This easy vegan Mac and Cheese recipe is super simple to make, deliciously ‘cheesy,’ and filled with tons of healthy hidden veggies that add flavor and nutrition. Serve alongside the pasta of your choice or even zucchini noodles (zoodles) for a hearty, comforting dish!
The Best Vegan Mac And Cheese You’ll Have
I am a full believer in trying to enjoy all the flavors you want, regardless of your dietary needs. That means that you certainly won’t stop me from eating a creamy, ‘cheesy,’ yet dairy-free mac and cheese!
This dish is everything that I want in a creamy pasta dish – smooth, rich, moreish, and yet still surprisingly nutritious. In fact, I have a bit of a soft spot for saucy pasta dishes- like this Vegan Alfredo Sauce, Roasted Red Pepper Pasta, or Garlic Butter Pasta. This recipe remains one of my top favorites, though.
Obviously, if we compare a vegan and non-vegan version of a mac and cheese side by side, they won’t taste the same.
However, I think that’s okay – if anything, I like that vegan versions often manage to taste delicious but be far healthier.
Plus, with a special combination of ingredients, this vegan mac n cheese manages to mimic the stretchy quality of a dairy cheese sauce, while providing a ‘cheesy’ flavor too.
The Special Ingredients
This cashew cheese sauce is creamy from the blended nuts and packed with hidden veggies that add flavor and texture to the dish. Meanwhile, the combination of cashews, nutritional yeast, and lemon juice adds that hint of cheesiness to the sauce, but without any dairy.
And then there is the star of this vegan sauce recipe, tapioca flour. I know you’re probably wondering what makes this ingredient so special. Well, this starch is what gives the dairy-free mac and cheese sauce the same, stretchy, ‘ooey-gooey’ quality of a regular cheesy sauce- like magic!
Traditionally, this dish is served with tons of cheese, butter, and milk. However, this healthy vegan mac and cheese is dairy-free, vegan, gluten-free (depending on what pasta you use), paleo (if you use zoodles instead of pasta for a paleo mac and cheese), and filled with healthy fats! And all without compromising on flavor or texture.
Believe me, I know it’s hard to give up cheese. In fact, it’s one of the reasons that I stayed vegetarian for so many years (25!) before finally making the leap to Veganism in 2011. After making the ethical connection, I couldn’t imagine going back to eating dairy and other animal products.
Luckily, these days, with all the ingenious ingredient ‘hacks’ and ‘alternatives’ available, it’s becoming easier to eat an entirely plant-based diet without giving up your favorite dishes!
How To Make Vegan Mac And Cheese
This recipe is so easy to make, takes less than 30 minutes, and requires only a few steps. Plus, for a low-carb, paleo mac and cheese, simply swap out the pasta for spiralized zucchini. Check the step-by-step photos below for visual instructions.
Step 1: Soak the cashews in hot boiling water for at least 15 minutes until they are soft. This is the key to blending them into a creamy cashew cheese sauce.
Step 2: Prepare the vegetables by chopping the potato and carrot into 1-inch cubes and boiling in salted water for about 10-15 minutes, or until tender.
Step 3: Meanwhile, boil your favorite pasta as per the instructions on the packaging. If using zoodles, then spiralize your zucchinis.
Step 4: Add all the vegan Mac and Cheese ingredients into a food processor or blender and blend until completely smooth. You could also sauté the onion and garlic for a minute in oil before blending.
Step 5: Pour the cheeze sauce into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and allow simmering for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly.
Step 6: Combine the sauce with the pasta or zoodles and serve immediately. Optionally, you can sprinkle with some Vegan Parmesan Cheese and/or some fresh herbs of your choosing.
For the full ingredients list, measurements, and nutritional information (calories, etc.), read the recipe card below.
For Baked Vegan Mac N Cheese
There are two methods for transforming this vegan mac and cheese into a baked dish.
Method 1: Use an oven-proof large frying pan for steps 5 & 6 above. Then simply top with breadcrumbs and optionally some vegan butter and/or your favorite vegan cheese. Then, place this pan into the oven under the grill and broil for a few minutes until crispy on top.
Method 2: Transfer the vegan mac n cheese contents over to an oven-proof dish and top with the toppings mentioned above. Bake in the oven at 350° F for between 15-20 minutes. The breadcrumbs will turn golden, and the top will begin to bubble slightly.
