra rich, while nutritional yeast brings the cheesy flavour.
If you’re not a fan of faux cheeses and such, this recipe is perfect for you. No fake cheddar, no processed ingredients, just whole foods and a few tricks to give them the taste and texture of a traditional cheese sauce.
Why You’ll Love This Vegan Mac and Cheese Recipe
Here’s why this vegan mac and cheese is sure to be a hit:
- Cheesy sauce, without the cheese. Nutritional yeast is amazingly popular in vegan cooking for good reason—it really does have a cheesy flavour! It’s also a lot more budget-friendly than store-bought vegan cheese.
- Creamy, but not too heavy. Cashews and coconut milk make a great base for creamy sauces due to their high fat content, but they don’t leave you feeling weighed down like dairy can.
- Quick and easy. This recipe comes together in just about 30 minutes, making it perfect for a weeknight meal.
Notes on Ingredients
Scroll down to the recipe card to find the ingredient quantities and recipe instructions.
- Elbow macaroni – Or another pasta shape you like.
- Raw cashews – Soak them overnight to help them blend into a smooth puree.
- Onion powder, garlic powder, sea salt, black pepper, and dry ground mustard – For seasoning our sauce and adding savoury flavour.
- Lime juice – To mimic the tangy flavour of cheese.
- Soy sauce – You can also use tamari or liquid aminos.
- Nutritional yeast
- Ground nutmeg – Use freshly ground if you can; it tastes amazing!
- Full-fat coconut milk
- Panko breadcrumbs – I like to use panko because it has such a light, crisp texture, but you can substitute regular breadcrumbs.
- Garlic powder, paprika, salt, and pepper – For seasoning the panko.
- Vegan butter or oil
How to Make Vegan Mac and Cheese
Ready to get started? Follow these steps for rich, creamy vegan mac and cheese:
- Prepare. Preheat your oven to 350°F. Cook and drain the pasta.
- Make the sauce. Combine all of the remaining ingredients in a blender and blend until the sauce is completely smooth. Season to taste.
- Assemble. Place the macaroni in a cast-iron skillet or baking dish and stir in the sauce, coating the pasta well.
- Top. Stir together the topping ingredients, then sprinkle it over the top of the mac and cheese.
- Bake. Place the skillet in the oven and bake for 15 minutes, or until the mac and cheese is set, then broil for a few minutes until the top is golden brown. Cool slightly before serving.
Tips for Success
Follow these pointers and your vegan mac and cheese will turn out perfect:
- Be sure to salt the cooking water. This seasons the pasta all the way through, making your finished dish much more flavorful.
- Don’t skip soaking the cashews. Soaking the cashews overnight makes them easier to blend and results in a smoother sauce. If you’re short on time, you can soak them in very hot water for 1-2 hours instead.
- Don’t overcook your pasta. You want it to still have some bite, as it will continue to cook in the oven. Boil it until it’s al dente.
- Drain the pasta well. If there’s a lot of water clinging to the noodles, it will water down the sauce, making your finished dish bland.
Here are a few ideas to personalise this vegan mac and cheese recipe:
- Add a vegetable. Steamed broccoli and cauliflower are fantastic with vegan mac and cheese, or stir in some spinach or kale until it wilts.
- Spice it up. Want a little heat? Add some cayenne pepper or your favourite hot sauce. You can also top the finished dish with pickled jalapeños!
- Make it gluten-free. Use gluten-free elbow pasta and panko breadcrumbs, as well as tamari instead of soy sauce.
Serve vegan mac and cheese alongside other comfort food classics like Vegan Southern Meatloaf, Vegan Collard Greens, and Vegan Buttermilk Biscuits. It also makes a great side dish for BBQ Tofu—or serve the tofu on top of the mac and cheese!
How to Store Leftovers
Leftovers should be stored in a sealed container in the fridge for 3 to 4 days. To reheat, use the microwave or heat in a 350ºF oven until warmed through.
Can I Freeze This Recipe?
Vegan mac and cheese can be frozen for up to 3 months. Ensure it’s wrapped tightly in the baking dish or transfer it to an airtight container. Thaw it in the refrigerator, then reheat it according to the instructions above.
More Vegan Side Dish Ideas
Vegan Mac and Cheese
Creamy Vegan Mac & Cheese
- 3 cups elbow macaroni 12 oz/340g
- 1 cup raw cashews soaked in water overnight then drained
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon dry ground mustard
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- ½ tablespoon soy sauce
- ¾ cup nutritional yeast
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 ½ cups canned full fat coconut milk cause it’s so creamy
- 1 ½ cups panko breadcrumbs
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- salt & pepper to taste
- 3-4 tablespoons melted vegan butter or oil
- Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C.
- Prepare elbow pasta according to package directions. Drain in a colander until ready to use.
- In a large high speed blender add cashews, onion powder, garlic powder, sea salt and pepper, ground mustard, lime juice, soy sauce, nutritional yeast, paprika, ground nutmeg, and coconut milk.
- Blend together for about 3 minutes on a high speed, until sauce is completely smooth and incorporate. If you need to blend longer that’s fine, just blend until smooth. Taste and add more salt if necessary.
- Add the macaroni to a cast iron skillet or other similarly sized oven safe pot or oven sized container (mine is about 8″ to 9″). Pour the sauce over the macaroni. Stir to combine until fully combined and all the macaroni is coated with sauce.
- Mix the breadcrumbs, garlic powder, paprika, sea salt and pepper to taste and vegan butter in a small dish with a small whisk or fork until combined. Sprinkle over the top of the Mac and cheese, covering completely.
- Bake for 15 minutes until Mac and cheese is set, then broil for a few minutes until top is golden brown.
- Remove from oven, allow to cool slightly then serve and enjoy!