How To Store:
This dairy-free mac and cheese can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 days. It is also freezer-friendly and can be stored for up to three months.
If freezing, it may be better to freeze in individual portions, and then reheat until piping hot before serving. You may need an extra splash of plant-based milk to bring the sauce back to its original creamy texture.
Another thing to note is that the tapioca starch may not retain the thickness and texture when thawed and reheated, unlike arrowroot flour.
This Sauce Is:
- Can be made nut-free
- Easy to make
Recipe Tips & Variations:
- Do you want a vegan cheese sauce without cashews? Try my Easy Vegan Cheese Sauce Recipe, which can be made in 3 minutes (perfect when you are busy).
- You could also use soaked sunflower seeds in place of the cashews for a nut-free version.
- For those that don’t own a high-speed blender, simply use ready-made cashew butter instead of the whole cashew nuts. You could also use almond butter or tahini if preferred – but this will affect the color and flavor of the sauce.
- You could use sweet potato instead of a regular potato, or even butternut squash or pumpkin. Just be aware these are relatively sweet, so may require more balancing with additional lemon juice/ apple cider vinegar.
- Lightly sauté the onion and garlic for a couple of minutes to enhance their flavor. Alternatively, you could allow them to sit in the lemon juice to help ‘mellow’ their flavors slightly.
- If using zucchini noodles instead of pasta, then it works best to use a spiralizer*. However, if you don’t have one, then you can use a regular peeler to make zucchini ribbons instead.
- Add some greens to make this healthy vegan mac and cheese recipe even healthier—for example, broccoli, spinach, kale, peas, zucchini, leeks, or asparagus.
- Add a teaspoon or so of white miso to the sauce for additional ‘umami’ flavor.
- The color of the cashew cheese sauce may vary. This can depend on the color of your carrots. Whether or not your nutritional yeast is fortified with B-vitamins, will also affect the color.
- If you want a ‘richer’ color, then you can add a dash of turmeric powder – just make sure to include freshly ground pepper too, so that you can take advantage of all the turmeric health benefits.
- Use whatever pasta you like – Just because it’s called macaroni and cheese doesn’t mean you need to use macaroni (…or cheese!) I used gluten-free pasta, with excellent results!
- If you don’t have tapioca flour available, then you can use cornstarch or arrowroot flour. Tapioca adds the lovely creamy, cheesy ‘stretchy’ texture (and arrowroot does to some extent). Unfortunately, you won’t get this from any other ingredient; however, cornstarch will thicken the sauce effectively.
If you give this vegan macaroni and cheese recipe a try, I’d love a comment and recipe rating below. Also, don’t forget to tag me in re-creations on Instagram or Facebook with @elavegan and #elavegan – I love seeing your recreations.
Vegan Mac and Cheese
Healthy vegan mac and cheese ingredients:
- 1 large (200 g) potato peeled
- 1 small (100 g) carrot peeled
- 1/2 cup (75 g) cashews (see notes)
- 1/2 cup (120 ml) plant-based milk of choice (I used canned coconut milk)
- 1/3-1/2 cup (100 ml) vegetable broth (or use more plant-based milk instead)
- 1/2 small onion (see notes)
- 2-3 cloves garlic (see notes)
- 4 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 1 1/2 tbsp tapioca flour (see notes)
- 1/2 tbsp lemon juice or lime juice
- 1/2-3/4 tsp sea salt (or more to taste)
- 1/3 tsp black pepper (or to taste)
- 1 tsp onion powder
- crushed pepper flakes (optional)
- 12 oz (350 g) Pasta of choice (e.g. gluten-free) or zoodles (3-4 spiralized zucchinis)
- Soak cashews in hot water for at least 15 minutes until they are soft.
- Cut the potato and carrot into 1-inch cubes and cook in salted water for about 10-15 minutes or until tender (discard the water afterward).
- Boil your favorite pasta as per the instructions on the packaging or use a spiralizer to spiralize your zucchinis.
- Add all the vegan Mac and Cheese ingredients into a blender and blend until completely smooth.
- Pour the sauce into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Let it simmer for about 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly.
- Pour over pasta or zoodles and serve immediately. Enjoy!
- Cashews: If you are allergic to nuts, try soaked sunflower seeds instead.
- Onion & garlic: You can fry the onion and garlic with a little oil in a skillet for a few minutes to enhance the flavor.
- Tapioca flour: You can use arrowroot flour instead of tapioca flour. Both make the Mac and Cheese a little thicker and "stretchy" similar to "real" cheese.
- Check the tips & variations, step-by-step photos, and the video in the blog post above.
- Recipe serves 4. Nutrition facts are for one serving including pasta!
- Make sure to check out my other cheesy recipes like this sliceable Vegan Cheese or this Vegan Cheese Fondue.
Nutrition information is an estimate and has been calculated automatically
If you are using Pinterest, feel free to pin the following photo:
LOVED this “Mac n cheese” rendition! 🤤 The “cheese” sauce is so close to the real thing….. maybe even better?🤔 I am forced to go vegan due to allergies and some other autoimmune issues. I’m so grateful for your recipes that allow me to eat more than boring old sticks and twigs. 😀
That’s so good to hear, Laurie! Thanks for your great feedback. 🙂
Looking forward to trying this! Can you make the sauce ahead of time?
Yes, that’s totally fine. Just blend it and store it in an airtight container in the fridge, then boil it the next day. 🙂
This was creamy and delicious. I was bummed I realized mid recipe that I didn’t have carrots. Left that out, doubled the recipe (a lot of kids to feed). I did add some turmeric and upped the nutritional yeast a tad. Also added vegan butter when I added the macaroni. My non vegan kids loved it. I was pleasantly surprised that it tasted great even reheated the next day. Thanks for a great recipe!
You are very welcome, Tia! I am so glad it turned out delicious, even without the carrot. 🙂
I had to come back here to leave you a comment. I tried this sauce yesterday and it turned out very good. I made vegan and GF chickpeas pasta from scratch and they complimented eachother very well. I didn’t get a chance to click a good picture and tag 🙂 Thank you for sharing the recipe with us.
Hello Swetha! I am so glad you liked the recipe. Chickpea pasta sounds awesome. 🙂
I have a kiddo with cashew allergies, so we made this when she wasn’t around for dinner. Super simple to make and has good flavor. However, the cheese hardens right after removing it from heat. For vegan, it’s a really good option,
I am glad it turned out yummy. For me, the cheese sauce doesn’t harden though. 🙂
I made this for lunch today and it was so good! I could not stop eating it!! Thank you for a great recipe!
Yay, that’s awesome! I am so glad you liked it. 🙂
Thanks for the amazing recipe Ela! I think it is much lighter and tastier than non-vegan Mac and Cheese. I topped with dried tarragon and home made vegan Parmesan cheese.
That sounds awesome, Sandra! Thanks for your comment. 🙂
hello? did you just say homade vegan parmesan?! I CANT BELIEVE THATS A THING THATS SO COOL
Hi Joy, here is the recipe for my homemade vegan Parmesan.
Just made this tonight!! Thick and creamy. Thanks for all the recipes!!
I am so glad you liked it, Corinna. 🙂
I am glad you liked it, Paula. 🙂
Wow! I love you Ella????
Everything I do from your recipes turns great every time !!
Thank you ????
I just think there are a lot of advertising and it’s difficult to get to the actual recipe, is it just me?
Hi Claudia, I am so glad you like my recipes! 🙂
You can use the green “jump to recipe” button if you want to skip to the recipe.
SO GOOD! My kids love this! I added some mustard to it and I think it elevated the flavors that much more
That’s awesome! I am so glad you loved it, Landrey. 🙂
OMG!!! This was amazing!! Vegetable broth was not available here, so I increased the quantity of milk added. Nutritional yeast was also not added as it is hard to find that here. Most of the vegan substitutes are actually harder to find in my country but i simply love your recipes.( made them using various substitutes. 😀 ) Can you introduce a vegan tiramisu cake too?
Thank you ela!!
I am so glad it was a success! Thanks for your feedback. 🙂
Funny you ask because I am already working on a vegan tiramisu cake recipe. 😀
It is very good thanks….ran out of cashews and tapioca so doubled the potato, doubled the nutritional yeast, took out the broth and just blended in my Vitamix…no stove top….and was delicious. With less ingredients. Still creamy and cheesy….used it on Mac as well as on nachos.
Awesome! Thanks for your feedback, Mike. 🙂